Due to the domain characteristics of business ethics, a contractarian theory for business ethics will need to be essentially different from the contract model as it is applied to other domains. Much of the current criticism of contractarian business ethics (CBE) can be traced back to autonomy, one of its three boundary conditions. After explaining why autonomy is so important, this article considers the notion carefully vis à vis the contracting partners in the contractarian approaches in business ethics. Autonomy is too demanding a condition for the realm of CBE. But a less stringent version of the contract may be possible, a version which uses the contract as a heuristic device, which merely requires moral responsibility. Furthermore, it is argued that views of (human) agency and the moral subject should be made explicit in such a theory. © Springer 2006.