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Jensen, Sandrtom & Helin 2009 - Corporate Codes of Ethics and the Bending of Moral Space (Organization)

Jensen, Sandrtom & Helin 2009 - Corporate Codes of Ethics and the Bending of Moral Space (Organization)

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Organization http://org.sagepub.


Corporate Codes of Ethics and the Bending of Moral Space
Tommy Jensen, Johan Sandström and Sven Helin Organization 2009 16: 529 DOI: 10.1177/1350508409104507 The online version of this article can be found at: http://org.sagepub.com/content/16/4/529

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Umeå University. Reprints and permissions: http://www. translation DOI: 10. code. 2009. Sweden Abstract. Örebro. In this article. and how do they influence moral practice? Even though previous research has posed these or similar questions. ethics.com Downloaded from org. The approach is illustrated with a case study on CCE-implementation and it is concluded that through generating more accounts like this.nav Corporate Codes of Ethics and the Bending of Moral Space Tommy Jensen Umeå School of Business.sagepub. Key words. travelling as a result of a wide range of translations. 2010 . the role and the effect of the CCE are still dubious. The code comes alive in a heterogeneous materiality. Umeå.1177/1350508409104507 http://org. Sweden Sven Helin Swedish Business School. Örebro University. and in which agency and morality are limited to the human sphere only. Örebro University.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. An approach to the study and understanding of CCEs in which the travel of the CCE is made the focus of the research is therefore developed. but also in a better position to shoulder moral responsibility.Volume 16(4): 529–545 ISSN 1350–5084 Copyright © The Author(s). Sweden Johan Sandström Swedish Business School. Örebro.co. researchers and practitioners are not only in a better position to understand how CCEs ‘go to work’.sagepub. it is argued that this is predominantly because previous research is fixed in a position in which CCEs are passive artefacts with no capability of bending space.sagepub. and granted an epistemological capability of influencing humans’ world-views and moral practices.uk/journalsPermissions. morality. actor-network theory. What happens when corporate codes of ethics (CCEs) ‘go to work’.

com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. Previous attempts to outline frameworks that increase the sensitivity to what happens when codes goes to work and to how they affect moral practice have also failed in this regard. capitalist system of economic organization throws up moral problems that it has difficulty resolving because it is corrosive of relationships that are regulated by morality rather than the cash nexus’ (Willmott. the CCE ‘comes alive’ in a heterogeneous materiality. it is understood and treated as a passive artefact that people in the organization pay attention to or not. 2002). In general. as reported elsewhere (Helin and Sandström. The code is cornered as ‘a vehicle for bringing ethical norms’ (Cassell et al. 1994). 2001. Stohs and Brannick. ‘an instituted form’ (Nicholson. as a result of working with a code. distinct and formal document which consists of moral standards used to guide employees or corporate behavior’ and CCEs have become one of the more widespread tools that companies rely on in their corporate responsibility work (Kaptein. and has yet to take into account the capability of the CCE to influence moral practice.Organization 16(4) Articles This article is about the study and understanding of corporate codes of ethics (CCEs). depending on their different rationales and reasons. In this article. 2007). Previous research has also given scarce attention to what actually happens when a code is used. 1998. 2004). Kaptein and Wempe. It is here argued that previous research is stuck in a position in which codes are treated as ‘dead objects’ and in which agency and morality are considered a human affair only. 1998. whereas others see the code as playing a mere symbolic role (Adams et al. However. Law and 530 Downloaded from org. 2010 . Empirical research remains inconclusive regarding the effect on moral practice (Schwartz. 1998: 82). That is. 1997). 2004). as mere window-dressing (McKendall et al. do members of an organization. especially its ‘and after’ (Callon.. travelling as a result of a wide range of translations. or may not ‘hit’ the human beings in the organization. 1999). 2001). With the theoretical concepts proposed in this article. In previous research on CCEs. but rather have a long history. The code thus becomes a passive voice or a blueprint upon which organizational change is performed. According to Schwartz (2001: 248). Law. 2004. 2004). constituting an important symbolic artefact (Stevens. a corporate code can be defined as a ‘written.sagepub. the golden question has been whether or not these codes are effective. CCEs are not a recent fad in the business community. and with a capability for bending moral space. an alternative approach in which the ‘travel’ of the CCE is made the focus of the research and in which the code is granted a capability to influence human worldviews and strategies for addressing and solving moral dilemmas.. or ‘an ethical artefact’ (Dillard and Yuthas. Inspiration is here drawn from writings in Actor-Network Theory (ANT). 2002). Codes are perceived as ‘dead’ missiles shot into the organization and they may. develop a better moral practice or is the code merely a rhetorical device? Some studies identify positive effects on moral practice (Boo and Koh. is set forth. 2001. reminding us ‘that the established..

