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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 multinational
"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 time."
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.
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.
"This 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."
After a 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.