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Rules, standards, and ethics: Relativism predicts cross-national differences in the codification of moral standards

Listed author(s):
  • Forsyth, Donelson R.
  • O'Boyle Jr., Ernest H.
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    This research examines the relationship between the code of ethics adopted by businesses in a country and the ethics positions of the inhabitants of that country. Ethics Position Theory (EPT) maintains that individuals' personal moral philosophies influence their ethical judgments, actions, and emotions. The theory, when describing individual differences in moral philosophies, stresses two dimensions: relativism (skepticism with regards to inviolate moral principles) and idealism (concern for positive outcomes). Extending previous research that identified differences in relativism and idealism between residents of different countries and world regions, we examined the relationship between relativism, idealism, and the regulatory standards governing commercial activities of firms headquartered in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, and the US. The results indicated that the level of relativism of a nation's populace predicted degree of ethical codification of commerce in that nation. These findings suggest that the ethical conduct of business will be more closely regulated in countries where relativism is low (e.g., Australia, Canada) but less closely regulated in countries where the residents are more ethically relativistic (e.g., Hong Kong, Spain).

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal International Business Review.

    Volume (Year): 20 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 3 (June)
    Pages: 353-361

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:iburev:v:20:y:2011:i:3:p:353-361
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    1. Scott Vitell & Anusorn Singhapakdi, 2008. "The Role of Ethics Institutionalization in Influencing Organizational Commitment, Job Satisfaction, and Esprit de Corps," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 81(2), pages 343-353, August.
    2. Donelson Forsyth & Ernest O’Boyle & Michael McDaniel, 2008. "East Meets West: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Cultural Variations in Idealism and Relativism," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 83(4), pages 813-833, December.
    3. Cynthia Stohl & Michael Stohl & Lucy Popova, 2009. "A New Generation of Corporate Codes of Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 90(4), pages 607-622, December.
    4. Muel Kaptein & Mark Schwartz, 2008. "The Effectiveness of Business Codes: A Critical Examination of Existing Studies and the Development of an Integrated Research Model," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 77(2), pages 111-127, January.
    5. Bodo B Schlegelmilch & Diana C Robertson, 1995. "The influence of Country and Industry on Ethical Perceptions of Senior Executives in the U.S. and Europe," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 26(4), pages 859-881, December.
    6. Bert Scholtens & Lammertjan Dam, 2007. "Cultural Values and International Differences in Business Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 75(3), pages 273-284, October.
    7. Catherine C Langlois & Bodo B Shlegemilch, 1990. "Do Corporate Codes of Ethics Reflect National Character? Evidence from Europe and the United States," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 21(4), pages 519-539, December.
    8. Al-Khatib, J. A. & Robertson, C. J. & D'Auria Stanton, A. & Vitell, S. J., 2002. "Business ethics in the Arab Gulf States: a three-country study," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 97-111, February.
    9. Robertson, Christopher J. & Gilley, K. Matthew & Street, Marc D., 2003. "The relationship between ethics and firm practices in Russia and the United States," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 375-384, November.
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