Business Ethics

Can laws and behavior codes keep companies honest?


Business experts and lawmakers are pushing for tougher ethics rules following scandals ranging from Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme to alleged corner-cutting before last year's Gulf oil spill and multimillion-dollar bonuses awarded to executives of failed Wall Street banks in the wake of the financial crisis. A recent Gallup Poll found that only 15 percent of Americans rate corporate executives high in honesty and ethical standards. Congress has sought to stem business misdeeds, most recently through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. But some conservatives complain that attempts to impose ethical standards on business can turn simple errors of judgment into criminal acts. Many big companies, including Google and outdoor-clothing retailer Patagonia, have ethics codes. But so did Enron, ...

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