1991). 2004: 157). and that humans and nonhumans as a consequence ‘are treated as effects or outcomes. although the receivers in the subsidiary basically held the CCE as ‘dead’ (in line with previous empirical CCE research). Accordingly. Elsewhere in organization studies. McMahon. the article is concluded by suggesting some implications for the study and understanding of CCEs. Second. is that humans are the only living things that reflect upon and try to influence ‘being’ and. 2004). unlike nonhumans. Third. The Corporate Code of Ethics in a Heterogeneous Materiality Approaching ANT.. Jones. but the ANT approach views it to be a mistake to impose categories prior to action. which also encompasses the moral sphere. moral concerns. 2002) and from writers dealing with morality and organization (Bauman. Sharing epistemological space with nonhumans is an empirically realist and epistemologically relativist position in which humans and 531 Downloaded from org. Recent developments in ANT also seem to have become softer in that an ontological difference between humans and nonhumans has emerged (Jensen. complexity and blurring. however. Hassard. 2010 . making it possible to speak of an ontological realm exclusively the property of humans. Lee and Hassard (1999: 393) write that contemporary research strategy takes recourse increasingly to trajectories that are empirically relativist and ontologically realist (cf. with a capability of bending space. sociological triangulation). the CCE in a heterogeneous materiality is outlined and the translation processes therein are conceptualized in terms of simplification. 2003. the research strategies of ANT largely invert this position. and translates their will into a language of its own’. the translation of a CCE is empirically illustrated in a case study of how a Swedish subsidiary translated its American parent organization’s CCE. rather than explanatory resources’ (Law. but epistemologically (the means of production to attain knowledge as well as a process). the code is alive. First. humans share space with nonhumans.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. A central argument in this article. Fourth. imagination etc. Roberts.Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. an actor. this is interpreted differently. is ‘[a]ny element which bends space around itself.sagepub. In a heterogeneous materiality. the position in this article has a humans-only ontological realm. Hence. Law and Mol. ten Bos. It is only after the actor-network has been assembled that something can be said about the role and significance of different elements (Callon. one issue particularly central to the framework outlined in this article is how ontology is considered. In contrast. Callon and Latour (1981: 286) suggest. The article comprises four parts. 2003. 1989. these codes influence moral practice. such capabilities are normally considered the property of human beings. for us. humans have intentions. 1999. makes other elements dependent upon itself. 1995. 2003).

What has been described so far is a heterogeneous material world and the bending of space in this context is performed in translation processes. however. 1981. As the translation process continues. compress and order worlds (‘draw things together’) and to (ii) re-present different versions of worlds (expressed in double plural. and through this process they find and lose different parts.sagepub. in this article. is considered as a sociotechnical instrument (Law. make others dependent and translate wills. complexity and blurring do not occur as a fixed sequential process or 532 Downloaded from org. 2006). A translation process of a CCE. made things a little bit less difficult. 2002). Latour. that non-humans cause network-effects. are assembled (Jensen. Law. building up sediments of translations (Latour. simplifications pile up. Blurring. In addition. resulting in complexity. This in turn means that multiple versions of the world circulate (Mol. In other words. 2010 . Jensen. in which abstractions and concretions. What is lost is the original of what is translated. could be depicted as follows: for something to travel. but also have the capability to organize the very things (humans and nonhumans) that they describe (Callon. but rather that something (an event. 1986). a result. The CCE. not only indicates that something is changed when translated. etc. a situation. because multiple versions exist). CCEs are therefore not only rhetorical devices or carriers of information. 1998. 2004. Callon and Law. human or nonhuman. when epistemological capabilities are dealt with in more detail. and different routes to.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. 1997. presents and futures. 2004). Blurring is the third ingredient in the translation process. 2008). There are. such as in the current climate change issue (nature strikes back) or in how information technologies have altered social interaction (Jensen. One critical aspect of this translation process is that simplification. trees. 1999). carbon oxide emissions) and. a lot of different types of nonhumans in the world (dogs. complexity arises out of the numerous associations between and among different simplifications.Organization 16(4) Articles nonhumans have.) is characterized by things not adding up. computer software. knowledge. escaping logic and order (Law and Mol. Despite the fact that each of the simplifications still makes things less complicated. might indirectly also give rise to changes in how humans ontologically perceive the world (Callon. similar capabilities. languages and symbols. 2002). following Jensen (2004). 2002) with an epistemological capability to: (i) reduce. subjects and objects. CCEs might bend space. consequently. each ‘element’ has a different way of bending space. however. potentially. Both are essential to the construction of different strategies of. temporarily. Humans continuously translate pasts. the world of hyperreality. slightly reminiscent of Baudrillard’s (1994) simulacra. 1999b). 1999. When something travels it does so because it has. it has to be simplified (Callon and Latour. Complexity is thus not used here in its ordinary meaning. 1999. configuring human epistemologies. but that something is also lost in translation. that something is of a complex nature.

