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Moral regulation in business : an investigation into corporate codes of ethics

Munro, Iain, 1969


Iain, 1969 Munro


Patrick W. Maclagan


This thesis provides an investigation intotompany codes of ethics and their part in the moral regulation of UK business. Codes of ethics have been adopted by many firms in the UK over recent decades, and the use of codes also comes highly recommended within the literature on Business Ethics. So, the purpose of this thesis will be to investigate how these codes are used in practice, why they have emerged in the first place, and what potential they might hold.Part One of the thesis will attempt to establish the present condition of company codes of ethics. This will begin by tracing the history of company codes of ethics, and the factors which have influenced their emergence. Subsequently, the ideological positions which underpin these codes will be exposed by examining the extent to which they express social responsibilities or mask other ideological undercurrents such as managerialism. This will be followed by an investigation into their general effects on actual business practices. The final chapter in Part One will attempt to provide an account of the ways in which these codes are limited as regards the regulation of business practices. Currently, they are restricted to a largely apologetic role with regard to existing business practices, and they have a very limited critical potential. A number of recommendations will then be made in order to overcome the various inadequacies at each stage of code implementation.Part Two of the thesis will begin by exposing the assumptions about morality which underlie the use of existing company codes of ethics. The employment of these codes presumes a very limited conception of the moral agency of business persons, where obedience may be considered to be their primary virtue. The orthodox company code takes little account of the interpretive powers of its subjects, or their ability to deliberate on moral matters. Therefore, in order to overcome these limitations, an alternative format for the design and implementation of codes will be proposed. This format will be constructed with questions to enrich one's moral thinking, rather than simply in terms of commands that one should follow. This question code could be referred to in order to uncover any illegitimate rationalizations which might be used to support unethical business practices. A dialogical framework for implementing a code will be examined in order to address the political and ideological problems which may permeate moral thinking within an organization.Finally, the philosophical foundations of this thesis will be interrogated. The Enlightenment tradition of philosophy will be shown to underpin much of the existing work on business ethics, where it also informs the impoverished moral debates within the institutions of modern liberalism. At best, the focus on codes neglects a rich seam of ethical thinking - virtue theory - and, at worst, it may be merely a mask for power, hiding the arbitrariness of moral decision making in contemporary business.


Munro, I. 1. (1994). Moral regulation in business : an investigation into corporate codes of ethics. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Management
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Management Systems and Sciences, The University of Hull
Award Date Jun 1, 1994


Thesis (16.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1994 Munro, Iain, 1969-. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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