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Building an Ethical Company

  • Isaac H. Smith
  • Maryam Kouchaki

research paper on ethics in business

Just as people can develop skills and abilities over time, they can learn to be more or less ethical. Yet many organizations limit ethics training to the onboarding process. If they do address it thereafter, it may be only by establishing codes of conduct or whistleblower hotlines. Such steps may curb specific infractions, but they don’t necessarily help employees develop as ethical people.

Drawing on evidence from hundreds of research studies, the authors offer a framework for helping workers build moral character. Managers can provide experiential training in ethical dilemmas. They can foster psychological safety when minor lapses occur, conduct pre- and postmortems for initiatives with ethical components, and create a culture of service by encouraging volunteer work and mentoring in ethics.

Create an organization that helps employees behave more honorably.

Idea in Brief

The opportunity.

Just as people entering the workforce can develop job-related skills and abilities over time, they can learn to be more ethical as well.

Why It’s Often Missed

Many organizations relegate ethics training to the onboarding process, perhaps also issuing codes of conduct and establishing whistleblower hotlines. Such steps may curb specific unethical acts but don’t necessarily help workers grow as moral people.

How to Capitalize on It

Managers can provide experiential training in ethical dilemmas, foster psychological safety when (minor) lapses occur, conduct pre- and postmortems for initiatives with ethical components, and create a culture of service by encouraging volunteer work and mentoring in ethics.

People don’t enter the workforce with a fixed moral character. Just as employees can nurture (or neglect) their skills and abilities over time, they can learn to be more or less ethical. Yet rather than take a long-term view of employees’ moral development, many organizations treat ethics training as a onetime event, often limiting it to the onboarding process. If they do address ethics thereafter, it may be only by espousing codes of conduct or establishing whistleblower hotlines. Such steps may curb specific unethical actions, but they don’t necessarily help employees develop as moral people.

  • Isaac H. Smith is an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resources at BYU Marriott School of Business. His research explores the morality and ethics of organizations and the people in them.
  • Maryam Kouchaki is a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management. Her research explores ethics, morality, and the complexity and challenges of managing ethnic and gender diversity for organizations.

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research paper on ethics in business

Journal of Business Ethics

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The Journal of Business Ethics publishes only original articles from a wide variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives concerning ethical issues related to business that bring something new or unique to the discourse in their field.  From its inception the Journal has aimed to improve the human condition by providing a public forum for discussion and debate about ethical issues related to business. In order to promote a dialogue between the various interested groups as much as possible, papers are presented in a style relatively free of specialist jargon. FT 50 - This journal is one of the 50 journals used by the Financial Times in compiling the prestigious Business School research rank Clarivates Journal Citation Reports® Ranking by Category - Ethics 3/57 - Business 52/154 Section Descriptions  

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research paper on ethics in business

Issue 2, November 2023

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How culture displaced structural reform: problem definition, marketization, and neoliberal myths in bank regulation.

  • Anette Mikes
  • Michael Power
  • Content type: Original Paper
  • Open Access
  • Published: 20 November 2023

research paper on ethics in business

The Ripple Effect: When Leader Self-Group Distancing Responses Affect Subordinate Career Trajectories

  • Hannah Kremer
  • Isabel Villamor
  • Margaret Ormiston
  • Published: 08 November 2023

research paper on ethics in business

Striking the Right Notes: Long- and Short-Term Financial Impacts of Musicians’ Charity Advocacy Versus Other Signaling Types

Authors (first, second and last of 4).

  • Chau Minh Nguyen
  • Marcelo Vinhal Nepomuceno
  • Renaud Legoux
  • Published: 06 November 2023

research paper on ethics in business

Shhh… Do Gender-Diverse Boards Prioritize Product Market Concerns Over Capital Market Incentives?

  • Dharmendra Naidu
  • Kumari Ranjeeni

Microaggressions in the Accounting Academy: The Black Experience

  • Phebian L. Davis
  • Denise Dickins
  • Joseph Reid
  • Published: 01 November 2023

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research paper on ethics in business

  • 21 Nov 2023

The Beauty Industry: Products for a Healthy Glow or a Compact for Harm?

Many cosmetics and skincare companies present an image of social consciousness and transformative potential, while profiting from insecurity and excluding broad swaths of people. Geoffrey Jones examines the unsightly reality of the beauty industry.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 09 Nov 2023

What Will It Take to Confront the Invisible Mental Health Crisis in Business?

The pressure to do more, to be more, is fueling its own silent epidemic. Lauren Cohen discusses the common misperceptions that get in the way of supporting employees' well-being, drawing on case studies about people who have been deeply affected by mental illness.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 07 Nov 2023
  • Cold Call Podcast

How Should Meta Be Governed for the Good of Society?

Julie Owono is executive director of Internet Sans Frontières and a member of the Oversight Board, an outside entity with the authority to make binding decisions on tricky moderation questions for Meta’s companies, including Facebook and Instagram. Harvard Business School visiting professor Jesse Shapiro and Owono break down how the Board governs Meta’s social and political power to ensure that it’s used responsibly, and discuss the Board’s impact, as an alternative to government regulation, in the case, “Independent Governance of Meta’s Social Spaces: The Oversight Board.”

research paper on ethics in business

  • 24 Oct 2023

From P.T. Barnum to Mary Kay: Lessons From 5 Leaders Who Changed the World

What do Steve Jobs and Sarah Breedlove have in common? Through a series of case studies, Robert Simons explores the unique qualities of visionary leaders and what today's managers can learn from their journeys.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 03 Oct 2023
  • Research Event

Build the Life You Want: Arthur Brooks and Oprah Winfrey Share Happiness Tips

"Happiness is not a destination. It's a direction." In this video, Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey reflect on mistakes, emotions, and contentment, sharing lessons from their new book.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 12 Sep 2023

Successful, But Still Feel Empty? A Happiness Scholar and Oprah Have Advice for You

So many executives spend decades reaching the pinnacles of their careers only to find themselves unfulfilled at the top. In the book Build the Life You Want, Arthur Brooks and Oprah Winfrey offer high achievers a guide to becoming better leaders—of their lives.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 10 Jul 2023
  • In Practice

The Harvard Business School Faculty Summer Reader 2023

Need a book recommendation for your summer vacation? HBS faculty members share their reading lists, which include titles that explore spirituality, design, suspense, and more.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 01 Jun 2023

A Nike Executive Hid His Criminal Past to Turn His Life Around. What If He Didn't Have To?

Larry Miller committed murder as a teenager, but earned a college degree while serving time and set out to start a new life. Still, he had to conceal his record to get a job that would ultimately take him to the heights of sports marketing. A case study by Francesca Gino, Hise Gibson, and Frances Frei shows the barriers that formerly incarcerated Black men are up against and the potential talent they could bring to business.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 04 Apr 2023

Two Centuries of Business Leaders Who Took a Stand on Social Issues

Executives going back to George Cadbury and J. N. Tata have been trying to improve life for their workers and communities, according to the book Deeply Responsible Business: A Global History of Values-Driven Leadership by Geoffrey Jones. He highlights three practices that deeply responsible companies share.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 14 Mar 2023

Can AI and Machine Learning Help Park Rangers Prevent Poaching?

Globally there are too few park rangers to prevent the illegal trade of wildlife across borders, or poaching. In response, Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) was created by a coalition of conservation organizations to take historical data and create geospatial mapping tools that enable more efficient deployment of rangers. SMART had demonstrated significant improvements in patrol coverage, with some observed reductions in poaching. Then a new predictive analytic tool, the Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS), was created to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to try to predict where poachers would be likely to strike. Jonathan Palmer, Executive Director of Conservation Technology for the Wildlife Conservation Society, already had a good data analytics tool to help park rangers manage their patrols. Would adding an AI- and ML-based tool improve outcomes or introduce new problems? Harvard Business School senior lecturer Brian Trelstad discusses the importance of focusing on the use case when determining the value of adding a complex technology solution in his case, “SMART: AI and Machine Learning for Wildlife Conservation.”

research paper on ethics in business

  • 14 Feb 2023

Does It Pay to Be a Whistleblower?

In 2013, soon after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had started a massive whistleblowing program with the potential for large monetary rewards, two employees of a US bank’s asset management business debated whether to blow the whistle on their employer after completing an internal review that revealed undisclosed conflicts of interest. The bank’s asset management business disproportionately invested clients’ money in its own mutual funds over funds managed by other banks, letting it collect additional fees—and the bank had not disclosed this conflict of interest to clients. Both employees agreed that failing to disclose the conflict was a problem, but beyond that, they saw the situation very differently. One employee, Neel, perceived the internal review as a good-faith effort by senior management to identify and address the problem. The other, Akash, thought that the entire business model was problematic, even with a disclosure, and believed that the bank may have even broken the law. Should they escalate the issue internally or report their findings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission? Harvard Business School associate professor Jonas Heese discusses the potential risks and rewards of whistleblowing in his case, “Conflicts of Interest at Uptown Bank.”

research paper on ethics in business

  • 17 Jan 2023

Good Companies Commit Crimes, But Great Leaders Can Prevent Them

It's time for leaders to go beyond "check the box" compliance programs. Through corporate cases involving Walmart, Wells Fargo, and others, Eugene Soltes explores the thorny legal issues executives today must navigate in his book Corporate Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 29 Nov 2022

How Will Gamers and Investors Respond to Microsoft’s Acquisition of Activision Blizzard?

In January 2022, Microsoft announced its acquisition of the video game company Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. The deal would make Microsoft the world’s third largest video game company, but it also exposes the company to several risks. First, the all-cash deal would require Microsoft to use a large portion of its cash reserves. Second, the acquisition was announced as Activision Blizzard faced gender pay disparity and sexual harassment allegations. That opened Microsoft up to potential reputational damage, employee turnover, and lost sales. Do the potential benefits of the acquisition outweigh the risks for Microsoft and its shareholders? Harvard Business School associate professor Joseph Pacelli discusses the ongoing controversies around the merger and how gamers and investors have responded in the case, “Call of Fiduciary Duty: Microsoft Acquires Activision Blizzard.”

research paper on ethics in business

  • 15 Nov 2022

Stop Ignoring Bad Behavior: 6 Tips for Better Ethics at Work

People routinely overlook wrongdoing, even in situations that cause significant harm. In his book Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop, Max Bazerman shares strategies that help people do the right thing even when those around them aren't.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 08 Nov 2022
  • Research & Ideas

How Centuries of Restrictions on Women Shed Light on Today's Abortion Debate

Going back to pre-industrial times, efforts to limit women's sexuality have had a simple motive: to keep them faithful to their spouses. Research by Anke Becker looks at the deep roots of these restrictions and their economic implications.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 20 Sep 2022

How Partisan Politics Play Out in American Boardrooms

The discord gripping the nation has reached the heights of corporate America, with costly consequences for companies and investors. Research by Elisabeth Kempf shows just how polarized the executive suite has become.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 02 Aug 2022

6 Strategies for Building Socially Responsible—and Profitable—Companies

A new generation of business leaders is finding innovative and profitable ways to bring about positive change in the world. In the book Purpose and Profit, George Serafeim offers a roadmap for people at every career stage who seek to align their professional aspirations with their personal values.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 31 May 2022

Corruption: New Insights for Fighting an Age-Old Business Problem

Corruption is as old as humanity, with cases documented as far back as the Egyptian dynasties. While the World Bank estimates that international bribery exceeds $1.5 trillion annually, the larger and more subtle effects of corruption on economies and populations is incalculable. Harvard Business School professors Geoff Jones and Tarun Khanna explore how corruption uniquely affects business in emerging markets, and why it should be addressed by the public and private sectors in their case, “Corruption and Business in Emerging Markets,” and companion video interviews with more than 100 iconic entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 26 May 2022

Apple vs. Feds: Is iPhone Privacy a Basic Human Right?

Leaders today must be ready to take a stand on thorny social and political issues. A case study by Nien-hê Hsieh and Henry McGee examines how Apple CEO Tim Cook turned calls for data access into a rallying cry for privacy, and the complexities that followed.

research paper on ethics in business

  • 19 Apr 2022

What Role Do Individual Leaders Play in Corporate Governance?

From 1997 to 2012, Scott Tucker built a nationwide network of payday lending businesses, becoming a pioneer in online lending along the way. Many of his borrowers could not access credit from commercial banks and depended on payday loans as a financial lifeline to cope with emergency expenses. But in 2012 federal prosecutors indicted Tucker on several criminal charges that he violated disclosure requirements. He was later convicted on 14 charges, including racketeering, misleading disclosures, and fraud. Associate Professor Aiyesha Dey discusses how the case, “Scott Tucker: Race to the Top,” examines the role of individual leaders in the corporate governance system, as well as their responsibility for creating a positive corporate culture that embodies ethics, self-restraint, and a commitment to serve. Open for comment; 0 Comments.

Business Ethics : Literature

  • Business Ethics Books
  • Selected Journals
  • Moral Leadership
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Finding Articles

Selected articles.

DeTienne, K. B., Ellertson, C. F., Marc-Charles, I., & Dudley, W. R. (2021). Moral development in business ethics: An examination and critique : JBE.  Journal of Business Ethics,  170 (3), 429-448. doi: The field of behavioral ethics has seen considerable growth over the last few decades. One of the most significant concerns facing this interdisciplinary field of research is the moral judgment-action gap. The moral judgment-action gap is the inconsistency people display when they know what is right but do what they know is wrong. Much of the research in the field of behavioral ethics is based on (or in response to) early work in moral psychology and American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s foundational cognitive model of moral development. However, Kohlberg’s model of moral development lacks a compelling explanation for the judgment-action gap. Yet, it continues to influence theory, research, teaching, and practice in business ethics today. As such, this paper presents a critical review and analysis of the pertinent literature. This paper also reviews modern theories of ethical decision making in business ethics. Gaps in our current understanding and directions for future research in behavioral business ethics are presented. By providing this important theoretical background information, targeted critical analysis, and directions for future research, this paper assists management scholars as they begin to seek a more unified approach, develop newer models of ethical decision making, and conduct business ethics research that examines the moral judgment-action gap.

Jensen, L. C., & Wygant, S. A. (1990). The developmental self-valuing theory: A practical approach : JBE.  Journal of Business Ethics,  9 (3), 215. Retrieved from Traditional moral philosophy offers little of practical value for the business community, and psychological theories of moral reasoning have been shown to be flawed and incomplete. A new theory - the developmental self-valuing theory - is presented that adapts the social-cognitive theory of Albert Bandura (1986) for ethics in business. In this theory, individuals first learn moral values from associations with others who are significant in their lives. Second, self-regulation is learned through a process of self-observation, self-judgment, and self-reaction. Third, the individual must believe that one can act ethically. Situational constraints and inducements, as well as positive and negative consequences for specific behaviors, will also affect the level of ethical performance. Each of these elements is examined and combined to achieve a practical method for increasing the level of ethics in corporate activity through selection, training, and situational enhancement.

Donaldson, T., & Dunfee, T. W. (1994). Toward a unified conception of business ethics: Integrative .  Academy of Management.the Academy of Management Review,  19 (2), 252. Retrieved from Throughout its meteoric rise over the last 2 decades, the field of business ethics has been troubled by a lack of direction and has become entangled in its own logic. On the one hand, business ethics research can be informed by empirical ideas. On the other hand, business ethics research can be informed by normative concepts. These 2 approaches have produced 2 powerful streams of business research. The interconnection between empirical and normative research is advanced by the presentation of a normative theory, called integrative social contracts theory (ISCT). ISCT incorporates empirical findings as part of a contractarian process of making normative judgments. Derived from roots in classical and social contract theory, ISCT recognizes ethical obligations based upon 2 levels of consent: 1. to a theoretical "macrosocial" contract appealing to all rational contractors and 2. to real "microsocial" contracts by members of numerous localized communities.

