July 20, 2000
Book Review: "Global Codes of Conduct"
A new resource on the growing number of codes for corporate behavior provides valuable insights on
their history and their future.
Since the Sullivan Principles for employment practices in South Africa under Apartheid were first
drafted in 1976, a variety of business codes of conduct have been introduced by corporations,
shareholders, consumers, and other stakeholders. A new publication from the University of Notre
Dame Press offers perspective on the development of these global codes and their integral role in
the future of economic globalization.
"Global Codes of Conduct: An Idea
Whose Time Has Come" is a collection of essays edited by Oliver Williams, Associate Professor of
Management and Academic Director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business at the
University of Notre Dame. This book provides a variety of viewpoints on codes of conduct,
particularly useful to students of business ethics, but also to investors or other stakeholders in
"A global code of conduct is a requirement of our new
situation, with the shrinking borders of our world compressing peoples, cultures, and economies,"
writes Williams in the book's introduction. "Technology and the Internet have hastened the arrival
of our global village, and the challenge to fashion a humane village is one that remains for our
The approach to "Global Codes" is decidedly academic, featuring a majority of
authors that are scholarly leaders in the world of business ethics. Several essays delve into the
cross-section of corporate behavior with more abstract reaches of erudition, such as the behavioral
science of the "ambiguity-specificity paradox," or the Confusion ethics tradition of China.
But the subject of global corporate conduct could hardly be more concrete, and the strongest
chapters are by those authors with practical experience in the day-to-day lessons of corporate
conduct. Perhaps the most palpable of these is by Kevin Sweeney, a manager for Patagonia and member
of the White House Apparel Industry Partnership, which adopted an industry standard code of conduct
in response to consumer demand.
"We chose to get involved because of the holistic nature
of many global problems, and many potential solutions," said Sweeney. "More and more, it is
becoming clear to activists that the many progressive movements ongoing today are in fact one
movement." Sweeney's description of Patagonia as a company already achieving many of the goals of
global codes of conduct through their commitment to quality at all levels of production helps
define what it means to be a corporate leader in this area.
A central role in "Global
Codes" is played by the Caux Round Table Principles for Business, drafted by a coalition of senior
business executives from the Japan, Europe, and North America to address international corporate
conduct. Because of their broad base of support in the business community, the Caux Principles are
purported to be more likely to be adopted by corporations in various countries.
A code of
conduct drafted by the largest coalition of concerned shareholders, on the other hand, is relegated
to a section in the book subordinately labeled "The point of view of church groups." The Global
Principles for Global Responsibility, drafted by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
(ICCR) in collaboration with its counterparts in the UK and Canada, represent more than the point
of view of church groups, but the interest of all stakeholders in social justice.
time, the starting point is not a particular sector of the business establishment or a specific
company," said Ruth Rosenbaum, Chair of the Global Corporate Accountability Issue Group at ICCR.
"Rather the whole direction of accountability is changed with the starting point moved from the
corporation to the community, from the business world to humanity as a whole."
quarter century of incubation, the time has certainly come to put global codes of conduct to the
ultimate test, proceeding with economic globalization under the guidelines of widely held ethical
standards. "Global Codes of Conduct" goes a long way toward envisioning that final frontier and
stimulating further debate on the integrity of corporate behavior.
"Global Codes of
Conduct: An Idea Whose Time Has Come"
Edited by Oliver F. Williams, C.S.C. University of Notre
Dame Press, 2000.
SRI World Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.