1987. these processes do not always themselves add up: appearing simultaneously. 2004. while others have not. Callon. but while humans struggle for power. all of which are travelling. such a ‘box contains that which no longer needs to be reconsidered. Equipped with the conceptual framework elaborated upon here. but many times they travel handcuffed. large actor-networks are no more complex to study and understand than small ones. a single translation process. Consequently. such as a CCE. cf. 2005: 337). On the contrary. According to Callon and Latour (1981: 284–285). It is not a matter of first simplification. or causes to be conferred on itself. can be less powerful than nonhumans. but with shorter and longer orbits. as a regular order of things. Power is essential to the analysis of translating processes and it is almost never something that can be possessed. intrigues. is usually neglected or downplayed. which means that researching CCEs might include travelling to 533 Downloaded from org. different strategies. 2002). consequently there is no regular processual rhythm to learn from and follow repeatedly (Jensen. moral concern. In this sense. etc. these capabilities are not possible to settle a priori. a single order. for the right to define and diagnose problems. then complexity and then blurring. thanks to which an actor or force takes. acts of persuasion and violence. authority to speak or act on behalf of another actor of force’ (Callon and Latour. nonhumans. calculations. it is expected that some humans might have the necessary power to translate. 2006) or. 1981: 279. 1986). Law and Mol. blindfolded and gagged—they are blackboxed. In line with ANT. processes which demand investigation in ‘all the negotiations. as actor-networks are instable constructions (Greener. exert power without reflection. That some nonhumans might have the necessary capability to cause network effects. while others become ontologically mute and epistemologically hijacked (who might have a different worldview. 2010 . they travel. the default mode is to expect numerous translations of the CCE. humans. the actor-network expands. Translations are understood as processes in which humans and nonhumans assemble different elements into an actor-network (a black box). Herein also lies the issue of power. ‘it takes effort to sustain stable networks of relations’ (Law and Singleton. when nonhumans and humans are translated. those things whose contents have become a matter of indifference’. while others have not. Some humans might deliberately and intentionally use an actor-network. Epistemologically.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. they resemble disordered cascades and are in themselves multiple orders and multiple realities.Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. but are forced to think and act in specific ways).sagepub. however. complexity and blurring do not plough a single route. The micro-macro division does not exist in a heterogeneous materiality—actor-networks only have shorter or longer orbits (Callon and Latour. epistemologically speaking. Simplification. suggest treatments and allocate the task of fixing the problems. As more and more black boxes are closed. intention. imagination. because they are of the same size and shape. 1981. 1999a). So. Latour.

