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The paper identifies in the literature two categories of codes of ethics, inspirational and prescriptive, and introduces new classification categories of allodial and decretal. The first classification is based on the identity of the ethics decision-maker – the authors or the addressees of codes. The second classification is based on whether operational definitions are applied by the codes. Such concrete definitions may be in the rules themselves, in related documents or be known from shared knowledge. The second classification has importance if national associations of accountants use codes as a means for assurance of specific outcomes of defined ethical behaviours.

For the study, a survey of 57 codes of ethics issued by national associations of professional accountants was undertaken to determine the basic features of codes and to analyse their content. The areas of ethical concern in national associations were identified and compared to the IFAC model code for professional accountants. The paper reports that national organisations of accountants have promulgated decretal codes in 96% of cases examined. As these codes contain operational definitions, their outcomes can be scientifically measured and sanctions for breaches fairly and reasonably imposed.