Reidenbach, R. E., & Robin, D. P. (1990). Toward the development of a multidimensional scale for improving evaluations of business ethics: JBE.  Journal of Business Ethics,  9 (8), 639. Retrieved from A multidimensional 33-item ethics inventory scale that was developed previously was based on 5 ethical philosophies: 1. justice, 2. relativism, 3. egoism, 4. utilitarianism, and 5. deontology. Through a distillation and validation process, the original inventory was reduced to 8 items that formed 3 factor structures. Various samples of respondents evaluated 3 scenarios using scale items in the distillation process. The 3 dimensions emerging in the evaluations were subjected to analysis to establish convergent and discriminant validity. The 3 factors explained 74%, 81%, and 83% of the variance in each of the scenarios. The ethical dimensions were: 1. broad-based moral equity, 2. relativism, and 3. contractualism. The first dimension had the greatest relative impact in the evaluative process. The 3 positive dimensions did not correspond strictly to the normative moral philosophies and tended to disagree with several of the hypothesized relationships in recently developed models of ethical decision making.

Joyner, B. E., & Payne, D. (2002). Evolution and implementation: A study of values, business ethics and corporate social responsibility : JBE.  Journal of Business Ethics,  41 (4), 297-311. doi: There is growing recognition that good ethics can have a positive economic impact on the performance of firms. Many statistics support the premise that ethics, values, integrity and responsibility are required in the modern workplace. For consumer groups and society at large, research has shown that good ethics is good business. This study defines and traces the emergence and evolution within the business literature of the concepts of values, business ethics and corporate social responsibility to illustrate the increased emphasis that has been placed on these issues over time. Two organizations that have successfully dealt with these issues were analyzed to identify the links among values, ethics, and corporate social responsibility as they are incorporated into the culture and management of a firm. This study identified the presence and implementation of values, business ethics, and CSR actions within the two organizations studied.

Linda, K. T., & Brown, M. E. (2004). Managing to be ethical: Debunking five business ethics myth s.  The Academy of Management Executive,  18 (2), 69-82. doi: In the aftermath of recent corporate scandals, managers and researchers have turned their attention to questions of ethics management. We identify five common myths about business ethics and provide responses that are grounded in theory, research, and business examples. Although the scientific study of business ethics is relatively new, theory and research exist that can guide executives who are trying to better manage their employees' and their own ethical behavior. We recommend that ethical conduct be managed proactively via explicit ethical leadership and conscious management of the organization's ethical culture. PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

Brady, F. N., & Wheeler, G. E. (1996). An empirical study of ethical predispositions: JBE.  Journal of Business Ethics,  15 (9), 927. Retrieved from Using a 2-part instrument consisting of 8 vignettes and 20 character traits, 141 employees of a mid-west financial firm were sampled regarding their predispositions to prefer utilitarian or formalist forms of ethical reasoning. In contrast with earlier studies, it was found that these respondents did not prefer utilitarian reasoning. Several other hypotheses were tested involving the relationship between people's preferences for certain types of solutions to issues and the forms of reasoning they use to arrive at these solutions; the nature of the relationship between utilitarian and formalist categories; and the possibility of measuring ethical predispositions using different methods.

Nevins, J. L., Bearden, W. O., & Money, B. (2007). Ethical values and long-term orientation : JBE.  Journal of Business Ethics,  71 (3), 261-274. doi: Lapses in ethical conduct by those in corporate and public authority worldwide have given business researchers and practitioners alike cause to reexamine the antecedents to personal ethical values. We explore the relationship between ethical values and an individual's long-term orientation or LTO, defined as the degree to which one plans for and considers the future, as well as values traditions of the past. Our study also examines the role of work ethic and conservative attitudes in the formation of a person's long-term orientation and consequent ethical beliefs. Empirically testing these hypothesized relationships using data from 292 subjects, we find that long-term perspectives on tradition and planning indeed engender higher levels of ethical values. The results also support work ethic's role in fostering tradition and planning, as well as conservatism's positive association with planning. Additionally, we report how tradition and planning mediate the influence of conservatism and work ethic on the formation of ethical values. Limitations of the study and future research directions, as well as implications for business managers and academics, are also discussed. PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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Business Versus Ethics? Thoughts on the Future of Business Ethics

M. tina dacin.

1 Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON Canada

Jeffrey S. Harrison

2 Robins School of Business, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA USA

3 Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI USA

Sheila Killian

4 Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

Julia Roloff

5 Department of Management and Organisation, Rennes School of Business, Rennes, France

To commemorate 40 years since the founding of the Journal of Business Ethics, the editors in chief of the journal have invited the editors to provide commentaries on the future of business ethics. This essay comprises a selection of commentaries aimed at creating dialogue around the theme Business versus Ethics? (inspired by the title of the commentary by Jeffrey Harrison). The authors of these commentaries seek to transcend the age-old separation fallacy (Freeman in Bus Ethics Q 4(4):409–421, 1994) that juxtaposes business and ethics/society, posing a forced choice or trade off. Providing a contemporary take on the classical question “if it’s legal is it ethical?”, David Hess explores the role of the law in promoting or hindering stakeholder-oriented purpose and governance structure. Jeffrey Harrison encourages scholars to move beyond the presupposition that businesses are either strategic or ethical and explore important questions at the intersection of strategy and ethics. The proposition that business models might be inherently ethical or inherently unethical in their design is developed by Sheila Killian, who examines business systems, their morality, and who they serve. However, the conundrum that entrepreneurs are either lauded for their self-belief and risk-taking, or loathed for their self-belief and risk-taking, is discussed by M. Tina Dacin and Julia Roloff using the metaphor of taboos and totems. These commentaries seek to explore positions that advocate multiplicity and tensions in which business ethics is not either/or but both.

The Intersection of Law and Business Ethics


The relationship between law and business ethics has been a core research area across the 40 years of the Journal of Business Ethics. Indeed, the very first issue of the journal asked the question of whether legally allowed bluffing in labor negotiations was ethical (Carson et al., 1982 ). More recent research has flipped that question of “if it’s legal, is it ethical?”, and used Uber’s rideshare expansion strategy—which involved directly violating laws regulating taxicab services—to ask if illegal actions are always unethical (Young, 2019 ). These are two simple illustrations of the numerous ways that law, public policy, and business ethics intersect.

The Journal of Business Ethics encourages researchers to consider how business ethics scholarship informs the goals of the laws that regulate business and our understanding of how to improve individual and organizational compliance with those laws. Due to the constant changes in society, the questions on the role of the law in encouraging ethical business behavior are continuously evolving. For example, technology advancements raise questions of whether and how to update laws that protect the privacy rights of employees and consumers. Likewise, the use of artificial intelligence in employment decisions and the operation of autonomous vehicles raises important issues related to employment law and products liability law, respectively. Societal changes leading to an increased attention to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, raises issues of the role of the law in increasing the numbers of those that identify as women, underrepresented minorities, or LBGTQ+, in management and corporate boardrooms.

Corporate Purpose, Environmental and Social Governance, and Business and Human Rights

The purpose of the corporation, which has been an important research issue for the journal, is another key area where law, public policy, and business ethics have intersected. Recently, the debate over corporate purpose has reached a new level of public attention due to the Business Roundtable—an organization made up of CEOs of leading corporations in a wide range of industries—revising its prior statement on corporate purpose to shift from a shareholder maximization view to the adoption of a stakeholder view (Loughran et al., 2022 ). Although this is an important development, skeptics question CEOs’ commitments to the Business Roundtable’s statement. This raises issues of how the law can be structured to hold corporations legally accountable for such commitments. For example, there are questions of whether legislators should adopt a new type of corporation—such as the benefit corporation—as an alternative to the existing shareholder value focused corporation. Likewise, business ethics scholars have considered changes to corporate governance, including stakeholder representatives on boards of directors and altering directors’ fiduciary duties.

Coinciding with the Business Roundtable’s statement, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have become a top priority for corporate boards. One survey found ESG was the top issue that shareholders sought to discuss with the board, ahead of both executive compensation and strategy oversight issues (PwC, 2021 ). As shareholders demand more and better information on corporations’ performance on sustainability matters, there are questions of whether there should be mandatory corporate disclosures on ESG matters. The European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) shows a movement away from voluntary reporting and toward compliance with mandatory standards. As those standards are disclosed and implemented, business ethics scholars must help guide such legislation by examining its effectiveness in changing corporate behavior and identifying necessary reforms. As seen from the existing work on nonfinancial disclosure in the Journal of Business Ethics, this legislative evaluation effort will benefit from the wide range of disciplinary perspectives represented by business ethics scholars.

One key aspect of the “social” factor in ESG is respecting human rights. The field of business and human rights (BHR) did not exist when the Journal of Business Ethics was founded in 1982. This field developed primarily with legal scholars and focused on mandatory obligations and holding corporations accountable for the harm they caused, as opposed to a corporate social responsibility perspective focused on business making voluntary, positive contributions to human rights (Ramasastry, 2015 ). Although there may be a gap between the fields of BHR and CSR, there are opportunities for connection (Ramasastry, 2015 ), especially for research related to the journal’s section on law, public policy, and business ethics.

In the last decade, BHR has rapidly moved from soft law to hard law. The 2011 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) solidified support for business having a responsibility to respect human rights. This support—and perceived lack of corporate commitment to human rights—led to the adoption of legislation on BHR issues in various countries and the formation of a United Nations working group to develop a binding treaty. Included within this discussion of mandatory human rights obligations are considerations of how a “smart mix” of soft law and hard law mechanisms can help “reach beyond the limits of conventional public law” (Buhmann, 2016 , p. 710). In addition to regulatory actions, courts in some jurisdictions are starting to show a willingness to hold corporations liable for the acts of their subsidiaries or supply chain partners in foreign countries, which may further impact business practice (even when the litigation is unsuccessful) (Schrempf-Stirling & Wettstein, 2017 ). As the legal environment surrounding BHR continues to evolve, business ethics scholars can provide valuable guidance on the way forward. The remainder of this commentary will provide a brief overview of recent developments in the law on BHR and provide some illustrations where scholars at the crossroads of law, public policy, and business ethics have provided valuable contributions, which also shows the way for future contributions in this area.

Business Ethics and Business and Human Rights Legislation

Governments have approached BHR legislation in a variety of ways. The scope of the laws either focus on human rights generally or are targeted toward specific issues, such as conflict minerals, modern slavery, or child labor. There are also differences in obligations and potential liabilities; a law may be limited to disclosure requirements, may mandate the undertaking of human rights due diligence (HRDD)—which is a process for identifying, preventing, mitigating, and remediating negative human rights impacts—or may provide for legal liability to victims of human rights abuse. For example, targeted, disclosure only laws include the UK Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSCA). These laws only require corporations to disclose what actions, if any, they have undertaken to ensure that modern slavery is not present in their supply chains. The Netherlands’ Child Labor Due Diligence Act, on the other hand, requires corporations to conduct due diligence to determine whether there is a reasonable suspicion that child labor was used in the production of the company’s goods and services. If such a finding is made, then the corporation must develop a plan of action to address the issue. France’s Duty of Vigilance law mandates HRDD, disclosure of the vigilance plan, and opens the company up to potential civil liability if inadequate HRDD results in a human rights violation.

Business ethics scholars have already started to examine these laws and propose reforms. The few examples of scholarship discussed here provide inspiration for future research possibilities. For targeted disclosure laws, Birkey et al. ( 2018 ) examined corporations’ public reports under the CTSCA and found that companies comply with the law through mostly symbolic disclosures. Interestingly, although there is much discussion of investors pushing for increased disclosure of ESG information, this study raises the question of whether symbolic compliance is due, in part, to the fact that many investors “interpret increased disclosure as potentially costly in terms of firm value” (Birkey et al., 2018 , p. 837).

Beyond market participants, a disclosure regime relies on non-market actors, such as NGOs, to utilize disclosed information to influence change in corporate behavior. Thus, Islam and Van Staden ( 2022 ) analyzed the effectiveness of modern slavery disclosure laws by interviewing key stakeholders, including anti-slavery NGOs. This research provides insights into the tensions between the ability of such laws to work toward long-term change and their limitations due to regulatory capture by interest groups focused primarily on reducing business risk. In addition, this study, along with others such as Pinnington et al. ( 2022 ), use normativity theory to provide insights into the perceived legitimacy of these disclosure-based regulatory regimes, which calls for additional research into how to enhance their legitimacy. Pinnington et al. ( 2022 ) also open new possible avenues for improving disclosure regimes by examining corporations’ disclosures on their discovery efforts, including corporations’ discussion of the “known unknowns” in their supply chains and how they plan to fill that information gap. Business ethics scholars are also well-positioned to explore how government can improve the regime through “guidance, leadership, training and scrutiny” and not simply the use of coercive power (Pinnington et al., 2022 ). For example, public procurement practices, which focus on the government providing positive incentives, as opposed to using coercive power, are a potentially valuable tool in need of further research (Martin-Ortega, 2018 ).

Turning to HRDD practices, research has examined how firms respond to external pressures, such as regulatory pressures. For example, in the area of conflict minerals, Hoffman et al. ( 2018 , p. 132) find that firms may respond to legislative requirements with a simple risk management approach that avoids addressing the root causes of the problem and does “not tackle major problems related to their business model.” This raises issues of how legislation can encourage and incentivize meaningful corporate responses to mandates. For instance, if corporate liability is based on a corporation failing to adopt adequate HRDD, then regulators or the court system must be able to distinguish adequate from inadequate HRDD. Otherwise, we face the problem of corporations being “focused primarily on documenting a due diligence process to protect itself from blame, while not being primarily concerned that the corporation’s decisions effectively curb business-related human rights abuse...” (Fasterling & Demuijnck, 2013 , p. 807).

In the context of their study, Hoffman et al. ( 2018 , p. 116) stated that “the topic of conflict minerals becomes one of supply chain management rather than of individual companies’ legal or compliance divisions alone.” This comment applies to all research on the problem of human rights violations in supply chains. Future research in business ethics can help bring together legal mandates and management practice to improve the impact of our regulatory regimes. We need an understanding of how organizational members understand human rights responsibilities and are encouraged to comply with relevant company policies.

Many corporations struggle with understanding what it means to respect human rights in their situation. The UNGPs, and some mandatory HRDD laws, cover all internationally recognized human rights. Due to the significant number of recognized human rights that could be impacted by business, businesses struggle with determining their responsibilities. McVey et al. ( 2022 ) examined how managers within the corporation understood human rights and sought to persuade their colleagues to adopt a rights-based perspective. In some cases, this involved discussing human rights in terms of the financial impact to the company or otherwise reframing the topic in a manner that tones down the communication of the human rights abuse. As the authors argue, “the process of making human rights understandable and manageable can change their form and content.”

