Date of Publication

Spring 2010

Degree Type

Honors Thesis


Business Administration and Economics

First Advisor

John Keiser, PhD


When the goal of commerce is profitability, there exists an inherent risk for business people to maximize their personal wealth, thus acting unethically. This moral hazard has been a permanent factor in business despite society’s efforts to control or legislate the questionable behaviors of business organizations and individuals. Still, ethical lapses remain.

As is the case with most things, only a small percentage of companies in the business world have been guilty of unethical behavior. The minority of unethical, dishonest and corrupt people have tarnished the reputation of the entire business sector, prompting the government to increase regulation and companies to develop comprehensive ethical programs and monitoring systems. Topics such as corporate governance, environmental sustainability and ethics officers are of ever growing importance both within companies and the broader corporate environment.

This paper will first lay out some significant events in the progression of the field of business ethics. There will be discussion on some of the more important business scandals and events throughout U.S. history that laid the foundation for ethical initiatives today. Next, it will discuss the reasons why individual organizations create codes of ethics and some growing trends in the field. Finally, it will discuss how codes of ethics can create both value and negative consequences in an attempt to seek out why firms create codes of ethics.