Research on Professional Responsibility and Ethics in Accounting: Volume 21

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Table of contents

(9 chapters)

The Franciscan Friar Luca Pacioli is considered the “father of accounting” because of his 1494 publication Summa de Arithmetrica, Geometrica, Proportioni et Proportionalita (Summa) which included a section double entry accounting. While accounting systems existed before Pacioli, he introduced double entry accounting as a more efficient means of keeping business records because that would lead to better business operation and profits. Subsequently, double entry accounting systems have contributed significantly to the rise of capitalism in Europe and the developed world.

Pacioli also advocated a moral and social role for accounting, business, and the successful business person whose actions help serve the public interest. This clearly indicated that Pacioli understood business was about more than bookkeeping and profitability.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has played a significant role in business ethics for at least a century. Starting with Rerum Novarum, 1891 and continuing through numerous Papal Encyclicals (e.g., Caritas in Veritate, 2009; Centesimus Annus, 1991), CST has carefully examined how businesspeople, labor, and capital can cooperate to build a more just and peaceful society that fulfills the entire person. CST thus predates and contributes to contemporary business ethics efforts.

Pacioli’s contributions reflect and underlay much of contemporary CST, which is why we believe it is important to examine his social responsibility teaching in the context of contemporary CST principles. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss Pacioli’s view of the moral roles of accounting, business, and businesspeople in the context of CST principles, particularly (1) purpose of accounting profits, (2) purpose of business in society, (3) ethical and efficient business practices as they relate to accounting, and (4) the undivided life.


This study explores auditors’ professional attitudes and behaviours. It tests the influence of public interest commitment, independence enforcement beliefs and organisational ethical culture on auditors’ acceptance of and engagement in practices that compromise their objectivity. The study is based on survey responses of 122 Spanish auditors. To analyse the combined effect of the variables under study, variance-based structural equation modelling (partial least squares, PLS) was employed. The results suggest that the regulatory efforts to improve auditors’ behaviours by enforcing independence rules have been internalised by auditors. The results also reinforce the need to instil the societal responsibilities of professional auditors, since auditors’ public interest commitment is related to their ethical decision making. Furthermore, this study reveals that firms’ ethical cultures influence auditors’ commitment to the public interest, as well as their ethical decision making. The study raises practical implications for auditing professionals, regulators and audit firms. Understanding auditors’ beliefs and behavioural patterns is critical to proposing mechanisms that enhance their ethical behaviours, which could ultimately enhance audit quality. The chapter contributes to the field by analysing the combined effect of the regulatory framework and organisational context on auditors’ professional values and behaviours.


The chapter first draws concepts underlying legitimacy theory (Suchman, 1995) to provide a basis to understand alternative approaches to the development of ethical cultures in global organization. The chapter then illustrates the institutionalization of Codes of Ethics through a “management” approach drawing from Simon’s Levers of Control as a framework to contextualize experiences of a large global conglomerate. The chapter adopts the case approach, applying the case of the Tata Group to highlight the integration of external institutions into the institutionalization process. The management of business ethics (MBE) can provide a basis to institutionalize ethics in global firms to create an internal culture consistent with ethical goals of the corporations that may also be different from the external environment. The MBE includes the application of managerial techniques and information technology to institutionalize ethics in organizational culture. Management Accountants can have a significant role in supporting this endeavor, given their expertise in measurement and control. The code is only one aspect through which firms develop their identity. Information on the case was unevenly distributed. For example, there was voluminous information on the code and its implementation. Therefore, some subjectivity was necessary in selecting relevant items. The chapter, to my knowledge, provides unique insights into the theoretical and practical aspects of institutionalizing ethics in corporate cultures using Codes of Ethics.


We examine the perceived influence of externally generated firm ratings of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on voting for shareholder-sponsored CSR proposals. Using stakeholder and legitimacy theories, we introduce two rationales that relate shareholder voting decisions to the firm’s CSR performance: the complementary perspective where investors rely on management’s branding or image of the firm for CSR performance, and the sufficiency perspective where shareholders consider legitimacy effects of firm CSR performance. Our examination of 473 CSR shareholder-sponsored proposals during the 2013 to 2015 proxy seasons reveals a negative relationship between support for shareholder-sponsored CSR proposals and CSR strengths, particularly for social and environmental CSR strengths. We also find a positive relationship between support for shareholder-sponsored CSR proposals and CSR concerns, particular in the area of environmental CSR concerns. These results partially support the sufficiency perspective that incorporates shareholder legitimacy concerns. When companies have poor CSR performance, shareholders may view further CSR initiatives as beneficial to the firm.


Commentators have claimed that business schools encourage unethical behavior by using economic theory as a basis for education. We examine claims that exposure to agency theory acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, reducing ethical behavior among business students. We experimentally test whether economics coursework or a manipulated competitive vs. cooperative frame affects measured ethical behavior in simulated decision settings. We measure ethical behavior using established tasks. We also measure ethical recognition to test whether agency theory reduces recognition of ethical issues. Exposure to agency theory in either prior classwork or the experiment increased wealth-increasing unethical behavior. We found no effect on unethical behavior that does not affect wealth. We found no effect of exposure to agency theory on ethical recognition. Usual laboratory experiment limitations apply. Future research can examine why agency theory reduces ethical behavior. Educators ought to consider unintended consequences of the language and assumptions of theories that underlie education. Students may assume descriptions of how people behave as prescriptions for how people ought to behave. This study contributes to the literature on economic education and ethics. We found no prior experimental studies of the effect of economics education on ethical behavior.


Unethical business decisions and accounting fraud have occurred as a result of lapses in ethical sensitivity and judgment. The Association for Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that a typical organization loses 5% of its total yearly revenues to fraud; globally this translates into losses of over three trillion dollars each year (ACFE, 2016). Regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act encourage reporting wrongdoing to mitigate fraud losses. Although there are many studies that explore the characteristics of whistleblowers, there are few studies that have examined the impact of an individual’s level of moral reasoning on whistleblowing intentions for financial statement fraud. This study offers several contributions over prior research by exploring the impact of two measures of moral reasoning (P-score and the N2-score) on decisions to whistleblow to either internal or external reporting outlets. This study finds that an individual’s level of moral reasoning impacts whistleblowing intentions to internal management, but an individual’s level of moral reasoning does not impact decisions to whistleblow externally. The practical implications of these findings are discussed.


Using experimental scenarios, the current study suggest that the management accountants’ professional attributes social obligation, professional autonomy, professional affiliation, and professional dedication are associated with three ethical rationales that have been identified as playing important roles in ethical judgment, the perception of the ethicality of an action; moral equity, contractualism, and relativism. Understanding these issues will assist in determining the management accounting professional attributes that should be fostered in encouraging the ethical judgments of management accountants since research indicates that the moral equity and contractualism rationales are consistent with individuals at the post-conventional stage of ethical development and more ethical judgments while the relativism rationale is consistent with the conventional stage of moral development and less ethical judgments.

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