HRDD laws must specify the scope of a corporation’s responsibility for human rights violations. Researchers have considered the concepts of “spheres of influence” (Macdonald, 2011 ) and the different forms of complicity (Wettstein, 2010 ) in their examination of soft law guidance on this issue. The UNGPs developed new terms—“cause,” “contribute,” and “directly linked”—to determine a corporation’s connection to a negative human rights impact, which then determines the required response. These terms may find their way into mandatory HRDD legislation and they appear in the current draft of the UN BHR treaty. Unfortunately, the UNGPs do not provide clear definitions of those terms. Business ethics scholars can help contribute a real world understanding of the meaning of those terms or suggest alternative approaches.

Finally, as states mandate HRDD through legislation, lawyers will become involved in the compliance process. Business ethics research can help provide an understanding of how that impacts corporate responses. For example, in line with Fasterling and Demuijnck’s ( 2013 ) concerns above, some believe that lawyers will push HRDD in the direction of risk management and a tick-box exercise. Thus, the internal governance of HRDD is important. Past research on compliance and ethics programs, and the governance of corporate sustainability efforts generally, provide a useful starting point (Hess, 2021 ). For example, Radu and Smaili ( 2021 ) have examined the impact of corporate governance measures, such as having a board committee focused on CSR and linking CEO compensation to CSR metrics, on improving the company’s social performance.

The primary goal of this commentary was to use recent developments in the law on business and human rights to show the importance of the integration of law, public policy, and business ethics. Rather than provide an exhaustive look at the issues, it simply used several examples to illustrate how business ethics scholars can provide valuable contributions to understanding the effectiveness of the recent developments in BHR law and propose reforms. Moreover, the hope is to encourage business ethics scholars from any disciplinary background to use their perspectives to help inform law and public policy in their area of interest, including privacy; diversity, equity, and inclusion; artificial intelligence; or any other ethical issue of importance to business.

Strategy Vs. Ethics?

Ethics in strategy.

Businesses create a lot of value for stakeholders and society. They provide goods and services, wages for workers, income for investors, and taxes that help to support community infrastructures and a wide variety of government programs and services. Many firms give generously to charities and provide employees time to engage in community programs. This is a short and incomplete list of sources of value provided by businesses. However, in spite of the value they provide, many people have a negative view of businesses and their leaders, believing that they are inherently corrupt and destructive. This perspective is fuelled by widely disseminated information about corporate misdeeds associated with pollution, greed, discrimination, exploitation of workers, bribery, and so forth. In the age of high-speed internet, an abundance of news sources, and social media, businesses are scrutinized more than they have ever been.

These conflicting perspectives about business create a ready forum for ethical debate regarding business strategies. A business strategy is a discernible pattern of actions through which a firm attempts to achieve its business objectives or, as strategy pioneer Henry Mintzberg ( 1978 ) put it, “a pattern in a stream of decisions” (p. 934). All business strategies have ethical implications because they influence the well-being of stakeholders and society. From a strategy perspective, then, business ethics takes on a practical dimension, exploring the principles and rules through which strategies are formulated and implemented, as well as the outcomes from those strategies on the welfare of a firm’s stakeholders and society at large (Freeman et al., 2010 ).

Hopefully, a business strategy results in the creation of value for most of a firm’s stakeholders. In the optimal situation, some or all stakeholders receive incremental value from the implementation of a new strategy without reducing value for any stakeholder, a situation known as pareto optimality (Jones et al., 2016 ). This should be the primary objective of strategic decision makers. However, strategies can also lead to negative outcomes for some stakeholders or for society, a consequence that should not be ignored. Also, the means through which strategies are implemented may violate widely held ethical rules or moral codes associated with values such as honesty, fairness, equality, responsibility, justice, or freedom. Firms and their managers should “do what is right.” The fact that there may be disagreement about what this means makes studying strategy from an ethical perspective a fascinating subject. Ethical dilemmas, when managers must choose among options with conflicting benefits and costs, or when the values or moral codes of various parties collide, provide fertile ground for studying business strategy formulation and implementation.

Papers that are submitted to the Strategy and Ethics section, whether conceptual or empirical, should be deliberate in how they fit into the business ethics literature. They should not assume that readers will make the connection. One way to link strategic dimensions to ethical dimensions is to use an ethical theory or framework to build the arguments. Applying utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, social justice, social contracts theory, or a religious philosophy can provide an obvious ethical dimension to a paper. Also, conflicting theories like agency theory vs. stewardship theory or shareholder primacy vs. stakeholder theory can enhance arguments about business strategies, although the latter debate has already received so much attention that it might be difficult to make a meaningful incremental contribution to the business ethics literature. Another way to make the connection between strategy and ethics is to draw heavily from the existing business ethics literature, as found in journals such as this one. Simply using a variable that measures corporate social responsibility (CSR) or stakeholder management is not sufficient grounds for inclusion in this section of the journal. An ethics foundation is necessary.

Stakeholder theory has a well-developed connection with strategy formulation and implementation (Bosse & Sutton, 2019 ; Freeman et al., 2010 ), and many submissions attempt to use it to give their papers an ethics flavor. However, simply citing Freeman ( 1984 ), Jones ( 1995 ), or Mitchell et al. ( 1997 ) in support of a particular point is not the same as diving into the intricacies of the theory to create well-constructed arguments (Freeman et al., 2010 ; Harrison et al., 2019 ). A paper that is built on a stakeholder theory foundation should, at a minimum, describe the actual, potential, or intended consequences for stakeholders and/or society beyond simply demonstrating that a firm is able to make more money. Alternatively, a paper that adopts a stakeholder perspective combined with another ethical perspective is even stronger than a paper that relies solely on stakeholder theory. Remember that stakeholder theory qualifies as an ethics-based theory because it is built on normative concepts associated with relationships between firms and stakeholders such as trust, fairness, integrity, and respect. Purely instrumental arguments that the primary purpose of treating stakeholders well is to make more money are not particularly valuable to business ethics scholarship.

The same ideas apply to corporate social responsibility (CSR). A paper that demonstrates how much money a firm can make if it is a responsible corporate citizen (perhaps with a few moderators thrown into the models) is only going to be attractive if it also explores the ethical ramifications of whatever definition of CSR the author is using. This also means that it is vitally important to clearly define the CSR construct and then, if it is an empirical paper, make sure that whatever measures of CSR are used are consistent with that definition. There are far too many papers in the literature already that make use of a comprehensive measure of CSR that is based on a measure created from data provided by a firm that gathers the data for investors and not for business ethics researchers. In many cases, the construct validity of one of these CSR measures has not been established in the academic research literature. Also, many of these measures are based on hundreds of variables that are processed by the data providers in what amounts to a “black box,” and researchers have to assume that the methods used by the data collection firm are valid.

In papers submitted to the section, examples of moral as well as potentially immoral strategies and actions are welcome. Consequently, also of interest is research on the way corruption, greed, deceit, coercion, and the desire for power influence firm strategies, outcomes, and stakeholder responses. In the next section I will highlight some of the papers that have been published in the journal that fit nicely within the strategy and ethics domain.

Examples of Published Articles at the Intersection of Strategy and Ethics

Authors who are submitting a paper to the Journal of Business Ethics decide which section seems to be the best fit for their submission. In most cases, their preference is granted. Selecting a section may sometimes be difficult because a lot of topics can fit into multiple sections. For example, strategy has potential conceptual overlaps with corporate governance, corporate responsibility, corporate sustainability, global issues, leadership, technology and marketing. This being said, I went through Volume 175 of the journal and found six articles that fit within the intersection of strategy and ethics. Three are highlighted here.

One of the most interesting of the six articles is “Stakeholder Engagement, Knowledge Problems, and Ethical Challenges,” by Mitchell et al. ( 2022 ). Stakeholder engagement strategies are of great interest to strategic management scholars and these authors already have well-established reputations in the strategy area. However, the paper is also very strong on the ethics dimension. The authors address several ethical challenges head on in the context of the development and application of genetic modification technologies. Specifically, they examine factors that influence the level to which managers and stakeholders are likely to share a common understanding of either the premises or likely consequences of an action taken by the firm. They not only describe these factors, but they explain how stakeholder engagement can help to overcome problems associated with a lack of common understanding.

Another excellent example is “Losing More than Money: Organizations’ Prosocial Actions Appear Less Authentic When Their Resources are Declining,” by Jago et al. ( 2022 ). This article deals with organizational authenticity in the context of prosocial actions. Prosocial behaviors fit nicely into the definition of strategy as a pattern of decisions made by the firm. Furthermore, authenticity is an important ethical dimension related to honesty and trust.

Finally, a third example of a paper that is interesting to both strategy and business ethics scholars is “Competing Logics in the Islamic Funds Industry: A Market Logic Versus a Religious Logic” by Alotaibi et al. ( 2022 ). Obviously, this paper fits well within the Finance and Business Ethics section, but because it is about the strategies of investment fund managers, it is appealing also to Strategy and Ethics. Strategic Management scholars are very interested in investment funds and the links between those funds and the investors that support them. The paper qualifies in the ethics area because the strategies are screened against religious philosophy found in Islamic scripture and teachings. Also, the paper explores the influence of Islamic teachings on diversification in these funds. Diversification is an important concept in both finance and strategy.

For the benefit of those interested in the other three articles I identified at the intersection of strategy and ethics, they are: “Building Projects on the Local Communities’ Planet, Studying Organizations’ Care-Giving Approaches,” by Derakhshan ( 2022 ); “When Does Corporate Social Responsibility Backfire in Acquisitions? Signal Incongruence and Acquirer Returns,” by Zhang et al. ( 2022 ); and “Effect of CSR and Ethical Practices on Sustainable Competitive Performance: A Case of Emerging Markets from Stakeholder Theory Perspective,” by Waheed and Zhang ( 2022 ). The range of topics found in these articles, and their unique approaches, reflect the breadth of ideas that can contribute to the intersection of strategy and ethics, and to the broader business ethics literature. Examples of some of the topics and research questions that have a lot of potential to move the strategy and ethics topic forward will now be discussed.

Future Research on Strategy and Ethics

This is an exciting time to study the intersection of strategy and ethics. So much is happening in the world that has implications for this intersection. Firms need to develop strategies for dealing with changes in the world stemming from new technologies, social movements and upheavals, global health challenges, supply chain issues, and a wealth of other problems that have gained prominence since the start of the new century. As managers deal with these changes, they will need to be sensitive to the ethical ramifications—that is, how their strategies influence stakeholders and society, as well as how they are likely to influence public opinion and, ultimately, their firms’ reputations. In this light, here are a few research questions that seem important to strategy and ethics:

  • How have firm strategies changed in light of social movements associated with diversity and inclusion, and which of these strategies have been the most successful in creating value for firms, their stakeholders, and society? In other words, who are the innovators in this space, and how are their strategies working?
  • How have firms dealt with supply chain shortages, and how have these coping strategies influenced the welfare of employees, customers, suppliers, and communities in which they operate? Have their strategies led to unfair advantages or disadvantages to any particular group? Have supply chain challenges led to unethical behavior?
  • As firms develop or adopt new technologies associated with artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, big data, alternative energy sources, or global value chains, what are the ethical issues that need to be addressed? How are firms dealing with these issues, and which strategies are more or less successful in terms of protecting stakeholder rights and welfare while also enhancing firm performance?
  • What are the strategies that firms use to deal with shocks such as a pandemic or a supply chain disruption caused by a natural disaster (e.g., earthquake, tsunami)? To what extent do these strategies lead to more or less harm to stakeholders and society? Do such shocks lead firms to engage in unethical behaviors or practices? Covid-19 has provided a ready workshop for studying these types of issues.
  • How do institutional, political, and/or societal forces influence the strategies that firms use to deal with shocks such as a pandemic or supply chain disruptions? How do these forces vary globally, and how have different international contexts led to different strategies? To what extent do these forces lead to more or less harm to stakeholders and society, or promote unethical behaviors?

In addition to these types of challenges, the way firms are organizing has changed dramatically in recent years. Global value chains are common in many industries, as are platform organizations (businesses that facilitate transactions across a large number of participants, such as eBay), business groups (i.e., Tata Group), and megacorporations (i.e., Apple, Toyota, and Shell). The increasing popularity of these types of organization have come with a whole range of ethical issues associated with responsibility, fairness, trust, privacy and transparency.

From a strategic perspective, there is already a well-developed literature on the extent to which a firm is responsible for the actions of other actors in its global supply chain (i.e., sweatshops and child labor), and also on how firms cope with cultural differences that promote behaviors such as bribery or lying in their international operations. More research is needed on how a firm’s global value chain strategies influence the welfare of its stakeholders, and whether particular strategies are more prone to ethical dilemmas than others (and how to overcome them without stifling performance). How can firms devise strategies to deal effectively with resistance to globalization (i.e., tariffs, social movements) and how can firms use their strategies to help reduce economic inequality in the nations in which they operate?

Platform organizations and business groups, because their control structures are at least somewhat distributed, offer excellent potential for studying business ethics. The ethical issues associated with these types of structures need to be clearly identified, along with how firms deal with these issues effectively in their policies and strategies. It would be helpful to find out what has worked and what has not, in terms of improving the welfare of and/or harming particular stakeholders. Of course, megacorporations continue to be the subject of ethical debate, and there is still much to do on this topic.

In addition to these research questions that pertain to some of the most important global trends, there are some nagging problems in the strategy and ethics area that have not been adequately addressed:

  • Measurement is a big problem, at least in the CSR and stakeholder areas. For example, Choi and Wang ( 2009 ) measured stakeholder relations by drawing data from what is called the KLD database, using variables for employee relations, diversity, community relations, the environment, and product dimensions. Then Wang and Choi ( 2013 ) used these exact same variables from the same database to measure corporate social performance . This is not a criticism of the authors, but rather an example of a huge problem in the field—both of these papers passed through a rigorous review process at a top management journal. Moving forward, we need to make sure that, once we have clearly defined our constructs, we also make sure that there is consistency between the construct and the way it is measured. This principle applies not only to the CSR subject area, but to other topics in business ethics.
  • Beyond the big commercial databases whose primary source of income is investors, there is very little publicly available data that researchers can use to examine the value firms create or destroy for stakeholders (e.g., stakeholder welfare). Given that so many of the interesting topics in strategy and ethics pertain to this type of welfare, creation of new databases or even a consistent set of data collection tools would be very beneficial in advancing knowledge in the field.
  • The most common dependent variable in empirical studies in strategic management is financial return in the form of profit, shareholder returns or something similar. While profits are important to the ability of a firm to achieve its objectives, including the creation of value for stakeholders, there are infinite possibilities for new studies in this section if researchers spend more of their efforts examining other dependent variables. CSR is sometimes used as a dependent variable, and this is a good step (as long as the construct definition and measures are consistent). Other dependent variables could include community welfare, employee welfare, supplier welfare or customer welfare, just for a start. Some of the big databases that are already in use contain data that may be useful in creating these types of measures. Qualitative methodologies and methods can also be very helpful. The key is to think about the stakeholder and societal value that is created or destroyed as firms implement their strategies (Harrison & Wicks, 2021 ).
  • Finally, new theory is sorely needed. Among the most used theories at the intersection of strategy and ethics are stakeholder theory, agency theory, stewardship theory, or salience theory. Scholars also borrow theory from other disciplines to support their arguments, which is good, but where are the new theories that are specific to strategy and ethics?

