SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
BUSINESS ETHICS AND VALUES
WEEK 2: THE IMPORTANCE OF BUSINESS ETHICS?
Nicholas Kimani, PhD
Recent years have seen the media filled with reports of corporate misconduct. And many suspect that these represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This is why people receive the term ‘business ethics’, as a contradiction in terms. In truth, the most balanced response is to accept the criticism in good faith.
However, one should not succumb to the criticism with cynicism. After all, one might add that the challenge for business ethics is to move from the fundamental to the instrumental. That is, it is generally accepted that there is conscience and ethics are not inimical (harmful) to the fiscal goals for business. However the need to focus on making the concepts of business ethics to be more instrumental (i.e. practical) is glaring. Put another way, we have accepted the need for ethics in governance, and now we should be focussing on the governance of ethics. This is no easy task. But the goal of business ethics is to one day arrive at the corporation with a conscience.
Teaching and training business ethics does not promise to provide answers to complex moral dilemmas. All the knowledge in the world cannot guarantee to make a person more ethical. With any study, it is up to the individuals how well, or even whether, they translate learning into practice. However, thoughtful and resourceful business ethics educators can facilitate the development of awareness of what is and is not ethical; help individuals and groups realize their ethical tolerance and decision-making styles; decrease unethical blind spots; and enhance a curiosity and concern to discuss moral problems openly in the workplace. Business ethics can make it difficult for people to behave immorally by exposing them to ethical issues and ethical issues and ways of resolving them.
Instruction in business ethics is not to make fun of the discipline; rather it may have the following purposes: 1) To push the reflective person to think more deeply about the nature and purpose of business in our society and about the ethical choices individuals inevitably make in their business and professional lives. 2) To increase the manager’s sensitivity to ethical problems; 3) Encourage critical evaluation of value priorities;
4) Increase awareness of organizational realities;
5) Improve understanding of the importance of public image and public/ societal relations.
To this list we might add some desirable goals:
1) To examine the ethical facets of business decision making; 2) To bring about a greater degree of fairness and honesty in the workplace; and 3) To respond more completely to the organization’s social responsibilities.
There will obviously be difficulties in training managers in such an amorphous subject as ethics. Business ethics has a multidisciplinary character. Questions of economic policy and business practice intertwine with issues in politics, sociology and organizational theory. Although business ethics remains anchored in philosophy, even here business ethics remains anchored in philosophy. Even here abstract theoretical points and political philosophy mingle with analysis of practical problems and concrete moral dilemmas. Furthermore, business ethics is not just an academic study but an invitation to reflect on our own values and one our own responses to the difficult moral choices that the world of business can pose.
These difficulties, however, should not preclude serious attempts and experimentation with case studies, incidents, role-playing, and discussion of crucial ethical issues. The assumption made in studying business ethics is the same assumption made in any academic study of any areas of business. That is, the ability to tackle the problems of business can be enhanced by formal, rigorous study.
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