A selection of interesting research and articles we found recently on the morality of corporations.

A framework for analysing tensions in the economic, environmental and social dimensions of corporate sustainability
In this paper, Tobias Hahn, Jonatan Pinkse, Lutz Preuss and Frank Figge propose a systematic framework for the analysis of tensions in corporate sustainability. The framework is based on the emerging integrative view on corporate sustainability, which stresses the need for a simultaneous integration of economic, environmental and social dimensions without, a priori, emphasising one over any other. The integrative view presupposes that firms need to accept tensions in corporate sustainability and pursue different sustainability aspects simultaneously even if they seem to contradict each other.

The framework proposed in this paper goes beyond the traditional triad of economic, environmental and social dimensions and argues that tensions in corporate sustainability occur between different levels, in change processes and within a temporal and spatial context. The framework provides vital groundwork for managing tensions in corporate sustainability based on paradox strategies. The paper then applies the framework to identify and characterise four selected tensions and illustrates how key approaches from the literature on strategic contradictions, tensions and paradoxes—i.e., acceptance and resolution strategies—can be used to manage these tensions.

Thereby, it refines the emerging literature on the integrative view for the management of tensions in corporate sustainability. The framework also provides managers with a better understanding of tensions in corporate sustainability and enables them to embrace these tensions in their decision making.

More details are at: Tobias Hahn, Jonatan Pinkse, Lutz Preuss, and Frank Figge. 2015. Tensions in Corporate Sustainability: Towards an Integrative Framework.
Journal of Business Ethics, 127(2), 297-316.


Need for positive obligations in businesses
In this theoretical paper, Wim Dubbink and Luc Van Liedekerke call for us to rethink the extensive focus on the negative moral duties transnational enterprises have, de-emphasising the need for positive obligations. In discussing various alternative traditions, including liberalism and Kantian perspectives, the authors emphasise one specific positive duty, namely a commercial entity’s duty to further justice. The writers argue that the duty to further justice comes from liberalism. A Kantian perspective conceptualises the duty to further justice as a moral duty, orientated toward the political domain. It is grounded in the obligation to attain moral autonomy in the civil condition.

For more insights, read Dubbink, Wim and Van Liedekerke, Luc. 2014. Grounding Positive Duties in Commercial Life.
Journal of Business Ethics, 120(4), 527-539.


Food for thought: Should clinical trials involve organs from prisoners?
Judith Schrempf-Stirling raises many economic, legal and ethical considerations in her case study of Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical giant that has been criticised for conducting clinical trials with organs taken from executed prisoners in China. In doing so, Roche respected local regulations and industry ethical standards in China. However, these clinical trials based on prisoner organs have been widely condemned by medical associations and human rights organisations alike. Schrempf-Stirling asks whether Roche was complicit in the human rights violations that were related to its clinical trials? Although future patients might benefit from these clinical trials, do profit and the greater good take priority over morals?

Read and reflect on the case study at: Schrempf-Stirling, Judith. 2014. Roche’s Clinical Trials with Organs from Prisoners: Does Profit Trump Morals?
Journal of Business Ethics, 121(2), 315-328.


Are the Big Four employees more ethical than other tax firm employees?
Does firm size influence ethics in a tax practice? Elaine Doyle, Jane Frecknall-Hughes and Barbara Summers asked whether it is true, as some literature suggests, that employees at the Big Four accounting firms are more ethical than employees in smaller tax practices. Media reports suggest otherwise, particularly in the area of large firms helping clients with aggressive tax avoidance. After identifying the salient issues in a series of interviews, the authors then assessed quantitatively whether employer firm size has an impact on the ethical reasoning of tax practitioners.

No differences were found between employees of large or small tax practices in terms of moral reasoning. One interesting finding is that practitioners in firms of both sizes use much lower levels of moral reasoning at work than in a social context. More food for thought for business schools.

Further details of the study are available at Doyle, Elaine, Frecknall-Hughes, Jane and Summers, Barbara. 2014. Ethics in Tax Practice: A Study of the Effect of Practitioner Firm Size.
Journal of Business Ethics, 122(4), 623-641.


Is corporate tax avoidance socially irresponsible? A boundary case for CSR
Grahame Dowling poses the issue of payment/avoidance of corporate tax, which can often be legally avoided. Why have CSR scholars been largely silent on this issue? Especially given that such tax payments provide an easily measured example of a company’s behaviour. This paper explores the issue of tax avoidance and the implications it has for any credible definition and measure of CSR.

Full details are at: Grahame Dowling, 2014. The Curious Case of Corporate Tax Avoidance: Is it Socially Irresponsible?
Journal of Business Ethics, 124(1), 173-184.


Is investment advising a virtue-based practice?
Yes, according to Keith Wyma who took Alasdair MacIntyre’s practices as the starting point for understanding virtues. MacIntyre had excluded the professions of the financial world from his reformulation and does not count these professions as practices. According to Wyma, MacIntyre further charges that virtue would actually hinder or even rule out one’s pursuit of these professions. Wyma addresses three tasks in regard to the financial profession of investment advising.

First, he lays out MacIntyre’s charges against the investment world. Second, he sets forth the role function of investment advising and shows that it does possess internal goods—the crucial aspect of practices disputed by MacIntyre in this case—including goods of production and goods of performance.
Third, he demonstrates that this function, and the goods tied to it, cannot be achieved apart from the virtuous pursuit of the profession, thereby showing that MacIntyre’s charges are mistaken. Investment advising is shown to be a virtue-based practice, and the groundwork is laid for showing that other financial professions are also.

Read for yourself: Wyma, K.D. 2015. The Case for Investment Advising as a Virtue-Based Practice,
Journal of Business Ethics, 127(1), 231-249.