In summary, the intersection of strategy and ethics offers many opportunities to address some of the problems associated with global changes and challenges. In addition, there are research opportunities for advancing the field through cleaning up some of the remaining conceptual and methodological problems that have impeded research in the area for many years. Of course, the overarching aim of the journal is to develop more of an awareness of ethical issues in business and ways that businesses can become more ethical, and do more good in the world, thus reducing the propensity for people to look at business as clashing with ethical principles—ethical businesses strategies instead of “strategy vs. ethics.”

Toward a Framework to Explore Unethical Business Models

This essay proposes a framework for research that critiques not only the ethical implications of business practice, but also of business models. If there are embedded ethics, there can also be embedded unethicality. If there are social enterprises, surely there are also antisocial ones (a categorization as yet undefined), who by their very business model, promote unsustainability or exacerbate inequality. Beyond the idea of bad apples or even bad barrels, which has been well explored in this journal (the latter implying a flaw in a barrel designed to be “good”) there are business structures hiding in plain sight which by their very design embody and reify unethical practice.

The negative impact of some businesses is clear, particularly if the model is one that operates outside the law. With the proviso that laws vary more widely by jurisdiction than ethics do, and may be subject to political influence, or other cultural factors, illegal activities are often, although by no means always, unethical. The sale of heroin, for instance, and armed robbery are both for-profit enterprises which exist outside the boundaries of legality and therefore of respectability. This makes research on the ethics inherent in their models appear redundant, a waste of scholars’ energy and resources. It appears obvious that these models are unethical because we first see them as illegal. But in fact it is the other way around. The reason that these things are illegal, the trigger for their being sanctioned by law, is that they have been deemed at a particular place and time to be unethical and harmful. Correspondingly, the legalization of formerly criminalized activities reflects a changing understanding of how society should operate. Law is a response to societal understandings of ethics. Therefore, while it offers one option to reveal the kinds of models we, as scholars, might address, it does so at a delay, lagging societal awareness.

Consider activities that have recently been banned. The sale and deployment of cluster bombs, for example, was outlawed in 2010 by the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Oslo Convention) due to their indiscriminate and harmful nature. Prior to that date, they were still harmful, but the law would not have acted as a flag to this effect. Right now, their illegality points toward their unethicality. It is our role as researchers in this field to question business models that are legal, but which have built-in unethicality which may 1 day be banned, or which might deserve such sanction even if it is politically untenable. At the time of writing in early 2022, proposals are under consideration in New Zealand which will effectively, over time, outlaw the sale of cigarettes. Why is the New Zealand government taking this position? Because tobacco is inherently harmful, killing half of its users, according to the World Health Organization. Unlike alcohol, that is harmful with over-consumption, the World Health Organization observes that “there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco” (WHO, 2021 ). The business model for supply of tobacco depends on knowingly selling a product that will harm consumers. It is not that some, or even many, tobacco companies practice unethical behavior. It is the model, the design, that is inherently unethical.

Like tobacco, we know there are other industries, sectors and companies with business models which are (currently) legal yet ripe for analysis, containing elements that are inherently, almost by design, damaging or unsustainable. Can we frame this in terms of ethics, and what would such an approach tell us about business ethics itself? By default, scholars approach ethics in relation to decisions, and when we apply this to business, our perspective can tend toward a micro rather than a macro view. As well as looking at bad practice, bad apples, and bad barrels, the ethicality of business models would be an interesting topic to explore further in this journal.

A desire to do so, as a community of scholars, begs the next question: how do we identify such businesses? Harrison and Wicks ( 2021 ) have written on this topic in the context of stakeholder theory, providing a basis for identifying strategies that might be considered unethical by stakeholders and exploring the response of firms. A complementary approach would be to develop a framework. What we are seeking to identify is not unethical practice on an individual firm basis, or even unethical practice that is widespread but avoidable within particular industries, such as low wages in hospitality, but business models that depend on specific unethical elements. It is common, for instance, for food delivery workers to be poorly paid, but, arguably, the business model does not depend on those low wages. A delivery service could exist which charged more and paid well. However, other business models depend clearly on some harmful or unethical dimension. An example might be the tobacco industry, as noted above, or the provision of essay-cheating services to students. The purpose of this commentary is to explore a framework to identify and examine these.

Toward a Framework of Unethical Business Models

An approach to the question of how to identify unethical business models can be made either deductively or inductively. We might, for instance, locate a pre-existing code that can be used to classify them, or we could inductively explore businesses with significant ethical issues, and attempt to isolate the specific elements on which they rely. Using a code, the law, as we have seen, is somewhat useful ex-post, but overall it is inadequate to the task, being slow to respond, subjective in some ways, insufficient and geographically inconsistent. Another potentially useful rubric might be the criteria applied by ethical investment funds. The ethics of ethical investing have long been scrutinized in this journal, 1 and as the field transitions into ESG metrics and socially responsible investment factors, major issues that emerge are a lack of transparency, and a lack of convergence across the field on how and which criteria should be applied (Widyawati, 2020 ). For these and other reasons, this essay adopts the second of the two possible approaches flagged above, and explores in an inductive way business models that appear fundamentally harmful or unethical, aiming to synthesize a tentative framework for evaluation. Note that the dimensions explored may not, on an individual basis, brand a business model as unethical. In aggregate, however, they may provide a frame by which such business categories could be considered.

The tobacco industry may be seen as an example of a business that causes inherent harm, in its case primarily to the human health of consumers. Even where the tobacco is grown organically and sold on a fair trade basis, with well-remunerated workers and a supply chain free of exploitation, the sale of the product itself is always, even at low levels of consumption, damaging. Inherent harm, as a dimension of unethical business models, could also apply beyond consumers. Some forms of mineral exploration, for instance, may cause irreparable harm to the environment. A business that requires such approaches, especially if the exploration is not strictly necessary, may be given a high score on the dimension of harm.

Another dimension may be dependence. Some for-profit models are built on the foundation of locking consumers or suppliers in to future purchases. For example, newer Apple products which do not have a standard headphone port require users to either buy an adaptor, or to depend on the company to supply such accessories. A related element is built-in redundancy, or a lack of backwards compatibility. In gaming, for instance, some new games require upgrading of the hardware needed to play them, and in some cases the newer consoles will not support older games. Another example is phone batteries designed to degrade after a certain length of time, or digital cameras which become redundant even while functional when there is no longer software available to link to newer computer operating systems. Practices of creating dependency create moral hazard for the design of entire business models built on this behavior.

Another element is facilitating or encouraging unethical behavior on the part of others. Essay-writing services for students are an example, or those parts of the dark web that depend on platforming racist groups. A fourth dimension might be appropriation: privatization or theft of common resources like water supplies, radical overfishing, the patenting of genetic material, or, spectacularly, the February 2020 call by the Adam Smith Institute for the privatization of the moon. Deception is also a clearly unethical practice, and some businesses, notably in the field of natural medicine, beauty or diet products, promise far beyond what they can or do deliver. A congruent idea is that of an industry creating a problem for which they are the only solution, as in the case of some “smart food products” or much of the beauty industry.

Another dimension, not unconnected but distinct, is that of predation, or predatory behavior. An example is the selling to vulnerable groups of payday loans which only become profitable if the borrower does not pay on time. The loans are marketed in a disingenuous way, based on early repayment, but the business model depends on default. More indirectly, predation might include the sale of products that promote unrealistic beauty standards to young women in particular.

Exploitation is intrinsic to business models ranging from the use of near-forced labor to parts of the gig economy, or creative outlets that do not pay performers a living wage. Even the language used in the creative industry is revealing: artistic work is now routinely called content, relegating it to something that serves the distribution channels, rather than the other way around.

A Stylized Framework

These seven dimensions, harm, dependence, facilitation, appropriation, deception, predation and exploitation, may act in overlapping ways to support a business model with an unethical core. Such a simple framework would allow researchers to map the dependence of any given business model on each of these dimensions, perhaps with results as shown graphically as in Fig.  1 , below, for four stylized, pro-forma business models labeled A to D.

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Framework mapping the ethicality of business models

This initial framework requires refinement in three key ways, and research is invited to explore correlations and redundancies, to add missing elements and dimensions, and, critically, to devise a means of scoring, perhaps based on large datasets.

The Means of Distribution

In applying the framework to business, it may be important to once again step back from examining products and services, to focus on elements of distribution. A central tenet of Marxism, eloquently expressed in W. E. B. DuBois’s posthumous autobiography ( 1968 ) was: “for working people to be free, they must seize control of the means of production .” He was thinking of slavery and forced labor in the cotton fields of the US South, where the invention of the cotton gin had made free labor in plantation fields extremely profitable for the few, but back-breaking and imprisoning for the many. In that pre-globalization context, he correctly saw the planation system as a generator of inequality, and a perpetuator of poverty and slavery. If the people were to be free, control of this means of production needed to be in wider hands. Production was the controlling element of its time. If you looked and asked: “Who are the wealthy? And what have they that the poor do not?” the answer would be factories, mills, mines, farms.

Our current system of financial accounting developed in the service of this old model of capitalism, accounting to the providers of capital on how their investment has been deployed in order to produce something. We assess companies—“account” for their activity in a literal sense—by evaluating the cost of the goods they produce and the revenue they obtain by selling them. Financial accounting developed to account for a commodity-based business—sales, cost of goods sold. Services are accounted for using the same structure, and thus are seen, in a way, as a special class of goods. Through a financial accounting lens, a service company is seen as selling something that is ultimately consumed in the same way as, say, a sandwich, or a widget. Profit is accounted for by taking the revenue from “selling” the service, and subtracting in some sense the cost of this sale. This fundamental idea—that the value generated within companies is linked to what they produce— has shaped our thinking about how business works. It colors how we theorize on how invested capital will be concentrated or distributed or generate value within or outside an organization. It forms the basis of financial accounting and delineates how we think about business ethics and about power, capital, production, value, and inequality. But is there a new element to consider?

Consider The Evergiven . In March of 2021, the unfortunate captain of the container ship, The Evergiven ran aground near the village of Manshiyet Rugola, blocking the Suez Canal. For a week, the world watched efforts to free it on nightly news broadcasts, daily newspapers, and in real time on social media. It was just one ship, run aground in a place most people had never heard of. But it mattered, somehow, to us all. Factories in countries dominated by production open and close all the time, and those of us in the privileged countries dominated by consumption barely notice. But let a ship block up the Suez Canal for a week, and we sit up, our fingers poised over the “Buy Now” button, wondering how this disruption to shipping might affect us, how it might affect our spending.

We now live in a globalized age of networked capitalism and consumerism, where rising inequality and its associated societal damage is driven not just by a few individuals controlling the means of production of valuable goods or services, but by distribution. Amazon destroys millions of items of unsold stock every year. Consider the business model that makes this more profitable for Amazon than selling the items cheaply. They have found a way to make money from the offer of distribution, even if no goods are sold or consumed. When billionaire artists like Beyoncé and JayZ set up Tidal in competition with Spotify, it was clear that, even for superstar producers of music, the money lies in distribution.

More generally, on a basic level, failures of distribution impact disproportionately on the poor. Wealthier people can stockpile a little, or time their spending. Those without a financial buffer are more reliant on getting that fill of fuel when they need and can afford it—they can’t afford to wait. For a starker example, consider the distribution of vaccines in the Covid-19 pandemic, booster vaccines were rolled out widely in countries with good health infrastructure, while many in the global South were still waiting for their first dose, putting their health and their lives at risk.

Perhaps our system of financial accounting, which developed to provide an account to the providers of capital about their commodity-based businesses, is no longer appropriate to this new era. Perhaps it even serves to occlude the means by which an elite can generate private profits without producing any goods. Perhaps we need to reconsider what it means to run a successful business, what it means to be productive in a real sense. Amazon does not need to provide a commodity the world needs, and price it accordingly, to be profitable. It gives us something else we appear to desperately want: instant consumption of everything, 24 h a day, delivered to our homes “for free.” Their model does not need to know or care about the utility of the goods. It simply needs us to want to buy something, anything at all, as the control the channels for an ever-widening range of goods. What they are selling us is consumption itself. The only desire they need to awaken is the desire to purchase. Once that is established, profits accrue to them, the distributor, regardless of whether they accrue to the producers. To an extent, then, they may be facilitating this harmful practice of over-consumption; their model may be predatory in relation to smaller, local suppliers; it may be designed to create dependency—not absolutely, but to some extent that could be scored using the framework above. Applying the framework with a distribution as well as a production lens could therefore be useful.

Of course, there are still production-based problems. Sweatshops persist. The ILO ( 2022 ) estimates about 40 million people are trapped in forced labor, a quarter of whom are children. 2 Neither is it a choice between the merits of production or distribution. Modern modes of production are themselves complex and networked, dependent on interwoven pathways of materials and processes that span the globe. Distribution underpins production. And if we stand and look around, as W. E. B. Dubois may have done, and ask: “Who are the wealthy? What do they have that the poor do not?” we will find ourselves looking not at the finery of plantation-owners, but at billionaires taking daytrips to space whose wealth is founded not on production, but on the distribution of goods, and the curation and channeling of our ideas and even of our relationships, thereby creating a lasting dependency.

This proposed framework, while imperfect, can be progressed to help identify unethical business models. Having done so, many aspects of the business would merit examination: design and packaging of the product or service; marketing strategies; price points and availability; the CSR strategies of companies operating this business model; social impact accounting. Researchers could explore the ethics of people who work in, patronize or invest in such businesses, with due regard to issues of power, choice and voice. The framework could also be applied to aspects of otherwise benign industries, such as education or healthcare. Closer to home, for example, it could be applied to the model of academic publishing, considering how young scholars need to corral their ideas into narrow channels that will reach publication in the few outlets that will be recognized by their employers. There are design issues to be explored in terms of the cost of open access, the dominance of English language, the pressure placed on our future scholars by tight and demanding tenure tracks, the role of encouragers and gatekeepers, the motivations created by our promotion and recruitment systems.

Overall, this approach could complement work that seeks out examples of good or bad business ethics, by examining business systems, their morality and who they serve.

Taboo and Totems in the Study of Social Ventures, Entrepreneurship, and Small Businesses

M. Tina Dacin and Julia Roloff

Descriptions of entrepreneurial activities range from glorifying entrepreneurs for their willingness to take risks, hard work, and innovativeness to raising general suspicion that entrepreneurs cut corners to get their business going and are motivated by self-serving goals. The literature on social enterprises, family businesses, start-ups, and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often belongs to one extreme or the other: either entrepreneurs or their ventures are studied as exemplars for outstanding achievement and contributions to society (e.g., Fowler et al., 2019 ), or they are studied for their deviance. Studies that present small businesses, family firms, and social ventures as places where well-intentioned people struggle to walk the talk about responsible and sustainable business practices are rare. However, without research that captures both the good and the bad, we fail to create management theory and recommendations that are relevant to business practice.

We observe contributions to the literature on social entrepreneurship and small business in which successful business ventures and their leaders are revered in a way that reminds us of totems. These examples are adverted to as proof that socially and environmentally responsible business ventures can also be financially successful. This idea is essentially so precious that criticizing these ventures, their operations or their leaders essentially becomes taboo. We explore the notions of totem and taboo and how they dominate our thinking and push for a move toward a more nuanced and balanced approach to research in this domain.

