Today’s Ethical Enterprise

Ten years ago, what were the most important business ethics issues and drivers for your company? Did you look ahead to consider how or if the state of business ethics would change over the next ten years? The American Management Association did, and consequently, we can assess their ten-year-old predictions.

In 2005, the American Management Association commissioned the Human Resource Institute to conduct a global business ethics survey. HRI analyzed almost 1,100 responses to its survey and reviewed published literature in the field of business ethics, before publishing the study.  In it they reported on the state of business ethics then(2005) and predicted the state of business ethics ten years later (2015).

Here are just some of the ways they reported their results. How well did the AMA predict 2015? Is your company engaging in their top-recommended practices? Or, do you have some catching up to do?

Top Ten External Drivers on Corporate Ethics (2005-2015)

Driver Rank in 2005 Rank in 2015
Legal: laws and regulations 1 1
Economic environment 2 4
Political environment 3 9
Social values 4 6
Privacy 5 8
Level of global security 6 5
Technology 7 7
Corporate social responsibility movement 8 3
Environmental pressures 9 2
Societal pressures 10 10

The source of this table and the following “top five” lists is the AMA’s 2006 Ethical Enterprise study referenced below.

Top Five Internal Practices/Programs:

  1. Code of conduct
  2. Ethics training
  3. Corporate social responsibility
  4. Ombudsman
  5. Ethics helpline(hotline)

Top Five Effectiveness Measures:

  1. Ethics survey results
  2. Customer ethics complaints
  3. Ethics audit results
  4. Achievement of ethics goals
  5. Theft/fraud

Business Ethics in 2015–Top Five Assumptions:

Technology will have an even stronger impact on business ethics in 2015 than in 2005. A primary ethics question for companies will be, “We have the technology to do this, but is it ethical to use it this way?”

Global trends will influence business ethics. The challenges will include global free trade initiatives, shifting demographic trends, conflicts, an integrated global labor force, and diverse regional values, all of which will add complexity to establishing an ethical corporate culture.

Organizational structures will become interdependent, with businesses requiring more contractors,partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, alliances, and even shared investments with competitors. From an ethics point of view, companies will need strategies for how to monitor and influence their partners.

Socioeconomic trends leading to intense global marketplace competition may tempt companies to make decisions based on expediency rather than ethics. At the same time, a large number of stakeholders will exert pressure for more stringent global laws and regulations, and for organizations to operate with a high ethical standard.

Environmental trends will have become a much more important driver of ethics from 2005 to 2015. There is a risk to companies that claim “green values” and then are caught in actions viewed as anti-environment. Companies will need to consider how environmentalism fits into their principles and codes of ethics and then, if they decide it does, work to integrate these values into their strategic plans and corporate cultures.

The AMA’s ten-year-old predictions about today’s business ethics environment may not be 100% accurate for every company, but they are not far off.  Now would be a good time to review your codes of conduct, your training, education,and outreach efforts, and your procedures for tools such as your ethics hotline and periodic audits, in light of today’s business ethics drivers. And while you’re at it, what do you see for 2025?

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines. Contact us for more information.


American Management Association. The Ethical Enterprise: Doing the Right Things in the Right Ways, Today and Tomorrow: a Global Study of Business Ethics 2005-2015, 2006.