Effects of organizational ethical culture on the ethical decisions of tax practitioners in mainland China

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)

31 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of organizational ethical culture on the ethical decisions of tax practitioners in mainland China. Design/methodology/approach: The study is based on a field survey of practicing public accountants. Findings: As hypothesized, certain dimensions of ethical culture had highly significant effects on intentions to engage in aggressive tax minimization strategies. Cultures characterized by strong ethical norms and incentives for ethical behavior significantly reduced the reported likelihood of engaging in unethical behavior in a high moral intensity case. In a low moral intensity case, intentions to engage in questionable behavior were significantly higher when participants felt that top managers in their firm were unethical and rewarded unethical behavior. Relativism judgments (judgments of what is traditionally or culturally acceptable or acceptable to one's family) emerged as the strongest determinant of behavioral intentions across both cases. Participants also appeared highly sensitive to questions regarding what is traditionally or culturally acceptable in Chinese tax practice. Originality/value: This is the first study of ethical decision making among tax practitioners in mainland China, and the findings add to a growing body of literature documenting the significant effects of organizational ethical context on public accountants' decision making processes. This has important implications for CPA firms, suggesting that proactive steps should be taken to promote supportive ethical contexts. The findings for the effects of relativism judgments raise concerns regarding the ethical decisions of Chinese tax practitioners, implying they are likely to engage in unethical behavior if they feel such behavior is common in their cultural environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-668
Number of pages22
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2011



  • China
  • Ethical culture
  • Ethical decision making
  • Relativism judgments
  • Tax practitioners
  • Taxes

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