The terms totem and taboo have a long history in anthropology and anthropologists have described practices of totemism among ethnic groups from various continents. For example, Frazer (1887, p. 1) wrote: “A totem is a class of material objects which a savage regards with superstitious respect, believing that there exists between him and every member of the class an intimate and altogether special relation.” A wide range of cultural practices is described in connection with totemism, ranging from worshipping the totem to identification with it. Totemism comes with taboos, such as the taboo against killing or eating any individual of the totem species since this would be considered cannibalism. Freud ( 2013 /1913) claims in his book “Totem and Taboo” that this identification with a totem is the social institution that laid the ground for an incest taboo, as two people who identify with the same totem will not “consume” each other sexually. According to Freud ( 2013 /1913), the origin of taboos is unclear, as he believes them to be older than religious and moral prohibitions and they come with no clear explanation. He borrowed largely from the work of writers such as Van Gennep ( 1904 ), who referred to a taboo largely as a prohibition that could be grounded in religious, moral, or even social foundations. While taboos and their associated prohibitions can be behavioral, they can also be conversational—neither talked about nor publicly debated and discussed (Sabri et al., 2010 ).

We assert that some contributions to the business ethics literature show signs of totemism and of taboos that lack justification. Sabri et al. ( 2010 ) suggest that taboos are “cultural productions” that are crafted and embedded in social and historical contexts. The accelerated evolution of social ventures as a panacea for society’s ailing aid and impact sector has imposed enormous pressure to present only the good while downplaying the bad sides of these ventures. We see case studies that do not dare criticize any aspect of a social venture, or those that present claims of successful leaders as gospel without critical distancing or considering the possibility that an exemplary venture may also be fraught with weaknesses. Here, social ventures are approached as totems. Taboos play a role when entrepreneurs are studied for their deviant behavior, such as their propensity to lie, distort and/or misrepresent information in order to gain support from investors and clients, but there is neglection of discussion of those who do not resort to such behaviors (e.g., Ji et al., 2019 ): in this case, the idea that entrepreneurs forego a business opportunity because of their individual or organizational values is the taboo. This tendency of researchers to revere totems and observe taboos has led to a number of problematic outcomes that limit our ability to meaningfully unpack this literature. We encourage researchers to consider how their theoretical framing and methodological approaches can introduce or remove bias in their research.

Bias Introduced by Theoretical Framing

First, for the most part, the social venture and small business literature tends to focus on hybrid forms of organizing, where it is assumed at the outset that there are tensions across the logics (most often social and commercial) which are blended to guide and govern the enterprise. The assumption is that the logics driving social ventures compete and are largely incompatible. However, this assumption may be unfounded and ignores the fact that firms generally operate in pluralistic institutional spheres that involve the simultaneous juggling of multiple logics. An example is a family firm, which has to balance the needs of the business, the family and those of the firm’s stakeholders (Signori & Fassin, 2021 ). We do not want to discount the rise of conflicts or tensions because of multiple logics. However, an implicit assumption that there is incompatibility from the outset is largely misguided.

Second, there is a romanticized narrative that often accompanies small, entrepreneurial enterprises and family businesses, and especially in the discourse around social ventures. Indeed, most of the narratives describe the work of social entrepreneurs in a positive light. Social entrepreneurs are heroic totems who seek and gather accolades at a variety of field-configuring events led by various foundations and luminaries. At these events, entrepreneurs are highly celebrated, reinforcing a cycle of pointing out the positive in an extreme form of hero worship. These same heroes go on to enjoy a cycle of success receiving awards from one event to the next. As they continue their momentum of success, these heroic social entrepreneurs are rarely scrutinized, and in fact their stories are careful curations of their origin, work, and impact. In so doing, we know of little to nothing in published scholarly work about the darker side of these actors and their ventures, although recent examples in the news media shed light on some controversial activities (Waldie, 2020 ).

Third, by focusing on totems and ignoring more mid-range dialogue about the positive and darker sides of entrepreneurial activity, we privilege the role of individual actors and ignore the collective side of entrepreneuring (Montgomery et al., 2012 ). In fact, many social ventures involve groups of individuals. Collective sets of actors such as key stakeholders, including partners, funders, and community actors, should not be discounted nor ignored. In fact, in community settings, much good comes from the efforts of collective social innovation (Dacin & Dacin, 2019 ).

Taboos can influence researchers when they develop their theoretical frameworks. For example, two recent studies investigating how entrepreneurs describe their ventures on crowdfunding platforms exemplify this problem. Defazio et al. ( 2021 ) study the impact of prosocial framing in these descriptions, while Calic et al. ( 2021 ) investigate whether using Machiavellian rhetoric makes projects more or less successful in receiving financial backing. Both studies address the same research question on how project descriptions influence funding success and failure, but they approach this question from diametrically opposed positions, assuming that investors are either drawn to socially impactful projects or manipulated by ingratiation and stories of betrayal. Together, these two studies provide a more complex understanding of venture presentations on crowdsourcing websites. However, it is often feasible to design studies that capture a wide range of motivations and actions and therefore allow exploration of both the good and the bad in the same study.

In particular, research on social ventures has been limited by the tendency and practice to establish totems and to avoid taboos. To what extent can we be confident that the literature to date has rendered valuable knowledge and insight about whether social ventures have produced lasting, systemic, and structural change in the range of complex, inter-related problems, such as homelessness and poverty? By assuming that social ventures are inherently good, there is a tendency to avoid comparison to other forms of doing good, take impact as given, and often inspection is seen as harsh and also is often unwanted. The mythical status attributed to social ventures being “inherently good” means we tend to overlook potentially viable alternative approaches such as public, private, and charitable organizations, cross-sector partnerships and corporate philanthropy (Dacin et al., 2011 ). In fact, in the last two decades other pathways for good may have been subjugated to the allure of the social enterprise over other alternatives.

Bias Introduced by the Methodological Approach

We want to encourage researchers to be mindful of tendencies toward glorification and vilification in the research of social ventures, entrepreneurship, and small businesses. There are examples for studies that are designed to identify virtuous as well as problematic patterns.

Such research can be motivated by unexpected observations such as the study by Dorado et al. ( 2022 ) of a successful social bank that struggles with employee retention. Dorado et al. investigate the reasons why this value-driven social enterprise sees so many of its employees leaving after a few years of service. A similar inquiry—but based on large population samples—is conducted by Brieger et al. ( 2021 ), who study how social value creation, meaningful work and burnout are related. This research helps us to understand the price people pay when working for a social venture as they perceive pressure to set private needs and goals aside.

On the other hand, keeping a business on the right path is challenging to do. For example, Sendlhofer ( 2020 ) describes how employees of a SME that is recognized as a corporate social responsibly (CSR) pioneer started decoupling from the firm’s praised practices. Moreover, they procrastinated when it came to creating new socially responsible practices because their past success made them confident that their firm would continue to excel anyway. Similar observations of mission drift are made in the microfinance sector when over time lenders tend to prefer more capable clients over more needy ones (Beisland et al., 2019 ). These studies help us to understand the messy nature of business ventures aimed at creating valuable outcomes for society and highlight that these organizations can hardly be categorized as good or bad, but that they are operating between high aspiration and very real human and organizational limitations. Limitations and aspirations are best studied with research questions that are interested in a wide range of observations.

Other examples of studies avoiding bias can be found in the research on what motivates entrepreneurs that capture responses ranging from egoistic to altruistic motivations. For example, a study on indigenous entrepreneurs demonstrates that emancipation through entrepreneurship can take on many meanings, as some entrepreneurs work toward making themselves autonomous while others want to instigate change in their community (Pergelova et al., 2021 ). If the researchers had only asked questions on how indigenous entrepreneurs seek to help their community, we would have learned less about their need for individual autonomy. Another study avoiding taboos investigated the role of SME in peacekeeping was able to capture dynamics that promote peace and others which foster conflict (Joseph et al., 2021 ): this study highlights that creating income and employment in a conflict-ridden community is not sufficient to promote peace—in order to make a contribution, firms needed to reduce inter-group conflict between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees within the firm. If the researchers had only been interested in observing how firms contribute to peacekeeping, they might have failed to observe that in some firms conflictual beliefs are perpetuated. Such findings are feasible since the studies were designed to capture motivations, beliefs, and behaviors along a continuum between virtuous and beneficial, on one side, and deviant and harmful, on the other. Thus, we can learn more about the struggles people experience when they are trying to do the right thing, create ventures that produce more than financial value and work toward keeping these ventures on the right path in changing environments.

These studies link observations on the individual, organizational and societal level, such as exhaustion and decoupling among employees and unintended problematic consequences of entrepreneurial activities at organizational and community level. By conducting research that sheds light on the gray zones of entrepreneurship and managing small ventures, we can create theories that address problems that entrepreneurs and their teams experience every day. A focus on only one end of the continuum between virtuosity and deviance blinds us to the nuances and complexity of entrepreneurial activities and the difficulties that people experience when they are trying to “walk the talk” and not to lose their path as they continue walking.

The Path Forward

To reduce our focus on totems and taboos from research on social ventures, family businesses, start-ups, and SMEs, we need to be open to observing the good and the bad in any empirical context, and we need to find ways to describe and explain a complex and embedded social system, in which people with good intentions fail to deliver desired outcomes and people with questionable intentions create value for others. Only by designing studies that can capture the complexity of doing business in a dynamic environment can we create theory that provides an accurate description of our messy reality and permits us to develop solutions that work under given constraints.

We invite efforts for more systematic research on the motivation and rationale as to why some businesses work toward more responsible and sustainable business practices and others neglect to do the same. Future research ought to inquire whether good, moderate, and poor practices can be explained by factors influencing enterprises at a societal or cultural level, such as institutional and legislative pressures, market demands, or the absence of such factors. Do inadequate organizational resources, capabilities, or resistance to change explain why businesses fail to do better? Are individual factors such as motivation, values, and beliefs the reason why entrepreneurs, managers, and employees engage with or decouple from such goals? What is the role of stakeholders and partners in encouraging or discouraging responsible business practices? How can we better understand the unintended negative consequences of doing good?

Moreover, we are also interested in a critical analysis of our research traditions. To what extent do the totems we perpetuate maintain the façade or serve as a mask for material or ideological interests? Where does the dark side reside? Is it hidden, just below the surface, or more deeply embedded in the core of entrepreneurial activity? Moving forward, what can we learn about social impact creation by focussing more on how ventures capture value instead on how they create it (Bacq & Eddleston, 2018 )? How do various pathways to social impact compare? Are social ventures more effective than other forms of impact such as cross-sector partnerships (Vurro et al., 2010 )?

We are looking forward to a discourse on social ventures, family businesses, start-ups, and SMEs that is ready to question old assumptions and ready to capture the potential but also the limitations of individuals and collectives to create socially beneficial ventures.

1 See, for instance, Schwartz ( 2003 ) and the considerable body of work citing that paper, or, more recently, Widyawati ( 2020 ).

2 See for estimates of the level of forced and child labor worldwide.

Please note that authors are listed by alphabetical order and not based on author contribution. Each commentary in this essay was written by different authors.

This article has been changed to open access. The setting in Jflux have been amended regarding copyright holder name, grants and licence

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  • Published: 20 February 2014

Business Research Ethics: Participant Observer Perspectives

  • Michelle Wallace 1 &
  • Neroli Sheldon 1  

Journal of Business Ethics volume  128 ,  pages 267–277 ( 2015 ) Cite this article

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The ethical parameters of business research, especially that undertaken by doctoral candidates, are an under researched area. This exploratory research analyses research ethics in the business and management contexts as espoused in perceived low risk ethics applications from business doctoral candidates in light of the principles of Australian research ethics guidelines. Applications are also analysed in terms of power relationships, methods of access and informed consent, pressure to complete research expeditiously, conflict of interest and cross-cultural understandings. Findings suggest that research design, personal relationships with participants and nuanced understandings of the contextual dimensions of risk may be of concern in the proposed research. However, a reflexive process also questions the cultural and other assumptions of both researchers and ethics administrators underlying these concerns.

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Wallace, M., Sheldon, N. Business Research Ethics: Participant Observer Perspectives. J Bus Ethics 128 , 267–277 (2015).

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Ethics and morality in business practice

Social Responsibility Journal

ISSN : 1747-1117

Article publication date: 7 March 2008

Debeljak, J. and Krkac, K. (2008), "Ethics and morality in business practice", Social Responsibility Journal , Vol. 4 No. 1/2.

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Article Type: Editorial From: Social Responsibility Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1/2.

Ethics is about finding an answer to what a good person is and how to be(come) one. Therefore it applies to any area of human social life, i.e. forms of life. Regardless, ethics has been repeatedly and carelessly ignored in one of those areas in particular ethics in business, which that is the area we tackle in the Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal sitting in front of you, business and organisations. The papers gathered discuss the consequences of such practice, trying to promote a way and relevance of seeing business and morality together.

The title of this Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal is “Ethics and morality in business practice”. Our contributors discuss the theme broadly, demonstrating how present and widespread it is in this field. The great interest in publishing an article in this Special Issue has produced a double issue, which also shows how many academics realise and are trying to inform society about the problems. The research published within these issues testifies that ethics and business do not, or should not, create an oxymoron as is considered by “Friedman-style” economic reasoning.

Ignoring ethics in business practice bears negative consequences for business, manifested in general negligence, such as pollution, environmental changes, problems in HRS, the business relations scale in general, and eventually the maintenance and sustainability of general prosperity and business itself. The purpose of this Special Issue is to facilitate understanding of where ethical and moral limits should actually be underlined, as this question seems to represent the most difficulty. Perhaps because the answer is plain they are within each and every one of us, and are nurtured by each and every one of us, as that is where morality comes from. We can try to avoid taking responsibility, as we by our fragile human nature frequently tend to do, but that only makes things worse for no-one else but ourselves. So, “ When shall I start acting upon the realised importance of morality?” is perhaps a more convenient question.

This Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal , due to directions on topics chosen by us as Guest Editors and because of accepted papers, covers at least four topics as we see it:

the first and rather practical topic is CSR and management issues;

the second is the always fresh issue à propos corruption;

the third covers teaching, communicating and evaluating CSR; and

the last covers theoretical and fundamental troubles concerning questions on CSR principles and crucial CSR concepts in terms of their analysis.

This difference between the topics is somewhat blurred, as all the papers in CSR to some extent follow the standard model of papers in social sciences, and quite often such an approach is mixed with the philosophical analysis popular among experts in practical philosophy and applied ethics, and in addition, cases are frequently presented in order to show the problem and the solution in practice.

In respect of the number of the papers reviewed to be published, the editors have tried to accomplish a certain degree of balance among previously listed topics of the journal’s contents. Nevertheless, the fourth topic, the re-description of some indispensable notions of CSR, seems to be of greatest concern in the present volume. In such circumstances and especially on an occasion such as this, i.e. as Guest Editors, we should say that this suggests a certain way of development of the area of CSR in practice by ethical officers in firms, by academics, by NGOs, and many other stakeholders.

À propos of this, we have tried to combine papers into a whole which could provide readers with an idea about how to move from practice to theory in a way that would eventually make practice speak for itself (to paraphrase the words of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein). Practice itself isn’t justified or unjustified, as there cannot be justification stronger than the practice itself, and this is so because every practice is a proper part of steady and fairly complicated form of life, i.e. particular practices, actions, procedures, routines and world-view as a whole (to paraphrase the same philosopher once again).

