How do external regulations shape the design of ethical tools in organisations? An open polity and sociology of compliance perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External organisations

  • Cass Business Sch


In response to the numerous hard and soft ethical regulations that have emerged in the wake of recurrent corporate scandals, Multinational Corporations (MNCs) have adopted ethical tools. This move is often interpreted as a means to garner legitimacy and as loosely coupled to corporate activities. Little is known, however, about the processes by which external regulations affect the design of ethical tools. Approaching organisations as open polities and building on institutional theory and the sociology of compliance, we conducted a qualitative study of the development of 23 ethical tools at four MNCs. We analytically induced a three-stage model that explains how ethical tools are externally sourced (importation), then subjected to competing pressures from distinct professional groups that replicate legal features of the environment (politicisation), to become finally turned into quasi-legal procedures (legalisation). Our analysis contributes to theory by explaining how external regulations relate to the organisational production of ethical tools in a self-reinforcing manner, while specifying the role of ethics professionals in the process of ethical tool production.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-681
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number5
Early online date28 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Ethical tools, Ethics professionals, institutional theory, Judicialization, Open polity, Sociology of compliance, judicialisation, open polity, ethics professionals, ethical tools, sociology of compliance