The purpose of the research was to define how corporate ethics practices were followed by Fortune 1000 companies, using a survey methodology. The authors conducted this study during a time when there were many very public ethical breaches in accountability among businesses, and therefore wanted to explore this issue in more depth. The authors were also interested in examining ethical policy in terms of codified structures in more detail, using empirical research to pose questions regarding corporate ethics and accountability.
The problems addressed in this research involved issues of personal and institutional business ethics, and the possibility of ethical breaches. It applicable to look at research on ethics and responsibility in order to address problems of a lack of ethics or ill defined ethical policy in organizations. Ethics is more suited to the trope of a code that suggests principles, not the trope that enforces moral belief systems. Business ethics is based on broad principles of integrity and fairness and focuses on internal stakeholder issues such as product quality, customer satisfaction, and local community and social responsibilities.
These are issues that a company can actually influence. Ethics is utilitarian as well as personal in its quest for behavior that is held to some predetermined standard, while social responsibility is seen by the researchers to be more of a political goal than an ethical one (although it may be ethical in impetus). The corporate responsibility movement has come to elevate a social and political agenda that draws on notions of propriety and correctness.
The authors used a survey methodology in which they first textually located the Fortune 1000 companies to be focused upon, and then contacted the companies directly. “In order to see that our confidential questionnaire on current ethics practices went to an informed respondent, we initially contacted the public affairs or corporate communications office of each firm by telephone in mid-1994” (Weaver et al., 1999). The authors then collated and presented the information obtained in the surveys as raw data.
The authors found that although many corporations and organizations in the Fortune 1000 have strong ethical policies and codes in place, implementation of these codes in a realistic manner is somewhat more of a problem in the business setting. “Results show a high degree of corporate adoption of ethics policies, but wide variability in the extent to which these policies are implemented by various supporting structures and managerial activities.
In effect, the vast majority of firms have committed to the low cost, possibly symbolic side of ethics management” (Weaver et al., 1999). This shows an ethical dimension regarded by the authors to be attentive to the bottom line of profits, more than it is attentive to the bottom line of socially responsible behavior for its own sake. In other words, the authors found that many organizations surveyed followed ethical codes only when it was cost-effective for them to do so, or did not cut into profit potential.
Weaver, G., L Trevino, and P Cochran (1999). Corporate ethics practices in the mid-
1990’s: An empirical study of the Fortune 1000. Journal of Business Ethics 18(3), pp. 283-294. accessed through PROQUEST, 2008.