Other obligations stem from the company’s firm policy of complying with all applicable laws. This Code summarizes the ethical principles that should govern all [of the company’s] employees in their daily work. but most material was collected during 2005 and 2006. Law. The Code of Ethics is based on [the company’s] commitment to meet our obligations to all who have a personal. This calls for a case study that takes on mobility in both time and space (Czarniawska. forty-eight interviews with in total. where the following can be read: [The company] is dedicated to high moral and ethical standards of conduct and will conduct our business with honesty. A DVD-based ethics and compliance training sent from the parent company was also studied. far away. 1987. The Code is important to [the company]. As emphasized earlier.Organization 16(4) Articles distant spaces and times. etc. such as striving to provide superior products and services for our customer and increasing value for our owners. the empirical domain is entered when things has already been simplified. to follow how the CCE draws things together and re-presents different versions of worlds. Failure to comply with it will result in corrective action. 2007. comments made by staff on the Intranet. employees. professional or financial stake in what [the company] does. It can never be expected to enter translation processes at ‘the beginning of things’ and it is not possible to expect homogeneity either (one translation. In total. integrity and a strong commitment to compliance with all applicable laws. If in doubt. nineteen persons from the subsidiary (from assemblers to the CEO). made complex and blurred. The Swedish company—a high-tech. discretion and sound judgment should guide everyone. our host communities and nations. It is not intended to provide all final answers.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. it was signed by all. reports in media. and we participated in a seminar on ethics given for employees. and the illustration here starts with an extract from the introduction in the parent company’s CCE. employing more than 500 people—received the first version of the code in 2003. 2010 . Some obligations are direct and obvious. and to the demand that all employees and managers had to sign the code. 2004. 2004). from what was a priori anticipated (Law and Singleton. the researcher has to construct a beginning. avowing that they had ‘read. The study began in 2003. to be somewhere and study something. Translating a CCE—An Empirical Illustration The heterogeneous material approach is here illustrated with a case study of how a Swedish subsidiary to an American parent company dealt with the parent’s CCE. were made. engineer-dense organization. 2005). Latour. the [ethics officer] or other appropriate person. However. Written material consisted of the different CCEs (American and Swedish versions). a regular process). The Code does not cover every possible subject or situation. suppliers. Wisdom. 1999b. 534 Downloaded from org. customers. which may include termination of employment. including our owners. consult your supervisor or manager.sagepub. and just before New Year 2004/2005. and not obvious. understood and accepted’ the code. and the industries we serve.

the CCE is referred to by the CEO in the training video as (just) an ‘ethics policy’ and this policy mainly encourages transparency in regard to finances and compliance with existing laws.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. That culture starts with leadership. ‘they wanted us to do things the right way rather than to do the right things’. An adjusted Swedish version will not do. the head of communication said. 2010 .Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. but soon this plan is revised. rules and principles against which a member of the company can get fired for breaching. In its original. Explicit references to ‘SOX’ and ‘leadership’ are missing. who was responsible for the literal translation of the CCE into Swedish as well as for the implementation. and ‘competitiveness’ is new. aiming. The CEO of the American parent introduces the training. […] Our ethics policy already covers the issues required to be addressed by a Sarbannes-Oxley law. but it takes much more to have a culture of ethical behavior. I am [the CEO] and I want to talk to you about ethics. The downfall of senior executives has become the headline news for television and newspapers showing dramatic images of executives being arrested […] As a result of these failures of leadership. the government stepped down and through legal measures such as the SarbannesOxleys Act has forced companies to be more transparent about their financial activities. identifies four reasons to why it should be implemented: (i) it is demanded by the parent company. Accompanying the CCE is a DVD-based ethics and compliance training tool. […] Each day.sagepub. (ii) it provides good guidelines. The subsidiary has to implement the original CCE and the process. there is one thing to have a written policy. nor does it happen because we have a written policy. the ethical handling of actual or apparent conflicts of interest in compliance with laws and regulations. what really matters is leadership. a top-down process with ‘leaders at each level setting the example’. Let me take a moment to address that point. integrity and strong compliance to all applicable laws’ and ‘wisdom. ‘Obviously’. discretion and sound judgement’. to simplify the code by communicating what the code is really all about: Hi. in the terminology of this article. the CCE is about ‘honesty. It starts with the commitment at the top and flows down through the organization with leaders at each level setting the example. He also reminds the viewer that a policy is just a policy. namely accurate and timely reporting of information including financial results. the company’s competitiveness will be weakened. In Sweden. the head of communication at the subsidiary. ‘provide good guidelines’ and ‘protecting the company’ are still there. according to the parent company. has to be swift. […] However. He is also confident about literally translating the CCE into Swedish in a way that will better fit the context of the subsidiary. (iii) it protects the company if an employee behaves badly and (iv) it will soon be mandatory on the market anyway and without it. 535 Downloaded from org. the news is filled with reports of scandals involving poor ethical decisions from companies great and small. However. Ethical and moral behavior cannot be legislated. The CCE is itself a translation into terms stipulated by legislation [Sarbannes Oxley Act (SOX)] and about senior executives avoiding jail.