So, the first section is concentrated around the topic of management. In the words of one the contributors, J. Simmons, whose paper focuses “on operationalising corporate social responsibility in the context of employee governance. Its purpose is to critically evaluate the ethics of ‘mainstream’ human resource management (HRM) and to propose an alternative stakeholder systems model of HRM”. The practice of value-formation in corporations in the context of management is studied in the second paper by M. Mattila. A similar topic is developed by M.A. Musa, S.E. Ismail, and S. Othman in their paper “Corporate governance and innovative leaders”. So, this first part, to continue with application of some philosophical concepts, shows how form of life can be changed on the level of management. Somewhat more loosely connected to the topic of the chapter is the paper by E.A. Lange and T.J. Fenwick, “Moral commitments to community: mapping social responsibility and its ambiguities among small business owners”, and the paper by M. Koričan and I. Jelavić, “CSR, women and SMEs the Croatian perspective”.

The second part is composed of just two papers, which are compatible in principle since both discuss an issue of corruption, the first regarding corporations (by B. Tran), and the second regarding corruption as a general ethical issue (by H. Kreikebaum). B. Tran, in his paper “Corporate ethics: an end to the rhetorical interpretations of an endemic corruption”, suggests that “implementing organizational guidelines is one appropriate and objective method in addressing corporate corruption and to confirm corporate compliance”. On the other hand, H. Kreikebaum, in his paper “Corruption as moral issue” states that “a compliance approach can only serve as a necessary first step to counteract fraud and corruption, and that to obtain a good corporate citizen status a company should also develop an open dialogue with all stakeholders (integrity management approach)”.

The third part shows something rather different regarding not just these changes, but also that these forms of life must be introduced together into society, namely to its new members. So, drilling, teaching, or acquiring practices seem all to be important. Papers gathered here address many relevant topics. F. Alegria Carreira, M. do Amparo Guedes and M. da Conceição Aleixo pose the question of the possibility of teaching business ethics; Kristin Demetrious connects it to new activism; and E. Ariwa and S. Olaya formulate many queries regarding digitalization and CSR through a quite interesting case.

Finally, the fourth part discusses some fundamental CSR concepts. This also calls for some clarification. The Austrian philosopher already mentioned wrote that during the drill of morality ethics itself should be presented as a kind of mysterious thing, and only later it can be explicated , and that on the other hand something must be presented as fundamental during teaching and acquiring. So, one thing is to drill certain practice (i.e. form of life, way of action and living) into the members of a certain group or society, and quite another is to explicate it, to present it perspicuously for various practical purposes. Although these appear to be two different things, they are not. Practice alone contains rules, notions and ideas within itself, so while certain action is de facto practised these rules are implicit within it and manifest themselves during the process. On the other hand, due to the new circumstances, need for change of practice or a similar explication is required as a kind of practical synopsis or overview. If so, then these implicit rules can be explicated, mystery (at least partially) can be revealed, but once again, only for practical purposes. After all, we learn practice by doing something (not to tell lies, not to steal, to be honest, to be fair, etc.), not by learning rules before or separately from training.

So, that is our reason for creating the fourth part, which addresses issues starting with principles of corporate citizenship (D. Birch), contemporary administrative techniques (A. Coltro), to many particular concepts such as accountability (M. Green et al. ), sanity (Gupta and Gupta), affirmative action, rights, sustainability, and others.

Furthermore, we should mention that some principal issues are discussed in various contexts in some of the papers in the fourth part, namely:

in the context of a certain corporation (Maria de Fatima Oliveira, “Fighting a smoky fire: an analysis of Phillip Morris’s CEO speeches according to image restoration strategies”; “On the morning of December 3, 1984, a holding tank with 43 tonnes of stored MIC from the Union Carbide factory, overheated and released a toxic MIC gas mixture, which, being heavier than air, rolled along the ground through the surrounding streets”. This ecological and corporate disaster is the topic of the paper by Loong Wong, “Revisiting rights and responsibility: the case of Bhopal”);

in the context of national economy (paper by Gupta and Gupta, “Corporate social responsibility in India: towards a sane society?”); and

in the religious and cultural context (paper by Riham Rizk, “Back to basics: an Islamic perspective on business and work ethics”).

By summarising these somewhat disconnected ideas in all of the chapters, it is possible to argue that these topics are of the utmost importance to CSR and business ethics since they call attention to the vital responsibilities of business and its stakeholders, especially regarding:

proper functioning of management and of some “improper” functioning, i.e. corruption (first and second parts);

the role of learning about ethical values (among businessmen, PR, students, professors, and activists; third part); and

the importance of fundamental conceptual investigations exposed as practical in various cases which reveal them at the same time to be purely abstract as well as everyday obstacles (fourth part).

This last part also can be divided into those papers that give rise to some fundamental issue in the light of a particular case, and those that discuss a conceptual issue in the first place and try to apply it to economic realities.

In the light of all of the ideas mentioned of the relationship between practice and theory, and vice versa, we are thankful to Professor David Crowther, who gave us the opportunity to present this Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal to readers of different interests and positions in the corporate, business, and academic worlds not just as a sum of excellent investigations, but also as significant ideas of what is relevant in social responsibility in different fields of business, societies, and cultures nowadays.

Jelena Debeljak, Kristijan Krkac

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A Reflection on business ethics: implications for the United Nations Global Compact and social engagement and for academic research

Conference : research in diverse social contexts: tensions, dynamics and challenges, paris, 2009, person as author : baker, wallace r., document code : 2009/ed/hed/frk/me/5, collation : 25 p., language : english, year of publication : 2009.

