Recent research depicts the intra-organizational spreading of unethical behavior from different theoretical perspectives. However, no theory accounts for the dynamic social interplay between the individual and the contextual level concerning the spreading of unethical behavior in organizations. Furthermore, there is a lack of concepts covering internal causes and exogenous shocks that can lead to an incremental or sudden spreading of unethical behavior in organizations. This shortcoming limits the practical understanding of business ethics management by not considering the cause and effect between the different levels of analysis and their development over time. This dissertation developed the theory of The Structuration of Moral Capital and Unethical Behavior and an empirically calibrated agent-based model to address the complication in the current research. Based on the outlined theory and considering the use case of goal-setting, a role play in an organization embedded in a web-based 3x3 between-subject design with 1762 participants was conducted. The central empirical results showed that the moral capital scenarios and moral disengagement failed to affect unethical behavior, whereas the goal difficulty provoked unethical behavior. Nonetheless, the key finding of the agent-based modeling was that even with minimal force, moral capital possesses a robust regulatory power to suppress the spreading of unethical behavior, whereas the predicted probabilities of hitting an ethical meltdown were significantly higher in the exogenous shock scenarios. The most crucial implication for business ethics management is establishing and maintaining moral capital as an organizations social structure to prevent the spreading of unethical behavior. Especially business ethics measures targeting an ethical organizational culture are prone to be most successful.
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