Birth of the Ethics Industry

Business ethics meets the ethics business


| August 4, 2005


For many big companies, complying with Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) legislation has caused only headache. But for the burgeoning ethics industry, SOX has been the root of recent success. James C. Hyatt reports in Business Ethics that a host of firms are profiting from bringing corporations up to speed on ethics.

According to Hyatt, 'Corporations are rushing to learn ethics virtually overnight.' And to help with their cramming, they're turning to consultants who specialize in instructing employees on laws and ethics. They're subscribing to 'ethics hotline services' that allow workers to file complaints or offer tips anonymously without fear of retribution. And they're gobbling up 'compliance management software.' Such trends have created an ethics business boom fueled not only by SOX, but also by corporate re-prioritizing in the wake of the Arthur Andersen and Enron investigations.

Expansion in the ethics industry has created scads of job openings. Hyatt's search for the word 'Sarbanes' in job descriptions listed on Monster.com turned up more than 1,000 hits. But, as he points out, a number of the listings aren't for specifically ethics-related jobs; SOX legislation also dealt with 'accounting control systems,' so many of the slots are in the accounting field.

On Wall Street, several firms recently hired chief compliance officers to fill prominent roles. In the past, such officers were typically relegated to the background of corporate culture. Now, they're getting pay hikes. Their increased salaries account for just a portion of the money spent on SOX compliance. Lowballers project that $6.1 billion will be spent by ethics-happy companies this year alone.
-- Archie Ingersoll

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