Some interesting recent articles on challenges to ethical behaviour in business are highlighted in our research tidbits this week.
Does being illegal imply being unethical?
Many business ethicists assume that if a type of conduct is illegal, then it is also unethical. This article scrutinises that assumption, using the rideshare company Uber’s illegal operation in the city of Philadelphia as a case study. The author argues that Uber’s unlawful conduct was permissible.
The author also argues that this position is not an extreme one: it is consistent with a variety of theoretical commitments in the analytic philosophical tradition regarding political obligation (i.e. the moral duty to obey the law because it is the law).
The author concludes by showing why business ethicists would have a better rejoinder to the “dominant view” of business ethics associated with Milton Friedman if they dispensed with the assumption that illegal implies unethical.
Carson Young. 2019. Putting the Law in Its Place: Business Ethics and the Assumption that Illegal Implies Unethical.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 35–51.
Human dignity-centered business ethics: A conceptual framework for business leaders
This paper is a contribution to the discussion of how religious perspectives can improve business ethics. Two such perspectives are in natural law of antiquity and recent Catholic social doctrine and teaching (CSD/T). This paper develops a conceptual framework from natural law and CSD/T that business leaders can adopt to build an ethos of humanistic management.
This “Human Dignity-Centered” framework fills the gap between time-tested Christian norms and contemporary firm-leaders’ concrete needs. “Human dignity” is used as a rhetorical device to convey the idea that firms are composed of dynamic social networks, with an ultimate purpose of serving human needs. Ultimately, the principles and virtues the framework employs have a logic that should inspire excellence, as ethical practices and concern for human welfare lay a foundation for long-term business prosperity.
In a one-frame visual representation, this paper portrays: firm leadership challenges; a transforming ethical prism of principles and virtues; and results and feedback mechanisms. The accompanying narrative describes each element and how each affects humanistic management.
Finally, illustrative company examples and questions are provided to illustrate how the framework can be used to benefit human flourishing. The framework provides an adjunct to current formulations of improving managerial excellence.
William J. Mea and Ronald R. Sims. 2019. Human Dignity-Centered Business Ethics: A Conceptual Framework for Business Leaders.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 53–69.
Do organisations appear more unethical than individuals?
Both individuals and organisations can (and do) engage in unethical behaviours. Across six experiments, the authors examine how people’s ethical judgments are affected by whether the agent engaging in unethical action is a person or an organisation.
People believe organisations are more unethical than individuals, even when both agents engage in identical behaviours (Experiments 1–2). Using both mediation (Experiments 3a–3b) and moderation (Experiment 4) analytical approaches, the authors find that this effect is explained by people’s beliefs that organisations produce more harm when behaving unethically, even when they do not, as well as people’s perceptions that organisations are relatively more blameworthy agents.
The authors then explore how these judgments manifest across different kinds of organisations (Experiment 5) as well as how they produce discrepant punishments following ethically questionable business activities (Experiment 6).
Although society and the law often treat individuals and organisations as equivalent, people believe for-profit organisations’ behaviours are less ethical than identical individual behaviours. The authors discuss the ethical implications of this discrepancy, as well as additional implications concerning reputation management, punishment, and signalling in organisational contexts.
Arthur S. Jago and Jeffrey Pfeffer. 2019. Organizations Appear More Unethical than Individuals.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 71–87.
Influence of formal ethics program components on managers’ ethical behaviour
The article deals with the influence of organisational ethics program (EP) components on managerial ethical behaviour. The main aim was to establish which EP components are perceived as valuable and useful to foster the ethical behaviour of managers. Moreover, the authors also aimed to investigate the role of ethics training in this context and to explore whether it can potentially increase managers’ trust in EP components as effective tools for the promotion of ethical behaviour.
The article advances the EP theory in several ways. It offers novel insights into both business ethics and EP development in the specific cultural and social circumstances of a former socialist country in the Central and Eastern European region, Slovakia. It shows that codes of ethics and related reporting and control mechanisms are perceived as the most effective EP components to shape managerial ethical behaviour.
Furthermore, based on empirical evidence, and to some extent contrary to prior theory, the article unveils three EP functions, namely the ‘compliance with group norms,’ the ‘ethics education through collective discussion,’ and the ‘counselling and resolving of ethical issues’ at workplace.
In addition, the article shows that ethics trainings can help to boost the trust of managers toward EP components and might be conceptualised as a precursor for an effectively functioning EP.
Anna Remišová, Anna Lašáková and Zuzana Kirchmayer. 2019. Influence of Formal Ethics Program Components on Managerial Ethical Behavior.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 151–166.
Vices in organisations: Knowledge, truth and unethical conduct
Recognising that truth is socially constructed or that knowledge and power are related is hardly a novelty in the social sciences. In the twenty-first century, however, there appears to be a renewed concern regarding people’s relationship with the truth and the propensity for certain actors to undermine it.
Organisations are highly implicated in this, given their central roles in knowledge management and production and their attempts to learn, although the entanglement of these epistemological issues with business ethics has not been engaged as explicitly as it might be. Drawing on work from a virtue epistemology perspective, this paper outlines the idea of a set of epistemic vices permeating organisations, along with examples of unethical epistemic conduct by organisational actors.
While existing organisational research has examined various epistemic virtues that make people and organisations effective and responsible epistemic agents, much less is known about the epistemic vices that make them ineffective and irresponsible ones. Accordingly, this paper introduces vice epistemology, a nascent but growing subfield of virtue epistemology which, to the best of our knowledge, has yet to be explicitly developed in terms of business ethics.
The paper concludes by outlining a business ethics research agenda on epistemic vice, with implications for responding to epistemic vices and their illegitimacy in practice.