The articles in our research tidbits this week discuss what is meant by an (un)ethical workplace environment and who really benefits.

Sweatshops, structural injustice, and the wrong of exploitation
It is widely thought that firms that employ workers in “sweatshop” conditions wrongfully exploit those workers. This claim has been challenged by those who argue that because companies are not obligated to hire their workers in the first place, employing them cannot be wrong so long as they voluntarily accept their jobs and genuinely benefit from them.

In this article, the author argues that we can maintain that at least many sweatshop employees are wrongfully exploited, while accepting the plausible claim at the core of many defenses of sweatshops, namely that engaging in a voluntary and mutually beneficial transaction with a person in need cannot constitute morally worse treatment of that person than doing nothing at all to benefit her.

We can do this, the author claims, by accepting that wealthy multinational corporations have positive duties to employ or otherwise benefit the global poor. The author argues that these duties can be plausibly grounded in the fact that potential sweatshop workers are victims of global structural injustice, from which multinational corporations typically benefit.

Brian Berkey. 2021. Sweatshops, Structural Injustice, and the Wrong of Exploitation: Why Multinational Corporations Have Positive Duties to the Global Poor.

Journal of Business Ethics, 169(1), 43–56.

How bad apples promote bad barrels
We present a theoretical rationale and supporting studies revealing how unethical leader behaviour fosters an unethical climate within workgroups that increases member turnover intentions and malfeasance.

Drawing on the attraction–selection–attrition model of organisational behaviour, the authors propose a selective attrition effect whereby unethical leader behaviour results in the retention of group members who are more comfortable with dishonesty and, consequently, more likely to engage in unethical behaviour toward their group. In two experiments, exposure to unethical leader behaviour (vs. ethical leader behaviour) increased group members’ likelihood of choosing to leave the group. Members who chose to remain in a group with an unethical leader were more likely than those who chose to leave to cheat their group in a subsequent task. A two time-period survey replicated these findings and identified psychological distress as the mechanism driving group members’ turnover intentions.

This research extends our understanding of the complex relationships between unethical leadership and follower turnover intentions, psychological distress, and malfeasance. The authors contribute to the behavioural ethics literature by identifying a previously underappreciated form of selective attrition that produces internal costs to groups and organisations, independent of reputational consequences and whether the unethicality is publicised.

Robert Cialdini, Yexin Jessica Li, Adriana Samper & Ned Wellman. 2021. How Bad Apples Promote Bad Barrels: Unethical Leader Behavior and the Selective Attrition Effect.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(4), 861–880.

When and why are employees’ unethical behaviours tolerated versus rejected?
Examined through the lens of moral psychology, the authors investigate when and why employees’ unethical behaviours may be tolerated versus rejected.

Specifically, the authors examine the interactive effect of employees’ unethical behaviours and job performance onto relationship conflict, and whether such conflict eventuates in workplace ostracism. Although employees’ unethical behaviours typically go against moral norms, high job performance may provide a motivated reason to ignore moral violations.

In this regard, the authors predict that job performance will mitigate the relationship between employee unethical behaviour and workplace ostracism, as mediated by relationship conflict. Study 1, a multisource field study, tests and provides support for Hypotheses 1 and 2. Study 2, also a multisource field study, provides support for the authors’ fully specified model. Study 3, a time‐lagged field study, provides support for the authors’ theoretical model while controlling for employees’ negative affectivity and ethical environment. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Quade, Matthew J., Greenbaum, Rebecca L. & Petrenko, Oleg V. 2017. “I don’t want to be near you, unless…”: The interactive effect of unethical behavior and performance onto relationship conflict and workplace ostracism.

Personnel Psychology, 70 (3), 675-709.

Sweatshops, harm, and interference
Activists and progressive governments sometimes interfere in the working conditions of sweatshops. Their methods may include boycotts of the products produced in these facilities, bans on the import of these products or tariffs imposed by the home country, and enforcing the host country’s laws that aim at regulating sweatshops.

Some argue that such interference in sweatshop conditions is morally wrong since it may actually harm workers. The reason is that the enterprise that runs the sweatshop may choose to lay off some workers as the result of effective interference in order to maintain their profit at the desired level. If successful, this argument would prohibit any interference in sweatshop conditions on moral grounds.

In this article, the author argues in dissent and build a contractualist argument in favour of the moral permissibility of interference in sweatshops. The author bases the argument on an ex ante interpretation of T.M. Scanlon’s contractualism.

Huseyin S. Kuyumcuoglu. 2021. Sweatshops, Harm, and Interference: A Contractualist Approach.

Personnel Review, 49(1), 284-302.

Organisational norms, emotional dogs, and the rational tales they tell themselves and others
Organisations have become essential institutions that facilitate the vital coordination and cooperation necessary to create value across societies. Recent research within moral psychology and behavioural ethics indicates that emotions play a pivotal role in promoting ethical decision making.

The theory developed here maintains that most organisations retain norms that disfavour the experience and expression of many strong emotions while at work. This dynamic inhibits individual’s ability to generate moral intuitions and reason about ethical issues they encounter. This occurs as individuals utilise specific emotion regulation mechanisms that stifle the experience and expression of emotion in organisational decision making.

Over time, individuals fail to register emotion within organisational decision processes, which increases the prevalence of amoral decision making. Organisational emotion norms also influence the chronic accessibility of specific moral foundations that effect the contents of both moral intuitions that do occur, as well as deliberate reasoning that generates moral judgments.

Joseph McManus. 2021. Emotions and Ethical Decision Making at Work: Organizational Norms, Emotional Dogs, and the Rational Tales They Tell Themselves and Others.

Journal of Business Ethics, 169(1), 153–168.