A Corporate Code of Ethics is Not Enough

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After news of the scandal of Enron, one of the hottest items on e-Bay was a 64-page copy of Enron’s corporate code of ethics. One seller/former employee proclaimed it had “never been opened.” In the forward Kenneth L. Lay, CEO of Enron stated, “We want to be proud of Enron and to know that it enjoys a reputation for fairness and honesty and that it is respected (Enron 2).” For a company with such an extensive code of ethics and a CEO who seemed to want the company to be respected for that, there are still so many unanswered questions of what exactly went wrong. I believe that simply having a solid and thorough code of ethics alone does not prevent a company from acting unethically when given the right opportunity.

Investors and the media once considered Enron to be the company of the future. The company had detailed code of ethics and powerful front men like Kenneth Lay, who is the son of a Baptist minister and whose own son was studying to enter the ministry (Flynt 1). Unfortunately the Enron board waived the company’s own ethic code requirements to allow the company’s Chief Financial Officer to serve as a general partner for the partnership that Enron was using as a conduit for much of its business. They also allowed discrepancies of millions of dollars. It was not until whistleblower Sherron S. Watkins stepped forward that the deceit began to unravel. Enron finally declared bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, leaving employees with out jobs or money.

For a company to be successful ethically, it must go beyond the notion of simple legal compliance and adopt a values-based organizational culture. A corporate code of ethics can be a very valuable and integral part of a company’s culture but I believe that it is not strong enough to stand alone. Thought and care must go into constructing the code of ethics and the implementation of it. Companies need to infuse ethics and integrity throughout their corporate culture as well as into their definition of success. To be successfully ethical, companies must go beyond the notion of simple legal compliance and adopt a values-based organizational culture.

Creating a Solid Code of Ethics

What a Code of Ethics Should Entail

The importance of having a code of ethics is to define acceptable behaviors and promote higher standards of practice within a company. The code should provide a benchmark for...

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...y’s code but to our own code. We must make the choice of what is right and wrong and if put in a situation that is against our code we must stand up for what is right. A corporate code of ethics is a necessity in today’s society, but the company cannot simply rely on just a code. For the code to be successful, the company must prove to their employees that they have the desire and drive to back the words of their code.


Enron. Code of Ethics. Jul. 2000. 20 Feb. 2005. .

Flynt, Sean. “Enron Whistleblower Tells Chilling Tale of Corporate Ruin.” Samford University. Ed. Donna Fitch. 19 Feb. 2004. 3 Mar. 2005.


Hawkins, John. “The Path to Ethical Internalization: Moving the Code from the Wall to Daily Life.” Leadership Lifestyle. May. 2003

Johnson & Johnson. Our Credo. 18 August 2004. 3 Mar. 2005. .

Wee, Heesun. “Corporate Ethics: Right Makes Might.” Business Week Online. Ed. Douglas Harbrecht. 11 Apr. 2002. 3 Mar. 2005.

United States of America. One Hundred Seventh Congress. Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Sec 406.

Brooks, Leonard J. Business & Professional Ethics for Directors, Executives, & Accountants. Mason: Thompson South-Western, 2004. p227.

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