Cowton, Christopher J. (2008) Accounting and the ethics challenge: Re-membering the professional body. Working Paper. Financial Ethics and Governance Research Group University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK. (Unpublished)
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Based on the P.D. Leake Lecture given at Chartered Accountants’ Hall in May 2007,
this paper looks beyond recent financial reporting ‘scandals’ to consider the ‘standing
challenge’ that ethics represents for accountants and the professional bodies that
represent them. It examines the notion of a profession and argues for a position that
recognizes both the potential benefits of professionalization and the self-serving
tendencies to which professions can be prone. Such a position entails a view that the
outcome of professionalization for society is a contingent matter rather than an
inevitability (whether positive or negative) and therefore something that is worth
attempting to influence. In developing the argument, two major areas from the
business ethics/corporate social responsibility literature, oriented towards business
enterprises but also of relevance to professional bodies, are reviewed: whether being
ethical ‘pays’ in financial terms; and whether formal codes are useful in promoting
ethical behaviour. The paper concludes by positing three models of the professional
body and contending for a renewed notion of membership if professional bodies are to
function as effective ‘moral communities’.

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