Ethics, through beliefs and values form the building blocks of organisational behaviour. Values and beliefs are part of the cognitive sub-structure of an organisational culture. Values are intimately connected with moral and ethical codes, and determine what people think ‘ought’ to be done. For example, individuals and organisations that value honesty, integrity and openness consider that they (and others) should act honestly, openly and with integrity because that is the right thing to do.

Beliefs on the other hand concern what people think is and is not true. The value set is composed of rights and duties. The distinction is reasonably straightforward. For the most part, rights and duties are the opposite ends of the same coin. If management as an employer has a duty to ensure reasonable standards of health and safety for workers, workers have a right to expect it. If it is believed or if it has become a market norm that workers have a right to a minimum wage, then management as employers have a duty to pay it. These rights and duties can be categorised in three parts:-

  • General rights and duties
  • Legal rights and duties
  • Role-specific rights and duties

General rights and duties

General rights and duties are moral entitlements in which everyone shares and are universally recognised e.g.  a duty not to cheat, for example, or a duty not to steal.

Legal rights and duties

Legal rights and duties are more circumscribed. They only apply within certain jurisdictions. In many jurisdictions legal rights and duties are defined through statutes passed by parliament, through common law, and through legal judgements handed down in courts, which establish precedents, that is, case law. Although there is an overlap between law and ethics (for example, it is both illegal and unethical to sell ‘spoilt’ products), some actions are unethical but not illegal, and (less commonly) vice versa. Breaking a promise made to a friend is usually not illegal, but is unethical unless some very good reasons can be found to the contrary.

Role Specific rights and duties

Within the firm, there are role-specific rights and duties. For example, all workers have a right to use the firm’s canteen or parking spaces. A role-specific duty may also be a legal duty: for example, the sales manager who failed to promote the firm’s goods could also be in breach of contract. Or a worker who shirks on the production line would be failing in a role-specific duty, but may not be acting illegally. While in so far as any role-specific right or duty is moral as opposed to legal, it derives its moral force from being a restricted instance of a general right or duty. Our sales manager or worker, for example, could be demonstrating an absence of a firm-specific value set: in other words, the value set within a firm is akin to a universal morality. In the absence of a value set represented by a corporate code of ethical conduct, there is a role-specific failure of a general moral duty of fidelity within the business.


Creating a business culture based on ethic’s requires the entity (corporate, firm, government department, quasi-government agency and not for profit organisation) to develop its own ethical value set commonly called the “Code of Ethical Conduct”. Each entity should consider the business they are in, the environment they operate in and the ethical theories and philosophy expounded above to develop their own code of conduct, which serves the markets, the era and society they operate. I believe every organisation is unique as its principal stakeholders will determine which theories to place emphasis.


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