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Role of Ethics in Business Success

Essay by review  •  November 12, 2010  •  Essay  •  949 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,458 Views

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1. APPROACHES TO BUSINESS ETHICS

When business people speak about "business ethics" they usually mean one of three things: (1) avoid breaking the criminal law in one's work-related activity; (2) avoid action that may result in civil law suits against the company; and (3) avoid actions that are bad for the company image. Businesses are especially concerned with these three things since they involve loss of money and company reputation. In theory, a business could address these three concerns by assigning corporate attorneys and public relations experts to escort employees on their daily activities. Anytime an employee might stray from the straight and narrow path of acceptable conduct, the experts would guide him back. Obviously this solution would be a financial disaster if carried out in practice since it would cost a business more in attorney and public relations fees than they would save from proper employee conduct. Perhaps reluctantly, businesses turn to philosophers to instruct employees on becoming "moral." For over 2,000 years philosophers have systematically addressed the issue of right and wrong conduct. Presumably, then, philosophers can teach employees a basic understanding of morality will keep them out of trouble.

However, it is not likely that philosophers can teach anyone to be ethical. The job of teaching morality rests squarely on the shoulders of parents and one's early social environment. By the time philosophers enter the picture, it is too late to change the moral predispositions of an adult. Also, even if philosophers could teach morality, their recommendations are not always the most financially efficient. Although being moral may save a company from some legal and public relations nightmares, morality in business is also costly. A morally responsible company must pay special attention to product safety, environmental impact, truthful advertising, scrupulous marketing, and humane working conditions. This may be more than a tight-budgeted business bargained for.

We cannot easily resolve this tension between the ethical interests of the money-minded businessperson and the ideal-minded philosopher. In most issues of business ethics, ideal moral principles will be checked by economic viability. To understand what is at stake, we will look at three different ways of deriving standards of business ethics.

Deriving Business Ethics from the Profit Motive. Some businesspeople argue that there is a symbiotic relation between ethics and business in which ethics naturally emerges from a profit-oriented business. There are both weak and strong versions of this approach. The weak version is often expressed in the dictum that good ethics results in good business, which simply means that moral businesses practices are profitable. For example, it is profitable to make safe products since this will reduce product liability lawsuits. Similarly, it may be in the best financial interests of businesses to respect employee privacy, since this will improve morale and thus improve work efficiency. Robert F. Hartley's book, Business Ethics, takes this approach. Using 20 case studies as illustrations, Hartley argues that the long-term best interests of businesses are served by seeking a trusting relation with the public (Hartley, 1993). This weak version, however,

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