Purpose – The purpose of the study is to examine and describe the use of codes of ethics in the top 100 companies operating in the Swedish corporate sector. This paper reports on the responses of those companies that possessed a code of ethics.
Design/methodology/approach – A three-stage research procedure was used. First, a questionnaire was sent to the public relations managers of the top 100 companies operating in the Swedish corporate sector (based on revenue). Companies were asked to answer up to 29 questions and to supply a copy of their code of ethics. The second stage involved content analysis of the codes of ethics supplied by survey respondents. The third stage involved a more detailed follow-up of a smaller group of firms that appeared to be close to best practice. Findings for Stage 1 of the research are reported in this paper. The areas of questioning were: how common are codes of ethics? Who was involved in the development of these codes? What are the reasons for the codes? How are they implemented? Do companies inform internal and external publics of the codes? What are the prescribed benefits of the codes?
Findings – It would appear that business ethics has only recently become a topic of interest in corporate Sweden and that many companies are in the early stages of code development and assimilation into company policies. The incidence of codes in the population (of 100) suggested by this survey (56 per cent) is lower than a US study finding (in 1995) that over 84 per cent of comparable US companies had codes of ethics. It would appear that Sweden today lags behind the US situation of 1995. When one investigates the special measures to support the inculcation of ethical values at the organizational level, there appears to be some shortfall. The supporting measures of ethics committees, ethics training committees, ethics training, ombudsman, an ethical audit and procedures to protect whistleblowers appear to be under-utilized in companies that possess codes. This lack of utilization tends to suggest that companies in Sweden, as yet, either have not developed a high commitment to supporting business ethics in their corporations, or they may have developed other methods to support their codes in their organizations that they view are as beneficial as the traditional methods practised in other western industrial democracies.
Research limitations/implications – This research was limited to internal ethical expectations. The commitment to business ethics is usually explored in terms of internal ethical expectations, but the simultaneous consideration of the external ethical expectations in the marketplace (e.g. among suppliers and customers or other publics) is desirable. A dyadic approach considering a company's internal ethical expectations and the external ethical expectations of a company's business activities may give a more balanced and in-depth approach.
Practical implications – Evidence is now available to show that codes of ethics are well developed in many of Sweden's largest corporations: organizations that, from their responses, appear to see a diverse range of benefits in developing the area of business ethics. Companies are beginning to implement not only a code of ethics, but other complementary initiatives that reinforce the need for the culture of the organization to be ethical. Codes of ethics are perceived by organizations to have assisted them in their dealings in the marketplace and many companies use their ethical values to underpin their strategic planning process. It appears that many companies now see the formalisation of business ethics as an integral part of their commercial practices.
Originality/value – This study is the first one of its kind on codes of ethics in corporate Sweden. It will enable all sectors of Swedish business to benchmark their efforts against the major companies in the Swedish corporate sector.
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