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Forbes: 'Ethics'-- What Are They Good For, Absolutely Nothin'

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Around this time last year, when Nancy Botwin wanted to increase sales from her marijuana peddling business, she was instructed by her accountant to open up a fake bakery as a front to legitimize her dealings to neighbors, friends, the DEA, et al. The bakery, Doug, explained, would put people off the trail, and she would be free to get as many housewives high as she wanted. Forbes explores a similar situation today:

Chief ethics and compliance officers have become trendy in recent years, but some experts fear they act mainly as window dressing. If one person is in charge of ethics, they argue, everyone else might think they're off the hook. "In a way, it's a job creation program," says Mary Ann Jorgenson, a partner in the law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. "It's not great for every company. It's not necessary for every company."
Chief ethics officers started appearing in corporate hallways in 1991, when the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for corporations went into effect. The guidelines stated that companies with effective compliance and ethics programs could receive preferential treatment during prosecutions for white-collar crimes. It's an "A for effort" philosophy, in which companies that prioritize ethics can sometimes escape punishment when their ethics programs fail.
But the position is sometimes "just a mask for the company to hide behind," says Efrem Grail, a partner at law firm Reed Smith, who specializes in corporate investigations. Hunsaker is the perfect example. In an e-mail exchange obtained by The New York Times, Hunsaker asked Anthony R. Gentilucci, the head of HP's global investigations unit, whether the spying tactics used by a subcontractor were "above board." Gentilucci responded, "I think it is on the edge, but above board." To which Hunsaker replied: "I shouldn't have asked."

Chief Ethics Officers: Who Needs Them? [Forbes]