‘for a Swede this is self-evident’. but the ethics in the code are just common sense (when asked about the content in the code. As a way to handle complexity. translated back into English. translations pile up and complexity arises out of the numerous associations between different simplifications (the parent company’s translation versus the Swedish top management’s translation versus translations from the different members of the organization). a meeting most respondents relate to in the interviews. ‘integrity’ and ‘wisdom’. the CCE has predominantly been translated into a legal issue and more time is spent on form than on content. In the list below. we received answers such as ‘the ten commandments’. our lawyer did a ‘red line version’. Following the signing of the code. However. A simple signing procedure is set up on the subsidiary intranet and 75% of the staff sign the code. The process then gets delayed.Organization 16(4) Articles The parent predominantly refers to SOX and this motive now travels right into the subsidiary. 536 Downloaded from org.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. construct blurredness: i. each point (i–vi) contains two simplifications. did not appear to circulate in the translations.. The four motives are quickly reduced to—we need to do this because of SOX. actors intensify their simplifying attempts (‘this is what the code is really about’). complex relations and directions. the subsidiary is granted room to rewrite the code. etc. all simplifications. [—] After this. We had to have the same rules as the owner. Swedish work laws collide with a few of the formulations in the code. The next step in the process comprises of how to get the people to read and sign the code before New Year. however. Terms such as ‘honesty’. The head of communication again: A week after we sent the Swedish rules. the union and American laws are drawn into the code. A former pastor is brought in to lecture about ethics in general at a large personnel meeting (at which the CEO also speaks about the CCE). that taken together render complexity. ‘Martin Luther’. At this stage. a direct translation highlighting that which had to be changed according to Swedish law. understood and accepted’ the CCE. As the Swedish legal system. in tension with each other.sagepub. to the US. all sign the code (except for those on long-term sick leave and paternal leave). mainly because lawyers and national legal systems are drawn into the CCE. Thus the Swedish actor-network succeeds in exerting stronger allies than their American counterpart. minor changes in content. Soon after the meeting. confirming that they had ‘read. three different sources informed us that this would not do. He mentioned the risk of the union and of being sued and then he [the legal expert] woke up. in all the points taken together. Ethics are difficult to pin down. resulting in the actual code undergoing a few.). etc. These simplifying attempts trigger tensions even further and together construct blurredness. The lawyer contacted the owner’s legal expert and made him realize that not all rules could be harmonized with Swedish law. 2010 .

The CEO answered the direct question on whether or not the CCE was dead with: ‘Yes. ‘in Sweden we trust each other’. etc. a pastor. etc. ‘to safe-guard the company’s image’. abstract and concrete. the same bloody problem to solve. which you can open on occasion. you come to the same bloody room. Eventually. iii. Basically. You cover one thing through each door. Ethics is one part of it. We need the code. put differently. 2008). What was also apparent throughout the empirical study was that the code was perceived as not ‘alive’ in the organization. The quality manager motivated his staff to sign by arguing that ‘the code makes no difference anyhow’. customers. ‘it is the marketing department they are after’. marketing people. but the code is necessary for somebody else (‘to satisfy the parent’. so that something happens. it feels like it’.) (Helin and Sandström. traditions. Swedes. family. Sometimes it says ‘personnel development’ on the door. vi. Then all these three-letter combinations. but the ethics in the code are not for me (‘my ethics is good’. etc. different names for the same thing. The CCE draws together a vast range of different elements (Enron. Through the CEO’s narration. cultures.Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. ‘it is in my spine’.) and the translations above (i–vi) show how the CCE re-presents numerous versions of what ethics could be all about. Martin Luther. ‘can I accept this Christmas gift?’. systems for quality and finance. ‘can I use the computer during lunch time in order to pay my bills?’. ‘obvious for Swedes’. unique and general. Adding to this blurredness is also the CEO’s failure to. but the ethics in the code are about trivial things (‘can I call home from work?’. v. Ethics are important to all of us. Ethics are important to all of us. Scratch a bit here and there. And then it could be good to have a door for ‘ethics’. etc.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. or difficulty in defining what the actual core (the room) was made of.). Cash management. iv. If you narrow it down. which all give a different perspective on the core. then they are all about ethics. ‘can I buy him a lunch?’. ‘they see a lawyer behind every corner’. Ethics characterize all the things we do. ii. though. 2010 . etc. Intranet. etc. Or. top management. though. By this I do not mean that you should not run them all. gift-giving. Ethics are universal. Americans. but its content is already embedded in other rules and processes (‘what is in the code is covered by policies’ such as equal opportunities and drug use. languages. it seems that the original has been lost in translation. phone calls.). ten commandants. Blurredness was encapsulated by the CEO when he invented a metaphor in order to explain the CCE to us: You can see it as a room in which you find the core [of the company].sagepub.). rules on information security and work environment. ‘for top management’. BPR. all of them are bloody similar. as the head of the 537 Downloaded from org. a room to be reached through different doors. TQM. Ethics and the CCE are everything and nothing. ‘for some colleagues’.). quality systems. but the code is ‘typically’ American (‘they do not know common sense unless it is written down’. ‘about how I report my time’.

