Open Access

What Jokes Can Tell: A Top 5 of Ethical Transgressions in Consulting


In studies on consultant ethics clients are usually portrayed as their potential victims. However, in newspapers a different story can be found, when journalists report cased where clients and consultants have been partners in crime. To better map the common ethical transgressions in consulting, this study presents a top five based on interviews with consultants. In addition, the study illustrates these common transgressions with public jokes, found on the internet. The findings show how clients are not the only, and certainly not the most vulnerable stakeholder. Client interests are relatively well acknowledged in consultancies’ codes of conduct, and much more so than for example those of client staff, or junior consultants. This study contributes to consultant practice by emphasizing how consultant ethics should acknowledge more stakeholders than only clients. Likewise, it flags the issue of consultant independence, as it is consultants second most reported ethical challenge. The study contributes to the business ethics literature by demonstrating the illustrative value of business jokes in pointing at common ethical transgression, complementary to the less common and more severe cases journalists report about.