Ethics Programs and the Paradox of Control

Business Ethics Quarterly, Forthcoming

41 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2007

See all articles by Jason M. Stansbury

Jason M. Stansbury


Bruce Barry

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management


We analyze corporate ethics programs as control systems, arguing that how control is exercised may have pernicious consequences and be morally problematic. In particular, the control cultivated by ethics programs may weaken employees' ability and motivation to exercise their own moral judgment, especially in novel situations. We develop this argument first by examining how organization theorists analyze control as an instrument of management coordination, and by addressing the political implications of control. We discuss coercive and enabling control as variations that help account for the distinction between compliance-based ethics programs and values-based ethics programs. We then explore three potential drawbacks of ethics programs: the specter of indoctrination, a politicization of ethics, and an atrophy of competence. Ethics programs that rely on coercive control may undermine their own effectiveness at stemming misbehavior.

Keywords: business ethics, management, control, coercion

JEL Classification: M14

Suggested Citation

Stansbury, Jason M. and Barry, Bruce, Ethics Programs and the Paradox of Control. Business Ethics Quarterly, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Bruce Barry

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management ( email )

Nashville, TN 37203
United States

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