2002). or securing. it will be shown how the empirical illustration also expands into a story of how the CCE in this heterogeneous materiality draws together and re-presents numerous different moral possibilities. As has been showed above (translations i–vi). to define beforehand different moral dilemmas. 2001. this can be expected from CCEs.sagepub. Albeit not always the main purpose of implementing a CCE. Next. they are expected to be decoded and understood in similar ways throughout the organization. not only in terms of bending space. humans and 538 Downloaded from org. But. this is not the case. but in the framework outlined in this article. 1992. moral practice cannot fully be understood in this way. 2010 . there are numerous ways of decoding and understanding ethics and CCEs. as well as by the American parent’s CEO). The CCE is alive. In this sense. it is suggested that the study of CCEs needs epistemologically to view morality as a human and nonhuman issue. however. a moral standard in organizations and how an understanding of moral practice might be restrained if the idea that CCEs are basically neutral and passive artefacts is kept. then you should do this’—have.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. Even though CCEs are not perceived by the members of the organization as being able to regulate everything (as in the American CCE: ‘The Code does not cover every possible subject or situation’). In this section. morality and moral dilemmas are nevertheless thought of as being determinable a priori (as also stated in the American CCE: ‘This Code summarizes the ethical principles that should govern all [of the company’s] employees in their daily work’). Different situations. to grant both humans and nonhumans the capability to influence moral practice (Latour. from the heterogeneous material view adopted in this article. it has been shown that an organization could be viewed as a heterogeneous material fabric in which the CCE draws things together and re-presents different versions of worlds. As CCEs are assumed to communicate clear messages that reasonable rational humans can transform into ethical thinking and action. Below. The way the respondents in the case translated the code seem to agree with the assumptions rooted in previous empirical studies on CCEs and in previous attempts to outline frameworks with which to study CCEs. representatives of organizations often claim that a CCE (as indicated by Schwartz. by necessity. 1999b. we will discuss the role of the CCE in enhancing.Organization 16(4) Articles purchasing department concluded: ‘Our ethics as such were not affected by the code’. is meant to reduce moral ambiguity by guiding humans in their daily encounters with moral dilemmas. To some extent. The Corporate Code of Ethics in a Heterogeneous Moral Materiality So far. Moral practice is thereby seen as generalizable through: (i) a selection of what is to be counted as a moral dilemma and by (ii) standardizing possible responses. ethical ‘commandments’—‘if this happens. but also in terms of bending moral space.

Moral practice can be enhanced by the improvement of determinability. morality is a prereflexive spontaneity and an innately prompted manifestation of humanity. Jones. as morality and moral responsibility are translated into: ‘just common sense’. of life itself. and for not applying the from necessity pre-defined ethical statutes to the complex moral dilemma (the American code: ‘If in doubt. 2002. however.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. 2007). This does not mean that moral responsibility can only be taken if there is no a priori selection. 2003).sagepub.Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. As Bauman (2003: 92) argues. is in this sense related to uncertainty. they do so either because individuals ignore the CCE or because of flaws in the institutional.. consult your supervisor or manager. Uncertainty. It simply means that we. CCEs oblige us humans to oblige them. as a source of bending moral space. 539 Downloaded from org. and as the chain of translations unfolds. arguing that ‘[t]he attempt to present ethical decision making through rationalizing formal structures has had the effect of obstructing self reflection and allows the abdication of personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions’ (see also Clegg et al. Nicholson. times and spaces. Roberts. should not easily speak of moral responsibility (Bauman. 2003: 93). thanks to it. 1993. which may be a counterintuitive insight to both organizational researchers as well as organizational members used to ‘management as control’. frames morality as something that only belongs to humans. several versions of morality circulate in the organization. nonhumans. 2010 . something also seems to happen with the way people think about morality. standardization. etc. In the case. Trying to do good and avoid the bad. So. which may include termination of employment’). as members of organizations or as researchers trying to understand organizations. 1997. 2007. when moral problems do occur. Rather. but also in our apparatuses’ (2002: 253) and therefore ‘morality is from the beginning inscribed in the things which. is no threat to individuals trying to act morally. 1995). oblige us to oblige them’ (2002: 258). yet. To feel and to take moral responsibility is a human concern. the [ethics officer] or other appropriate person’. Jensen. 1993. the capability of humans to act morally. ‘the moral law is in our hearts. are thus determinable a priori and decided upon through the CCE. individual moral responsibility is reduced. but the code itself. is left out. ‘uncertainty is the home ground of the moral person’ (Bauman. as Latour puts it.. 1989. needs selection and standardization as well as preparation. making moral choices between good and evil. Extending the discussion on determinability. Organizational members acting upon a spontaneous moral call are furthermore also at risk of being punished for not turning to the CCE. 2003. 1994). spontaneous and unpredictable (Bauman. Holding on to the objectified belief that CCEs are neutral and passive. that is. ‘Failure to comply with it will result in corrective action. contextual or structural frameworks (Cassell et al. Dillard and Yuthas. not only do different versions circulate. but morality is also intuitive. planning and regulation (as CCEs offer). However. Dillard and Yuthas (2002: 61) reflect along similar lines.