programme and meeting document

programme and meeting document

A Reflection on Business Ethics Implications for the United Nations Global Compact and Social Engagement and for Academic Research A Commissioned Paper for the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge Wallace R. BAKER, Ancien Avocat à la Cour and Emeritus Partner Baker & McKenzie Paris, France Note: This paper draws on a series of lectures on Business Ethics given by the author as a Branigan Distinguished Citizen Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at the School of Law of the University of Indiana ,Bloomington, USA, in April 2007 U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 1 2009/ED/HED/FRK/ME/5 Original: EnglishBUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker Contents 1. Introduction 3 II. A Reflection on Business Ethics 3 .What are the origins of Ethics? .Do Ethics vary in time and in different cultures? .Do Ethics vary depending on who you are dealing with? .Are Ethics subject-specific? .How are Ethics transmitted and formalized? .Are some businesses unethical by nature? .Does ethical conduct pay? .What is the relation of Ethics to Justice? III. Implications for the 199 Global Compact and Social Engagement 17 IV. Implications for the Role of Academic Research 20 .Academic Research and Ethics .Assessing the Impact of Academic Research on Ethics V. Concluding Remarks 22 References 24 U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 2BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker I. Introduction The overall purpose of this paper is to reflect on the importance and impact of linkages amongst business ethics as a growing academic discipline, the principle of social engagement as promoted by the 1999 UN Global Compact , and the role and impact of academic research as carried out in higher education institutions. Taken together, these are gaining greater importance in the globalized society of 21st century, as well as in connection with the activities of the United Nations. A considerable number of the objectives related to business ethics and the encouragement of social engagement depend to some extent on the role and contribution of relevant academic research. Certainly researchers, by virtue of their wide knowledge and investigative as well as analytical approaches, can help to identify and document the main or emerging issues surrounding the place of business in socio-economic development. The issues in question are complex ones necessitating reflection from various standpoints on the nature of commercial activity, of profit, of the human professional conduct involved, and of the contribution of this milieu to the general public good. Consequently, the research angle must be an interdisciplinary one so as to study the varied dimensions of the issues. Moreover, it should be recalled that research is the lifeblood of the Knowledge Society and the fuel for its successful operations because it helps generate new and effective approaches to problem- solving. At the present time, it so happens that all these matters are of great interest to the United Nations, which promotes the principles of altruism and international cooperation amongst all nations for a common global good based on peace and equitable human development. This paper aims therefore to make comments on the diverse elements involved and on the synergy which can be derived from their positive interaction. II. A Reflection on Business Ethics A reflection on business ethics requires a prior consideration of the domain of ethics, per se. This, unlike mathematics, is not an exact science. Resolving an ethical problem requires the analysis of particular circumstances and the study of specific facts. In the business world, ethics often are displaced by greed when there is a periodic frenzy of rising stock market prices. Inevitably, a steep downturn then inflicts losses on investors and on businesses with a concomitant reduction in the work force. An excessive competitive spirit tends to induce unethical business practices so the business world becomes a battlefield where the normal rules are flouted, skirted or simply disregarded. The ensuing instability is bad for the economy and for the government. Who is better placed than oneself to take care of one's own needs and desire? Nevertheless, if self-seeking wreaks great harm to the general good in the process of bringing advantage to the individual, the imbalance must be redressed. It is not only painful but inefficient to live in a society where there are no ethics, law and order. Worse, if individuals or businesses become steeped in unethical practices, this trend generally engulfs the political U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 3BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker world as well. At this point, the quality of democracy languishes and the citizens lose faith in their institutions and their elected officials1. Understanding of problems of business ethics can be addressed through a series of questions which offer different perspectives on the subject. The first question relates to the origins of ethics - whether they come from religion, philosophy, the laws of nature, scientific study, study of political theory relating to ethical norms created in society or other fields of knowledge. The second question goes to the issue of whether ethics vary at different times and in different cultures. The third question asked is whether ethics vary depending upon who we are dealing with -- with a friend or foe. The fourth question asks whether different ethical conduct depend on the subject matter involved. The fifth question relates to how should ethical rules be transmitted and formalized and how they have been formalized to date. The sixth question is whether or not certain activities or businesses are unethical by nature in whole or in part. It also considers whether the corporate institution can function as an ethical entity since it was designed to generate profit. The seventh question is whether or not ethical conduct pays in a business context. For most people, ethics are related to justice. The eighth question deals with this subject. The last question relates to how ethics can be enforced. 1.What are the origins of ethics? A majority of individuals brought up in a monotheistic cultural background - Jews, Christians and Muslims - believe that standards of ethical conduct come from God by revelation. For example, according to the Christian and Jewish religions, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on a mountain top. For Muslims, Muhammad experienced revelations from Allah which were later written in beautiful prose and poetry in the Quran (Koran). Buddhists believe that Buddha found the proper way to virtue and to respect others through meditation without the direct intervention of a monotheistic god. 1 This seems to be happening in a number of developed countries. See Mitchel J. Sandel (1996) Democracy Discontent, page 3, footnote 1, in which he cites a poll in 1994 in the United States in which only 20% of the Americans believe they can trust the government in Washington to do the right thing most of the time and in 1992, three-quarters said they were dissatisfied with the way the political process is working. According to Sandel, this discontent with democracy is a longer term problem of lack of proper political philosophy. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 4BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker Religious fervor can be a highly effective motivating factor for some individuals to act ethically and can bring stability to one's personality. Religion can be a support for imperfect humans and used as a guide and help build up confidence, especially when an individual is a part of a religious community which provides support through life's difficulties. Without such faith and the comfort of belonging to a group, many human beings feel helpless and without hope in a chaotic unreasonable, often ugly world. The support of religious faith helps them to gain stability and to resist temptation from evil. Such faith gives them a drive and optimism very useful in life. A significant majority of those living in societies with a generally monotheistic culture has faith in one god and believes that their values have universal application. Unfortunately, on the other side of the coin, some of those who have religion, especially religious fanatics and extremist leaders in all religions, at different times, have contributed to religious and racist hatred, violence and killing. It is also true that good conduct on each holy day is not necessarily maintained during the remainder of the week. An American author2, a recovered victim of a serious mental disease who became an Episcopal minister, noted in one of his studies that there were many similarities in the way some religious believers and people suffering from mental illness view the world. Thus, religion can bring an element of stability in the life of an individual since the need for a spiritual life is widespread. On the contrary, especially if in a more extreme form of some types of religious belief, it can accompany a form of instability that resembles madness. In China some forms of Western religions and newer religious sects are not considered ethical but sometimes politically and morally dangerous, in which case they are not tolerated and are suppressed. The same is true in France to a much lesser extent where certain recognized Churches in the United States are categorized in France as sects subject to popular and official opprobrium. The Catholic Church and Judaist leaders have conducted a useful dialogue since WWII which helped to resolve disputes and strong tensions between these two religions. More dialogue, tolerance and cooperation, and rapprochement between all religions would be useful to reduce racism, religious hatred and evil in the world. Competition between churches should be reasonable, ethical and non-violent. In contrast, some legal scholars have thought natural law governs moral behavior. Others like E. O. Wilson, a world renowned socio-biologist and Pulitzer Prize winner, prefer to rely on science and studies of society. In his book Consilience3, he explains that with primitive man, ethics had survival value because of the efficiency of cooperation and teamwork. Primitive men could create a stronger common defense if they cooperated. They could kill more animals for food if they hunted together rather than singly. This view has recently been comforted by biologists after a ten-year study of the African meercat4, a wild animal of the mongoose family, that exhibits more cooperation and altruism, than is the case with many other animals – and most human beings. These foot-high 2 Boisen, Anton T.. 1936. The Exploration of the Inner world - A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience. Mr. Boisen became research associate in psychology of religion and chaplain at the Elgin Illinois State Hospital. He taught at the Chicago Theological Seminary. 3 Wilson, Edward O. 1998. Consilience - The Unity of Knowledge. Alfred Knopf 4 Clutton-Brock, Tim. Sept. 2002. Meerkats Stand Tall. National Geographic. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 5BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker animals with almost human eyes can stand upright supported by their tails. They take care of other families' children, take turns guarding their group and warn others engaged in food- digging of a predator's arrival. If a jackal attacks, they stand together to fight as a group and are much more effective in defeating considerably larger enemies. Sympathy runs so high that non-breeding females produce milk for another family's pups. This cooperative, if not altruistic, behavior can extend to larger groups of up to forty members. Larger groups are the most successful because each member can contribute less time protecting the group's interests and devote more time to foraging. These animals survive because they cooperate with each other. Scholars have observed and learned through experiments that cooperation among humans occurs among a large number of unrelated individuals. This cooperation has been defined as "individual behavior that incurs personal costs in order to engage in a joint activity that confers benefits exceeding these costs to other members of one's group"5. Another interesting example from the animal kingdom that illustrates more cooperation than usual and better ethical conduct is the case of the bonobo apes where the capacity for cooperation of females among themselves to control the males has made the sexes co- dominant resulting in greatly reducing male violence in their communities. There is no evidence among groups of bonobos of the unprovoked aggressive warfare one observes among different groups of chimpanzees with whom humans have a common ancestor more than six million years ago. Bonobo males do not commit rape, batter adult females, torture and brutally kill infants and adults like chimpanzees do. Unfortunately humans have the same kind of male dominated society where wars and violence are more common than elsewhere in the animal kingdom6. According to Lionel Tiger, in human society, women are taking firmer control of their destinies and men are losing their ancient position of dominance because of effective contraception, more working women and more higher education. They also have different voting tendencies7. Unethical anti-social violent conduct is learned in situations where young people are brutalized, where they learn to be belligerent and experience violent performances until such conduct becomes virulent. These people are not, according to Richard Rhodes, mentally ill, brain damaged, monstrous, anomic or genetically or subculturally determined, ie. not categorically different from the rest of us8. Different individuals and different groups have varying degrees of prosocial emotions such as shame, guilt, empathy, and sensitivity to social sanction. "Without the prosocial emotions, we would all be sociopaths, and human society would [...] not exist. [...] Sociopaths have no mental deficit except that their capacity to experience shame, guilt, empathy, and remorse is severely attenuated or absent. They comprise three to four percent of the male 5 Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert. Strong Reciprocity: The Origins of Human Cooperation. 6 Wrangham, Richard and Peterson, Dale. 1996. Demonic Males, Apes and the Origin of Human Violence. Houghton Miflin Company, New York, New York. 7 From a review of Tiger, Lionel. 1999. The Decline of Males. Golden Books in Scientific American, January 2000, p. 84 8 Rhodes, Richard. 1999. Why they Kill, the Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. Random House, New York, New York. In this book the author writes about Dr. Lonnie H. Athens, a criminologist who, he believes, has established a solid scientific foundation to build a program of violence prevention. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 6BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker population in the United States (Mealey 1995), 20% of the prison population, and between 33% and 80% of the chronic criminal offenders9". More cynical observers believe that the leaders and those who hold power in a society formulate ethical rules (might makes right?). This view is consistent with the fact that leaders have often considered themselves to be sacred (divine right of kings), claiming to be representatives of God or other divinities. This practice tends to reinforce their power. If it is true that leaders can help improve the level of ethics for each individual in the group they manage, then this bodes well for upgrading ethics in large organizations where leaders propose or impose high ethical codes of conduct on subordinates. A recent novel10 explores ethical conduct of an atheist. The reviewer of this book notes "Lili is a welcome and timely reminder that atheism is not just an inevitable result of teaching evolution in schools but a valid moral alternative, arrived at by observation, reason, and a desire for morality unencumbered by guilt or visions of the next world." Perhaps this reflects a distillation of Judeo-Christian ethics into one's conscience without religious beliefs. Emmanuel Levinas, a philosopher and scholar in the Judaic religion, wrote that "The true correlation between man and God depends on the relation of man to man where man assumes full responsibility as if there were no god."11 According to Roger-Pol Droit, he "places the divine in inter-human relations. For him, the 'other person' comes before all."12 One must bear in mind that a great number of religious believers in Asiatic countries - Buddhists and others - think that it is possible to live as a saint without believing in the uniqueness of a monotheistic god. For the purpose of this analysis, the source of ethics is less important than discovering the right rules, at least some of which can evolve with time. However, since many are a product of evolution, traditional ethics could be more robust than new ones we might generate. As we have seen from the above discussion, there are many possible sources of ethics. Each source has probably contributed to ethical conduct. 2.Do ethics vary in time and in different cultures? Beginning in the last half of the 20th Century, the human race has become aware that its economic activities on Earth are causing major threats to our environment, to our health and survival as well as to all life on our planet. Some businesses, but not all, have recognized their ethical duty to take special measures to lead them to sustainable social and economic development in their activities. These new ethical duties not only concern the present population on Earth but, perhaps more importantly, future generations. These are new ethical duties that have arisen as Man has begun to have a serious effect on the Earth's ecological systems. In previous centuries, the slave trade was not generally considered unethical by most of the population but ethics have changed. 9 Ibid. Page 5. 10 Martin, Valerie. February 18, 2001. A True Nonbeliever. The New York Times, Late Edition - Final, Section 7, Column 1, Page 31 [Review of: De Witt, Abigail. May 2000. Lili. Northwestern University Press] 11 Emmanuel Levinas quoted in "Dossier Emmanuel Levinas", Le Monde, Friday 6 January 2006 12 Roger-Pol Droit in "Dossier Emmanuel Levinas", Le Monde, Friday 6 January 2006, p.6 U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 7BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker These two examples demonstrate how ethics change in time. The conclusions of Ruth Benedict, a leading sociologist who wrote a landmark book, Patterns of Culture13, indicate that ethics vary widely in different societies. She studied Indian tribes in the US, and primitive cultures in Pacific islands. For example, in the Dobu Islands in the Pacific, ill will and treachery are virtues in their society. At UNESCO, Professor Yersu Kim led a most interesting study begun in 1997, Prospect For a Universal Ethics14. According to Professor Kim, there is an urgent need to make progress in defining and promoting ethical conduct, and agreeing on basic rules, because the Western synthesis of ideas is no longer providing a reliable guide to progress and survival. He cites the historian Hobsbawn, who wrote that the last part of the 20th Century was "an era of decomposition, uncertainty and crisis", after a period of major wars and more killing than in any previous century. UNESCO's study attempts to identify basic ethical principals which are common to major religions and cultures. For example, this study has found that the golden rule of "doing into others as you would have them do unto you" is common to many religious teachings and cultures; it is almost a universal theory. This can be compared to Kant's view that ethics should be based on principles that are universal. It would be most useful if UNESCO as well as other organizations or international associations could continue to try to formulate some general rules and induce people to actually integrate basic ethical principles in their lives through education in the home and in schools. Professor Kim's preliminary report notes that the Western synthesis – individualism, rationalism, scientism and progress – now has lost adherents. Something else is needed. Henri Tsiang15 notes that traditional values in Asia come from Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Although not strictly speaking religions in the Western sense of the term, they also promote frugality, hard work, the importance of education, the respect of others and good conduct in society. These rules of conduct which are not unlike those that have been recommended in some Western societies. In Asia, Man is considered as totally integrated in nature like any other living organism or thing in nature. In nature, there is no equality. In contrast, in the monotheistic cultures, Man is separated from nature by his superiority and elected by God to have dominion over all other living things. In addition, in the West, the concept of individual human rights has developed over many centuries which weakens the idea of absolute rule by an all-powerful sovereign. The individual's interest in the West has taken on an overwhelming importance compared to the Asiatic view that advancing individual interests can be considered egotistic, irresponsible and anti-social. Therefore, in the East the emphasis is to favor group action. Historically, the theory of a virtuous emperor who makes decisions in the public interest which are followed by an obedient population has been the pattern. Thus, there are similarities between ethics in the East and in the West but there are also significant differences due to cultural differences in values. 13 Benedict, Ruth. 1950. Patterns of Culture, An Analysis of Our Social Structure as Related to Primitive Civilizations. Mentor Book. 14 Kim, Yersu. 1997. Prospect For a Universal Ethics. UNESCO. 15 Henri Tsiang. 2006. Valeurs asiatiques -- Mythes ou réalités. Passages, 10 rue Clément, 75006 Paris, France. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 8BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker Tu Weiming suggests a way to broaden the Western enlightenment mentality when he wrote16: "The modern West's dichotomous mode of thinking (spirit/matter, mind/body, physical/mental, sacred/profane, creator/creature, God/man, subject/object) is diametrically opposed to Chinese habits of the heart. […] The possibility of a radically different ethic or a new value system separated from and independent of the Enlightenment mentality is not realistic. It may even appear to be either cynical or hypercritical. We need to explore the spiritual resources that may help us to broaden the scope of the Enlightenment project, deepen its moral sensitivity, and, if necessary, creatively transform its genetic constraints in order to realize fully its potential as a worldview for the human community as a whole. A key to the success of this intellectual joint venture is to recognize the conspicuous absence of the idea of community, let alone the global community, in the Enlightenment project. Fraternity, a functional equivalent of community in the three cardinal virtues of the French Revolution, has received scanty attention in modern Western economic, political and social thought. Willingness to tolerate inequality, faith in the salvific power of self-interest, and unbridled affirmation of aggressive egoism have greatly poisoned the good well of progress, reason, and individualism. The need to express a universal intent for the formation of a 'global village' and to articulate a possible link between the fragmented world we experience in our ordinary daily existence and the imagined community for the human species as a whole is deeply felt by an increasing number of concerned intellectuals. Understandably, the basic unit in any society, past and present, namely the family, looms large in contemporary political discourse. The idea of global stewardship implicit in this line of thinking demands a new ethic significantly different from the Enlightenment mentality." Noting that these examples illustrate that ethical rules in society change in time and are different in different cultures, there remains much work to be done to increase the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to better embrace all cultures. See Franck, Thomas M. Jan./Feb. 2001. Are Human Rights Universal? New York, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs. 3.Do ethics vary depending upon who you are dealing with? Many of the Crusaders were Christians who followed the ethical teaching of Saint Bernard. However, in order to recover the Holy Land, which could open to them the gates to Heaven, they killed many Jews and Muslims. They did not consider their conduct unethical. Some Muslim extremists today seem to adopt a similar course of conduct with their Holy War, the "Jihad" against Jews, Christians and secular governments in countries with Muslim populations. History teaches us that violence, war and terrorism do not necessarily have religion since they are used by religious believers or by people without religion. Plundering others apparently has often seemed easier than acquiring wealth by working. Racial hatred, social discrimination and conflicts over territory are often a contributing factor to war and violence. One seems to find more ethical conduct practiced among in-groups, like families and members of the same community, where ethical conduct is taught and enforced, rather than toward outsiders and foreigners. Outsiders and foreigners are often hated because they do not have the same religion or culture and are sometimes seen as trying to impose their will on a community or compete for the same territory. However, one should also note that violence 16 Tu Weiming. 1998. Family, Nation, and the World: The Global Ethic as a Modern Confucian Quest. Carfart Publishing Ltd., Social Semiotics, Vol. 8, Nos 2/3. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 9BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker within families, and sometimes among former friends or lovers, is often encountered in our societies. In practice ethics are either ignored or changed, depending upon whom one is dealing with. To arrive at a more ethical world, situations that cause conflict will need to be eliminated so that more consistent ethical rules can be applied to everyone. 4.Are ethics subject specific? Many professions have deontological rules, specially designed to fit their activity. Governments and associations for medical doctors, lawyers, architects make and enforce their special rules. Some have complained that while the American Bar Association (ABA) promulgates rules for lawyers in the United States, they also promote the best interests of the profession. Therefore these rules are not always in the public interest. Large corporations often enact their own ethical codes which they expect their employees to follow. The OECD, in addition to preparing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises – Revision 2000, has undertaken the study of 246 codes of conduct prepared by companies (Gordon and Miyake 1999) reflecting an important voluntary effort, or induced by public image considerations, by the business community which some critics claim is only for "window-dressing" rather than a bona fide effort to change conduct. However, some OECD officials believe this is a necessary, useful and an important first step; mandatory corporate codes and enforceable legal rules will follow. Employees who feel they are not treated in a correct manner have claimed violations of these rules, which tend to give the rules a practical effect and more credibility. Different factual situations seem to require ethical rules that are designed to fit each type of situation. 