Determinants Of Ethical Climate In The Firm: The Role Of Governance Control Systems And Environmental Uncertainty

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John J. Williams
Alfred E. Seaman


Governance, Control Systems, Ethical Climate, Environmental Uncertainty


Corporate governance mechanisms essentially reside in the control structure/systems of most organizations and provide, theoretically at least, a conduit to support a better organizational ethical climate. This linkage, however, has seldom been portrayed this way in the literature and, correspondingly, there are virtually no empirical studies to offer increased understanding, especially with respect to the professional accountant in practice. Accordingly, this paper empirically assesses the governance mechanisms sanctioned by the International Federation of Accountants (2009) as determinants of an organizations ethical climate based on evidence from a Canadian sample of CFOs/controllers. The ethics/leadership literature relating to ethical climate provides the theoretical underpinnings while organizational contingency theory supports examining the moderating effects of perceived environmental uncertainty (PEU). Increases in corporate governance control mechanisms are found to positively influence ethical climate. A significant relationship persists under both low and high levels of PEU but, as expected, it is much stronger when the level of PEU is low which raises concerns about how to embrace a stronger ethical climate when uncertainty is high. This paper contributes to the governance and ethics literature by providing empirical evidence that normative directives on evaluating and improving governance in organizations from global accounting authorities, such as the IFAC, are effective in shaping firms ethical climates in practice.


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