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Business Ethics and Corporate Social ResponsibilityHow managers and organizations can behave decently and responsibly
Professor of Managerial Ethics and Values, Nottingham Business School, UK
Let’s get the joke out of the way; ‘Business ethics- that’s a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?’ or ‘that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?’, if the speaker has had a classical education. The joke is looking a little thin at the moment when we are all still thinking about the financial... read morecrisis and the behavior of senior bankers, Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme and the expense claims of British Members of Parliament. It has been suggested that these occasional business ethics storms alert organizations and their managers and for a time they all seek to behave better but that the impact and the activity quickly dies away. Even now bankers in the City of London are emphasizing that there should only be a light touch regulation of their activities, now that the state has paid for the damage caused by the bubble they created. Yet the scams and the scandals keep on coming, even if you disdainfully attribute them to the media feeding the population’s prurient interest in stories revealing the feet of clay of the rich and powerful, both individual and corporate. It is perhaps the impact that these stories can have on corporate reputations that will drive business ethics further up the agendas of organizations. Executives and boards do not have to be convinced that damage to corporate reputations can damage their companies’ financial performances.
Business ethics is an umbrella term and incorporates corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability and managerial ethics. At the moment business ethics is at the top of the corporate agenda and at conferences it is being suggested that business ethics should figure more prominently in the MBA curriculum. Perhaps the acid test of whether business ethics has become the norm in organizations, will be passed when managers can openly talk about ethical factors and considerations and not be met with the old joke.