International Business Machines is a company that has been in existence for a substantial part of the 20th and now 21st centuries. While the company began in the early 20th century providing tabulating machines to businesses and high wealth individuals, since this time it has undergone a significant amount of evolution. This evolution even includes a period of providing computer hardware and software. In its contemporary incarnation, IBM is a company that is moving into the 21st century through its investment in cloud technology that it hopes will have a profound impact on the world in upcoming decades.
The company has gained reputation for strong ethics and excellence. While it does not have a specific business statement, it does have a lengthy series of quotes that reflect its organizational values. In these regards, the company indicates that, “It is a company based on values… At IBM, Values mean more than ethics, compliance, or even a code of conduct… Dedication to every client’s success… Innovation that matters – for our company and for the world…Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships” (IBM Our Values at Work, 2016). The present research advances with a philosophical consideration of these values in relation to the company’s ethical philosophy as embodied by its code of ethics.

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Ethical Approach
While IBM’s mission statement reflects a company that is ends-driven in its purpose, when considering its ethical system in large part it appears to be duty-driven, with some variations on this approach. As noted, while in large part IBM’s ethical system advances a duty driven approach, there are instances in which the company appears more ends-driven. The company’s duty-driven approach is highlighted by its almost ubiquitous inclusion of caveats to each section of its content that highlight potential legal ramifications that its employees must follow. Similar statements relating to the legal ramifications of ethical practice are included in other sections. However, at another juncture it does seem to imply an ends-driven approach. For instance, the section that starts the No Wrongful Payments section indicates that at all times the company is expected to comply with legal regulations, but if the code of ethics is stricter than the legal regulations, the employees should follow the code of ethics (IBM PartnerWorld – Code of Conduct, 2016).

How is the Code of Ethics Used?

While nearly all of IBM’s conduct applies to its employees there are a certain amount of other factors that apply specifically to employees more so than company management and its board of directors. One such instance this occurs is through the company’s ethical regulations for its vendors. Specifically, vendors are not allowed to fix or control prices for IBM products, join together to launch boycotts, divide markets, or coordinate bids on products (IBM PartnerWorld – Code of Conduct, 2016). Another thing that employees are cautioned about engaging in is the acquisition of third-party software. The company indicates that the acquisition of this software is something that employees should be aware of the licensing elements. Further, IBM employees are discouraged from having close ties to other people working in the industry.

Management does not have a specific section in terms of the organization’s ethical conduct. However, like the board of directors, there are elements that would appear to apply to these individuals at a level greater than they apply to other members of the organization. People working in management roles (as well as employees) are restricted from assisting a competitor in anyway. While assisting a competitor is an ethical code that would apply to employees, because management is higher on the company’s value chain, this ethical principle would apply to them to an even greater degree (IBM Investor relations – Corporate governance | Board committees, 2016).

Board of Directors
Although no section of the company’s code of ethics specifically stuck out in relation to its board of directors, outside research indicates that the board of directors is responsible for following the company’s business conduct guidelines. The business conduct guidelines are a separate document that outlines a substantial amount of elements that factor into the organizational decision making. While it would require an exhaustive account of such guidelines to list the multitude of sections that the board of directors must follow, there are prominent ones that clearly recognizable. For instance, this document indicates that individuals should avoid inadvertent disclosure. This is referring to individual’s need to refrain from revealing specific information about the company to others that would potentially jeopardize its strategic position. Another code of conduct for the board of directors is to refrain from contacting or speaking to journalists to any level about the company’s business operations (IBM Investor relations – Corporate governance | Board committees, 2016).

Modifying the Code of Ethics
Perhaps the most significant element in the company’s code of ethics that might need to be modified is the hardline stance it has adopted in relation to boycotting. Not only does the company restrict its vendors from organizing and boycotting, but the company also restricts its subsidiaries, affiliates, and their agents from engaging in any form of organized boycott (IBM Investor relations – Corporate governance | Board committees, 2016). Such a stance could eventually harm the organization’s brand if media outlets or enough employees became discontent with its ethical stance on the issue.

Another element that might need to be modified is the restriction that is placed on employees for having close ties with other people in the industry. In this respect, the organization is directed at attempting to prevent secrets regarding its business operations to emerge and influence these competitors. In the future, it might be come increasingly difficult for the company to maintain such a policy as some of the most talented individuals might be those with deep connections in the industry that allow them to remain on the cutting-edge of the industry. As such, the company might need to sacrifice a level of confidentiality to attract such talented people into its business operations.

Possible Reactions and Effect on the Organization
In large part, the reactions that employees will have to the code of ethics would seem to be mixed. While a significant amount of its ethical content is geared towards ensuring people involved with the organization adhere to all fair laws and procedures, in some instances the company appears to extend its reach and become involved in the affairs of the employees involved in its practices. For instance, this was perhaps seen most clearly in regards to the company’s restricting its vendors to join together and launch a boycott of certain elements. Such a process indicates the company’s efforts to prevent these individuals from fairly competing for goods.

In conclusion, the company’s code of ethics contains a diverse array of ends-driven and duty-driven ethical content. In these regards, the company appears to be primarily concerned with ensuring that it adheres to all important legal regulations. However, at a number of junctures it goes beyond such considerations and establishes its own boundaries as a means of providing ends-driven structures that will best benefit the organization’s strategic initiatives. Currently, the company’s strong anti-boycott stance may eventually turn out to be too rigid in the instance that the company faces increased pressure from employees and vendors. Ultimately, however, the vast majority of the ethical guidelines situate the company as one primarily concerned with maintaining high ethical standards.

  • IBM Investor relations – Corporate governance | Board committees. (2016). Retrieved 23 April 2016, from
  • IBM Our Values at Work – United States. (2016). Retrieved 23 April 2016, from
  • IBM PartnerWorld – Code of Conduct. (2016). Retrieved 23 April 2016, from