is questioned from the approach offered in this article. CCEs may be perfectly legal in the strict sense of the word. or certain means of achieving them’ (McMahon. Nonetheless.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. The common ontological merger between organizations’ moral products (outcomes of goods and bads) and individual moral responsibility and duty. an alternative approach to the study and understanding of CCEs has been suggested. As such. but it should never be possible to wash away moral guilt by blaming the nonhuman part in such heterogeneous moral materiality. 2003). 2010 . nonhumans have not. individuals have to decide if the collective’s ends fit the individual’s moral judgement. a license to adopt certain ends. ‘about trivial things’. as mainstream approaches often portray artificial bodies such as corporations. delivering alibis or moral step-ins (Jones. 2003. Roberts. ‘typically American’ and ‘already embedded in other rules and processes’. imply that moral responsibility is a shared adventure.sagepub. This is paradoxical. Organizations are capable of action because humans individually and collectively (together with nonhumans) produce action. can take moral responsibility. such as corporations. but it also represents a common ontological merger between humans and nonhumans. At the end of the day. they can never escape their individual moral duty and responsibility (Bauman. From an ontological point of view. ‘is necessary for somebody else’. however. acting for the moral good or bad. This is not only a convenient rhetorical and pedagogical tool used to simplify complex matters (the CCE plays a role in this. 1989). for excluding the epistemological capabilities of CCEs in influencing human worldviews and strategies for addressing and 540 Downloaded from org.Organization 16(4) Articles ‘ethics are not for me’. in producing action. it has criticized previous views for being anthropocentric. ten Bos. The article set out to investigate how codes impact moral practice and in doing this. To say that both humans and nonhumans have epistemological capabilities to bend moral space and to alter humans’ approaches to morality does not. but from the moral standpoint outlined here. 2003. 1995: 551). but no matter how hard individuals try to provide rational and logic explanations. it can be argued that CCEs function as neutral managerial technology. The latter cannot be excused on behalf of the former. Conclusions In this article. McMahon (1995) shows the impossibilities of equating the moral status of organizations with that of individuals. Through organizations each individual’s conduct might be explained. however. of course). Humans have moral responsibility. as being able to take moral responsibility. the aim is to acknowledge and understand the nonhumans’ role and function in moral dilemmas. neither human collectives nor collectives of artificial bodies. Hence. collectives of humans or CCEs ‘cannot be used as a shield by the members of the organizations.

