And more important, what can be done to make it right?
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The texts reviewed here shed light on both questions. They point to the gulf that exists between academic business ethics and professional management and suggest that business ethicists themselves may be largely responsible for this gap. Far too many business ethicists have occupied a rarified moral high ground, removed from the real concerns and real-world problems of the vast majority of managers. They have been too preoccupied with absolutist notions of what it means for managers to be ethical, with overly general criticisms of capitalism as an economic system, with dense and abstract theorizing, and with prescriptions that apply only remotely to managerial practice.
Such trends are all the more disappointing in contrast to the success that ethicists in other professions—medicine, law, and government—have had in providing real and welcome assistance to their practitioners.
Does this mean that managers can safely dismiss the enterprise of business ethics? In the past year or two, a number of prominent business ethicists have been taking stock of their field from within. And they are offering some promising new approaches of value to both academic business ethicists and professional managers.
What follows, then, is a guide to business ethics for perplexed managers: why it seems so irrelevant to their problems and how it can be made more useful in the future. To understand the gap between business ethics and the concerns of most managers, it pays to recall how managers and management academics thought about business ethics before it became a formal discipline.
Indeed, much of the research and writing in contemporary business ethics can be understood as a disgruntled reaction to the way ethical issues usually were addressed at business schools—in particular, to the traditional answers to the fundamental question: Why should managers be ethical? Starting well before World War II and culminating in the s and s, the dominant approach to the moral dimension of business was a perspective that came to be known as corporate social responsibility. Largely reacting to neoclassical economics, which holds that the sole responsibility of business is to maximize its immediate bottom line subject to only the most minimal constraints of the law, advocates of corporate social responsibility argued that ethical management requires more than merely following the dictates of the law or signals of the market, the two institutions that otherwise guide business behavior.
Rather, ethical management is a process of anticipating both the law and the market—and for sound business reasons. For example, when managers voluntarily undertake socially responsible actions beyond the bare legal minimum required in environmental protection, say, or antidiscrimination policy , they tend to forestall punitive social regulation. As corporate scholar E. Merrick Dodd, Jr. Corporate Strategy and the Search for Ethics, R. Edward Freeman and Daniel R. Gilbert, Jr. Englewood Cliffs, N. Gregory Dees and Peter C.
Cramton Business Ethics Quarterly April The social responsibility approach not only took an expansive view of the law but also urged managers to take an expansive view of the market. But according to the advocates of corporate social responsibility, ultimately the market will reward such behavior. Indeed, by now the tenets of corporate social responsibility have become conventional wisdom in managerial circles.
It was one thing, however, for social responsibility advocates to provide a broad and appealing answer to the question: Why should managers be ethical?
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It was quite another to answer the obvious follow-up: How can managers determine the ethical course in any particular situation and stick to it in the face of competing pressures? To address this question, social responsibility advocates set out in the s to create a brand-new managerial discipline: business ethics. One idea was to bring experts in moral philosophy into the business schools. Training in moral philosophy would give business ethicists the analytical frameworks and conceptual tools necessary for making fine-grained ethical distinctions and discerning the appropriate course in difficult ethical situations.
However, things have not worked out quite the way traditional advocates of corporate social responsibility had hoped. Largely because of their background in moral philosophy, a discipline that tends to place a high value on precisely those kinds of experiences and activities where self-interest does not rule, many business ethicists found the precepts of corporate social responsibility profoundly dissatisfying. As a result, they have spent a great deal of scholarly time and energy tearing down the social responsibility position in order to erect their own.
Indeed, far from taking a step closer to the real-world moral problems of management, several prominent business ethicists have chosen to reopen the fundamental question: Why should managers be ethical? Business ethicists have two basic problems with the enlightened self-interest answer to the question of why managers should be ethical.
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Moral philosophy tends to value altruism, the idea that an individual should do good because it is right or will benefit others, not because the individual will benefit from it. For many business ethicists, motivation can be either altruistic or self-interested, but not both. The ethical business must be ethical because it wants to be ethical.
Each of these criticisms has its kernel of truth. Clearly, ethics and interests can conflict. Take the example of a racially segregated company in the South during the s.
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Remaining racially segregated was ethically wrong. Yet active desegregation would have flown in the face of then-prevailing public norms and most likely would have been penalized severely by market forces over both the short and long terms.
When ethics and interest do not conflict, business ethicists have a point too. However, the problem is that many business ethicists have pushed both these lines of reasoning to extremes. In the case of the potential conflict between ethics and interests, the fundamental issue for a manager is not whether such conflicts sometimes or even frequently occur, but rather how he or she handles them when they occur. Issue Please enter a valid issue for volume. About this Journal. Continue reading To view the rest of this content please follow the download PDF link above.
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New villages have been built with better houses and infrastructure and more land for farming. The relocation programme was voluntary. Business ethics and corporate social responsibility An Anglo American case study Below is a list of Business Case Studies case studies organised alphabetically by company. Anglo American Business ethics and corporate social responsibility.