This study investigates the effect of positive states, perceived supervisor support and independence of internal audit function on internal auditors' moral courage. Although extensive research has suggested that risk of feared consequences is the major cause that inhibits internal auditors from reporting managerial fraud, there has been little empirical investigation into the way of fostering internal auditors' moral courage to speak up. This study used a survey of 146 internal auditors in Tunisia. The partial least squares–structural equation model was used to test our hypotheses. The results indicate that self-efficacy, resilience, perceived supervisor support and the independence of internal audit function have a positive effect on the internal auditors' moral courage; however, state hope does not show a significant link. Additionally, we find that women experience higher levels of moral courage than men do.
Previous evidence has shown that internal auditors are more helpful in detecting fraud and corruption than external auditors are (Halbouni, 2015; Jayalakshmy, Seetharaman, & Khong, 2005); nevertheless, they are still reluctant to report them. Accordingly, academicians and professionals describe them as “gatekeepers” who failed to prevent the global financial scandals (Chambers & Odar, 2015). A growing body of research has revealed that the fear of retaliation is the main cause of the silence of nonreporting observers (Cassematis & Wortley, 2013; James, 2003; Khelil, Hussainey, & Noubbigh, 2016). Keil, Tiwana, Sainsbury, and Sneha (2010) note that retaliation is common and is reported to happen 17–38% of the time. It is manifested in several forms, including job loss, intimidation, death threats, defamation of character and negative impact on one's career, all of which can exert a physical and psychological toll on the health of whistle‐blower (Comer & Schwartz, 2017; Miceli, Near, & Morehead Dwoekin, 2008).
Moral courage is an attribute that motivates and enables individuals to take the right path of action based on the ethics of their professions (Sekerka, Bagozzi, & Charnigo, 2009). Morales‐Sánchez and Cabello‐Medina (2013) support this view by noting that prosocial behaviors, such as speaking up, require access to moral courage. Such courage is a moral competency that implies overcoming fear.
Despite the great agreement in the literature that internal auditors keep silent out of fear of reprisal, there have been few empirical investigations into the factors that enhance their moral courage to speak up when they encounter wrongdoings (e.g., Khelil et al., 2016; Khelil, Hussainey, & Noubbigh, 2017). Until now, however, auditing scholars have tended to focus on internal auditors' responsibilities in disclosing management fraud and have not considered what encourages them to exercise these responsibilities. Indeed, internal auditors need not only to know what the right thing to do is, but also to have the courage to do it (Khelil et al., 2016).