means new possibilities to enhance the understanding of CCEs in organizations. As has been showed in this article. Had it been less reductionist. The work with CCEs would therefore benefit from letting organizational members be exposed to the risk of making morally wrong choices so as to refrain from ‘craven impulses to run for cover that authoritative commands obligingly provide’ and to keep a moral sensitivity and a ‘boldness to accept responsibility’ (Bauman. Second. It is based on assumptions that moral dilemmas are possible to determine a priori through selecting what is to be counted as a moral dilemma and by standardizing possible responses. the understanding of codes does not lend itself easily to the golden question of CCE-research (‘are they effective?’). 2010 . an approach in which nonhumans are granted the epistemological capability of bending moral space has been outlined. 1991). the ways CCEs influence practice are more fundamental than this at an epistemological level. and that they communicate clear messages which are decoded and understood in a similar way throughout the organization. CCEs might of course be objects that trigger a touch to morality. such a view might have made evident that prescribing ethics through CCEs will never ever fully assist a person facing a moral dilemma. simplification/complexity/blurredness seems to flourish as CCEs are translated. The contribution of the research can here be seen in terms of an approach capable of illustrating ‘side-effects’ of the work with CCEs. 2003: 93). solving moral dilemmas. from a different epistemological account follows a different moral account as well. everything and nothing. which means that CCEs also raise issues of moral practice and of moral responsibility. if not to loose touch with a pre-reflexive spontaneity to act without expecting something in return. as nonhumans bend space. the unique and the general and the abstract and the concrete. Based on this article’s approach. as Willmott (1998) rightly points out. however. First of all. The golden question is a plea for efficiency. moral space is also influenced.sagepub. In accounting for the process of implementing the CCE at the subsidiary. when taking into account the capabilities of nonhumans. the meanings of ethics were transformed between language and symbols. and to view CCEs as nonhumans capable of drawing things together and of re-presenting different versions of worlds. subjects and objects. as corporations and 541 Downloaded from org.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. Instead. which are usually neglected both in research and (as the empirical examples illustrate) in practice. there is now a different platform upon which the meanings of ethics that are constructed can be debated. Humans need to continually be exposed to moral dilemmas if not to lose touch with their morality (Giddens. this is also difficult. The incorporated view on morality emerging in the case (as well as those in previous CCE-frameworks) was reductionist.Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. In such an approach. The way the CCE was translated in the case reported here did not lead to a discourse on ethics that included the heterogeneous material view on morality relied upon in this article. Thus. but.

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Sweden. sociology and moral philosophy with focus on the intersection between ‘private’ and ‘public’ spheres and the social and environmental dilemmas that this intersection give rise to. Örebro University. Organization 10(2): 267–85. Willmott. Sweden.helin@oru. Betsy (2004) ‘The Ethics of the US Business Executive: A Study of Perceptions’. Schwartz. Sweden. He holds a PhD from Umeå School of Business. 74–89. SE 701 82 Örebro. Hassard (eds) Actor Network Theory and After. Tommy Jensen is Assistant Professor in Business Administration at the Umeå School of Business. SE-901 87 Umeå. (2004) ‘Effective Corporate Codes of Ethics: Perceptions of Code Users’. in M. Roberts. Sweden. from which he also holds his PhD. 2010 . Örebro University.Translating Corporate Codes of Ethics Tommy Jensen et al. Hugh (1998) ‘Towards a New Ethics? The Contribution of Poststructuralism and Posthumanism’. London: Sage. Örebro University. pp. Mark S. [email: tommy. Annemarie (1999) ‘Ontological Politics. (2001) ‘The Nature of the Relationship Between Corporate Codes of Ethics and Behaviour’. [email: johan. Umeå University.com at WILLAMETTE UNIV on November 29. His research interests are in the areas of accounting and business ethics. Nicholson.) Organizations and Ethics.sandstrom@oru. René (2003) ‘Business Ethics. Örebro University. Journal of Business Ethics 22(4): 311–26. Schwartz. ten Bos. Sweden. Journal of Business Ethics 13(8): 581–96. Law and J. Joanne Hoven and Brannick. [email: sven. He holds a PhD from Uppsala University. Stevens. Sweden. Address: Swedish Business School.se] Johan Sandström is Associate Professor in Business Administration at the Swedish Business School. Parker (ed. Journal of Business Ethics 55: 323–43. in J. Journal of Business Ethics 54: 163–71. Sweden. Umeå University. Umeå University.umu. Sweden.sagepub.se] Sven Helin is Assistant Professor in Business Administration at the Swedish Business School. Journal of Business Ethics 32(3): 247–62. Oxford: Blackwell.jensen@usbe. A Word and Some Questions’. His research interests are in the areas of corporate sustainability and business ethics. pp. Address: Umeå School of Business. 76–121. Address: Swedish Business School. Nigel (1994) ‘Ethics in Organizations: A Framework for Theory and Research’. Stohs. Mark S. Accounting and the Fear of Melancholy’. John (2003) ‘The Manufacture of Corporate Social Responsibility: Constructing Corporate Sensibility’. Mol.se] 545 Downloaded from org. Teresa (1999) ‘Codes and Conduct: Predictors of Irish Managers’ Ethical Reasoning’. Organization 10(2): 249–65. SE 701 82 Örebro. His research interests are in the areas of organization theory.

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