5.How are ethics transmitted and formalized? Ethical rules are transmitted orally in families and schools, through sacred texts, church ceremonies, books on philosophy and other ways. One also finds ethical principles stated in declarations and other documents. The Declaration of Human Rights was signed by members of the United Nations in 1948, based in part on the Bill of Rights in the amendments to the United States Constitution, the French Rights of Man indicated in the preamble to the French Constitution of 1958 and on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. Many laws, constitutions and international treaties and other statements of principles (soft law) have ethical content. Even where legal rules and regulations apply to a company's business, unethical corporate executives often adhere only to the letter of the law, but violate the spirit or reason for the rule or the law. This does not protect investors, employees or third parties. Ethics, honesty and transparency are necessary to insure shareholders and third parties are fairly informed about the financial situation of a company. Ethical action needs to be based on general principles as well as on specific detailed rules which can often be avoided by a subterfuge, thus vitiating the protection of the public. Ethical rules are found in many forms, all of which hopefully can improve conduct. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 10BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker 6.Are Some Businesses Unethical By Nature? If "the love of money is the root of all evil17", then, since the primary objective of business is to make money, are all businesses unethical? Or does the love of money only become sinful if it is excessive and leads to improper conduct relating to others? In the Sermon on the Mount it is stated that one cannot serve God and Mammon18. But see "Render into Cesar what is Cesar's and into God's what is God's", Mark 12:17. This last quote, according to some Christians, is the basis for secularism separating religion from worldly materialistic activities. In this regard, it is interesting to note that some Churches have accumulated immense fortunes. In the U.S. some large Churches are managed like commercial businesses. A U.S. author has written an article with the title: "Balancing Act - Can Business and Ethics Really Coexist?"19. Ethics usually concerns relations of mutual concern in society between all individuals and the need to limit one's self-interest when it goes against the general interest. Thus in our competitive system there is an immediate tension between ethics and business. The ideal of being a good citizen often is limited or replaced by the ideal of the acquisitive individual winner. However, commerce and industry can be an activity in the interest of all parties and society. At an individual level if a company sells a useful product, it renders a service to the buyer. At a macro level commerce and industry generally raise the level of wealth and alleviate poverty. Business probably is less efficient if it is completely immoral. Businessmen usually recognize the moral value of promise-keeping because it facilitates making contracts and commercial activity which increases wealth. Some individuals and businesses will be tempted to act unethically, particularly in the short run, where there is a one-shot opportunity, to "make a killing". In such case, the unethical individual or company profits while other individuals, companies, societies or future generations lose. In such an instance, short-term private interests are favored over long- term public interests or over competitors. The lack of ethics in business can help to undermine the free enterprise system, leading to manias, crises and crashes in one country or internationally. Unlimited competition, dishonesty and violence can poison the environment in which healthy businesses can operate. Efforts to increase production of the company are replaced by efforts to protect assets. The former president of Enron, Jeffrey Skilling, when he was a top student at the Harvard Business School, was questioned by his professor "what he would do if his company were producing a product that might cause harm, or even death, to customers that used it. According to his professor [...] Jeffrey Skilling replied 'I'd keep making and selling the 17 "For the love of money is the root of all evil, and in their eagerness to get rich, some men wander away form the faith and pierced themselves in the heart with many a pang " in I Timothy VI, 10. The Complete Bible, An American Translation. The New Testament translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed. 1939. The University of Chicago Press. 18 "No slave can belong to two masters, for he will either hate one and love the other, or stand by one and make light of the other. You cannot serve God and money." in Matthew, VI, 24. The Complete Bible, An American Translation. The New Testament translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed. 1939. The University of Chicago Press. 19 Goldman, Robin. 2002. Balancing Act – Can Business and Ethics Really Coexist?. In the Magazine of Golden Gate University. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 11BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker product. My job as a business man is to be a profit-center and to maximize return to shareholders. It is the government's job to step in if a product is dangerous'20." Recent evidence became public that a tobacco company in laboratory tests had proof ²that tobacco caused cancer and kills people. Since tobacco companies continue to sell, one can conclude that making a profit is more important than ethics. Lung cancer kills more than 100 000 people each year in the United States and there is proof that smoking causes cancer for many smokers. These facts show that, in such case, profit wins over ethics. The pressure groups working in favor of the tobacco industry are powerful. The slave trade is no longer considered ethical business in most cultures. However, prior to the 19th century it was widely practiced when prisoners of war taken in African or other wars became slaves. War was profitable for the victorious chief of a tribe, king or head of a nation-state because it added territory, riches, prestige and people to his or her patrimony. Bad ethics of leaders who mobilized weapons and armies have caused enormous damage: an estimated 40 to 60 million people were killed in the last century. War, except in self defense, is generally considered a criminal activity and an unethical "business". With the recent increase in terrorism, preemptive war has become more acceptable to some who think it is the only practical way to preclude mass destruction by terrorists or a rogue state which could strike without warning. The list of businesses which are by nature considered unethical under national laws also include: (i) trade in the production and sale of illegal drugs, (ii) businesses, even if legitimate, if operated by organized criminals who use criminal methods, (iii) organizing prostitution in some societies is considered unethical but usually tolerated. Other businesses which recently have been considered unethical include those where labor standards in manufacturing operations outside the continental U.S. resemble slave conditions. Some also include the arms and the tobacco industry. The gradations in ethical standards depend on the culture of the community concerned and scientific knowledge relating to effects of products on people and the environment. The manufacture of asbestos has recently led to consideration of criminal action against a leading industrialist21. As globalization (rapid and increased communication, and trade and commerce) speeds up, clashes of ethical standards and cultures increase and could be a factor in increasing terrorism. A certain homogenization or uniformization of basic ethical principles in our increasingly global community should reduce terrorism and violence. More tolerance and cooperation among religions would be helpful. Most businesses, especially those whose shares are offered to the public, are subject to enormous short-term pressure to meet their earnings targets. Failure to do so means their shareholders will sell and stock prices fall, adversely affecting the company, its executives and other shareholders. Recently this problem has led many companies to be less honest and to include more creative accounting in their books so that forecasted earnings appeared to have been reached. However, once the accounting irregularities are discovered, stock prices sometimes go down dramatically. Micro lending is a business which has a high ethical content because it focuses primarily on helping poor women. 20 Fusaro, Peter and Miller, Ross M. 2002. What Went Wrong at ENRON. Everyone's Guide to the Largest Bankruptcy in U.S. History. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. 21 Bank, David. 9 Dec. 2002. Swiss Business Titan, Environmental Activist Faces his Family's Past. The Wall Street Journal U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 12BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker A number of corporations have successfully entered into agreements with public entities to advance the public interest to combine private interest and public interest. L'Oréal, the world's leading cosmetic company, works with UNESCO, encouraging young talented women scientists by awarding scholarships. While advancing UNESCO's interests in education and improving women's place in society, it also serves its own interests by improving its image, promoting its product indirectly and developing outstanding young scientists for possible recruitment. For a study of examples, possibilities and problems of public-private partnerships, see Baker, Wallace, Private Sector Partnership, 2003, UNESCO, file_download.php/75569611041450d701df5adbb949aca6Baker+Report.pdf It is interesting to compare sporting events and businesses because the competitive spirit and rapid action are important to both activities. Beating competitors in sporting events is the primary goal but winners make losers unhappy. Competition in this respect does not seem to be "ethical" by defeating an opponent. Ethics in sports are respected by competitors to the extent they limit their chances of winning by not taking illegal drugs to enhance performance. Sports have often been corrupted by gambling and big money which puts enormous pressure on athletes to win at any price. Business investments in a country which is unethical, corrupt, undemocratic and has a centrally controlled government country will tend to make all businesses done in that country unethical and corrupt. The U.S. is one country that has punished its businesses for participating in corrupt practices abroad. This type of problem is the major reason for lack of development and poverty in many less developed countries. The World Bank has recently announced a broad strategy to try and stop such practices. The recent book, The Corporation - The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan22, has been reviewed by Alan Dershowitz who writes that Bakan shows the corporation to be a "monster that can swallow civilizations - greedy, exploitive, and unstoppable". Bakan begins by explaining it is an institution that operates in its own self interest regardless of "the often harmful consequences [...] to others", "a pathological institution, a dangerous possessor of great power it wields over people and societies." Bakan describes how General Motors used a cost-benefit calculation that favored company profits over human lives by building a car with a gas tank behind the rear axel rather than in front of it. He implies that the company had knowledge that this structure would result in more explosions occurring in accidents costing more human lives than if the tank was installed in front of the rear axel at greater cost to General Motors. Bakan notes that corporations increasingly dictate to their supposed overseers in governments as the world's dominant economic institutions and it has occupied "central domains of society embedded within the public sphere." In short, they govern our lives. They decide what we eat, what we see, what we wear, where we work and what we do. "We are inescapably surrounded by their culture, iconography and ideology. Like the Church and the monarch in other times, they posture as infallible and omnipotent, glorifying themselves in imposing buildings and elaborate displays. Its dramatic rise to dominance is one of the remarkable events of modern history […]." 22 Bakan, Joel. 2004. The Corporation - The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster Ines, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, USA. Joel Bakan was a former Rhodes Scholar, now a Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia and co-creator of the film The Corporation. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 13BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker It is worth noting that almost no corporation is democratic but often has a chief executive with almost unlimited powers and is sometimes, in some large corporations, paid like a king. In his Chapter 6 about remedies for curbing the dominant institution, he reminds the reader that the great empires, the Church, the monarchy, the Communist Party of Eastern Europe were all overthrown, diminished or absorbed into new order. He doubts if the corporation will be the first dominant institution to defy history, especially since we now see that it cannot solve, but sometimes worsens, the world's problems of poverty, war, environmental destruction and ill health. He doubts that voluntary corporate social responsibility will provide the necessary control over corporate activity through a market mechanism, i.e. consumers will choose to buy a "good" company's products if everything else is equal. The author notes that "corporations cannot exist without the State nor can markets". They are a creation of the government and the corporation must be "measured against the standard applicable to all government policies: does it serve the public interest?" Governments do have the power to discipline wayward corporations if public opinion becomes irresistible. In the U.S., since a corporation is a creature of the State in which it has been incorporated, its charter can be revoked -- a death sentence which seldom happens, except for non-payment of its State's taxes. Execution of such a death sentence is highly theoretical in case of a big company with its creditors, employees and other third parties who depend upon it. Since abolishing the corporation is unrealistic, the author believes the only way to change the corporation into a non-psychopathic entity is to improve the regulatory system, strengthen political democracy, create a robust public sphere and change international neoliberalism into a system where human values have priority over profit. After the author's vivid description of how bad corporations can act, his conclusions, although probably well founded, do not leave the reader with much hope that the situation will change soon. In answer to the question "Are some businesses unethical by nature?", one is led to believe by the discussion above that ethical ideas are mixed into business activities in various ways. However, profit or greed often, if not usually, overpowers ethics. In addition to this difficulty, the history of corporations is one of periodic scandals. The nature of the corporate structure is designed and built to maximize profit not to produce ethical behavior. When and whether the public interest, however that is defined, through public pressure, associations, non-governmental organizations, and more effective government regulation, will effectively curb corporate abuses is an open question. 7.Does ethical conduct pay? This question is difficult to answer because it is difficult to prove one way or the other since unethical conduct is usually hidden. However, in major business enterprises there are few open advocates for unethical dealing because it adversely affects the business's reputation and can create large potential risks for the business. There have been many examples in the press where unethical conduct has been extremely costly to countries and many individuals. Recent events in the US relating to Enron and World Com are examples where the real financial condition of the business was not U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 14BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker apparent to investors because of lack of transparency and questionable accounting practices which resulted in overstating earnings. This situation in the US arose recently after development of new trading markets with high risks. Significant speculation in a more competitive stock market with vanishing margins in companies like Enron pushed business executives into unrealistic and dishonest accounting to maintain earnings, which, when discovered, provoked a steep downturn in the market and substantial losses for shareholders, including numerous pension funds, and for workers as well as jobs. In contrast, many top executives made millions of dollars selling shares based on insider knowledge before the fall. Some criminal indictments have been secured and law suits alleging illegal or insider trading, fraud and other legal theories are being filed. Parties who suffered losses have begun extensive litigation. In this case, depending on the outcome of these law suits, unethical conduct may still have been profitable for some corporate executives as it appears to have been for "Chainsaw" Dunlop who misled shareholders and the public in Sunbeam and several other companies he managed. However a company which purchased Sunbeam in good faith recently recovered a judgment for 1.45 billion dollars, based on its negligence in failing to inform the purchaser of its much reduced value, against the investment bank which helped arrange the sale. Another situation occurred in 2000 in the Philippines, resulting in the attempted impeachment of President Estrada for unethical conduct and his subsequent forced resignation. This type of behavior undermined confidence and adversely affected the Philippine stock market when insider trading was suspected. Illegal bribes win contracts which should be awarded following fair competitive principles. Such illegal conduct costs consumers more since the cost of illegal payments is passed on to them through higher prices. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practice Act criminalizes such activity for U.S. corporations. Other examples of costs incurred by unethical conduct in France are recounted in a book entitled Le coût de la non-éthique (The cost of being unethical), Cercle Ethique des Affaires, October 1996, i.e. the hugely costly Crédit Lyonnais scandal which cost French taxpayers billions of French francs and which almost destroyed what was a leading international bank in the early 1900's. However, finding examples of where unethical conduct, which varies from country to country, has profited immoral businessmen is much more difficult to locate or measure because, where successful, the situation is usually kept secret unless a scandal destroys secrecy. Warren Buffett, a leading American billionaire businessman, declined to make the judgment that crime does not pay. He said "I won't say crime doesn't pay. But crime is not necessary and is not as much fun"23. Unfortunately, there is, in both developed and less developed countries, corruption and unethical conduct which leads to the conclusion that our societies are still insufficiently ethically developed, so crime and unethical conduct unfortunately seems to reward the individual wrongdoer. Less developed countries and former communist states are often in worse shape. Ethics, development and democracy are hopefully improving and are refined over the long run although there are periods of back-sliding as well, in particular when there is a boom followed by a crash in the stock market – a recurring situation in a free enterprise economy. 23 Harvard Law Record. Apr. 10, 1998. Buffett's Quotations. Page 5. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 15BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker One attorney active in business has estimated that in his community one-third of the businesses have activities or operating procedures that are not up to ethical standards. Experiments in game theory on computers indicate that the tit-for-tat program wins when it uses cooperation for the first move and then plays whatever the other player chooses on the previous move. Its success was due to its being nice (not the first to defect), "provokable" (responding to the other player's decision with a defection), forgiving (punishing and then cooperating after a defection) and clear (easy for the other player to understand). Increasing the number of players tends to make cooperation more difficult24. Therefore, unethical conduct may pay for some individuals and companies in some circumstances, where the gain is very high compared to the risk and "cost" of being punished by the business community or the government, or when the unethical conduct remains a secret. But generalized ethical conduct in society makes the society work better, which directly or indirectly benefits the individual. Repeated unethical conduct below the customary standards in a society generally results in punishment or an additional cost imposed by the community. 8.What is the relation of ethics to justice? Justice can be harsh and severe like in the old testament. Or it can be more merciful and human. In either case it is closely related to ethics. They are adjacent concepts. A company's reputation depends in part upon how it applies social justice in dealing with employees and other third parties. A leading scholar has written that the concept of justice arose in ancient Greece25 when there were conflicts and disputes between the noblemen and the common people when the latter's economic position improved. In reaching justice, developed societies have usually codified the rules. Written rules are better than unwritten rules because they guide the judge or group making the decision and make arbitrary decisions more difficult to render. A written law tends to apply more naturally to all humans in society, wealthy and poor. Written rules also help the parties in society to know in advance what is lawful conduct. They can therefore better avoid unlawful conduct. Justice can be defined as equality before the law. This means an unbiased judge and a procedure designed to evoke the truth. Each party should be given an equal chance to prevail if his case is just. Alternative dispute resolution often provides a more equitable way to find a solution to disputes by taking each parties interests more into account than is possible in a court proceeding. Leibnitz's idea of universal justice was charity or disinterested love, which he defined as finding pleasure in the happiness of others26. 24 Axelrod, Robert and Dion, Douglas. December 1988. Further Evolution of Cooperation. Science, Vol. 242, pp. 1385-1390. 25 Jaeger, Werner. 1979. Paideia: The Ideal of Greek Culture. Oxford University Press, pages 102-104 26 Sullerat, Vincent. Jan. 2003. Réflexions sur l'éthique. Magazine Littéraire, n° 416, pp. 56-57. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 16BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker 9.Can ethics be enforced? Minimum ethics tend to be enforced by law where the law is effectively enforced. With human nature being imperfect i.e. selfish, envious, greedy, avaricious, violent and not always intelligent, even so-called civilized societies need minimum rules of conduct enforced in practice by some authority. Public opinion through boycotts or unfavorable publicity in the press can bring pressure on those in violation of ethical principles as well. Greenpeace objected when Shell planned to sink its petroleum drilling platform into the Baltic Sea. Threats of boycotts of Shell products by the public convinced the company to dispose of the rig in another more expensive way, which it claimed was more harmful to the environment since the rig contained a minimum amount of petroleum products. Cooperation with Greenpeace at an earlier stage might have avoided this environmental conflict. Investors in ethical funds have begun to apply pressure by withholding investment in companies in businesses considered unethical like tobacco, the arms industry and by imposing other ethical criteria on investment companies. Peer pressure by other companies also induces companies to be more ethical even though it is to a certain extent "window-dressing". Competitive pressures motivate companies to keep up with their peers in term of human relations and environmental conduct. Lawsuits have been filed to enforce ethical conduct of many multinationals. One leading oil company which also manufactures chemicals, with activities in exploration and production, refining and marketing, has taken a step to enforce the ethics set forth in its corporate code of conduct by providing for referral of ethical dilemmas to an Ethics Committee, ethics, seminars for managers and a review of ethical performance by an unrelated company with United Kingdom accreditation27. This paper has argued that leaders can by their power enforce ethics and punish violations. Equally or more important is the role of leaders who set an example and induce ethical conduct in their subordinates. More business schools training leaders are incorporation serious ethics courses in their curriculum28. In this part, we have noted the pressure of public opinion has resulted in direct and indirect pressure on businesses to conform to ethical values. III. Implications for the 1999 United Nations Global Compact and Social Engagement In recent years, the United Nations has accelerated its interaction with the private sector and with its major element, the business community. This co-operation results from the important 27 Total. 2004. Corporate Social Responsibility Report Showing our Energies, Ethics and Governance. 28 Hude, Henri. 2004. L'éthique des décideurs. Presses de la renaissance, Paris. Hude is director of ethics and deontology in the research centre at Saint Cyr Coëtquidan, the French school for military officers where he teaches that the best introduction to the existence of ethics is to rediscover how important good citizenship is. It is the key to the way to a peaceful world through ethics. Page 12. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 17BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker role played by the economy ( and so by business) in socio-economic development at all levels – community, national, regional and global. The private sector has a special role in this endeavour since sustainable human development rests on stable and successful interaction amongst three forces: government, the economy ( including the business community) and civil society. For this reason, co-operation with the private sector should not be seen in donor terms alone. Rather, this represents a major society decision-maker whose voice and influence are as powerful as those of the other forces, by virtue of its social engagement and responsibilities. Since the advent of globalization, the role of the private sector has gained ground, prompting considerable controversy. Since UNESCO’s mandate is carried out in an era where this phenomenon is predominant, dialogue and concrete co-operation with the private sector is indispensable in order to conceptualize and implement relevant and effective programmes. Globalization is often construed as a purely economic phenomenon. Yet, in wider sense, this is also social ( as manifested by the shared responsibilities of nations for the equitable development of their peoples), and cultural ( as illustrated by the promotion of international understanding and interaction in a world where multi-ethnicity is constantly increasing) . The private sector may be defined as: .bodies whose mission focuses on social and economic concerns (such as regional councils and those responsible for national R and D activity) .business advocacy groups and professional bodies .the business community - both the corporate sector and national/local business. .foundations .individuals who engage in philanthropy and whose personal wealth may vastly exceed certain national GNPs. Thus, the UN recognizes that the private sector in several capacities: as a major force in social and economic decision-making, as an actor providing intellectual input to programme reflection, as a source of sustained funding support via longer-term projects, and as a potential provider of various in-kind contributions ( i.e. expertise, goods and services) for special activities. Furthermore, the UN itself has defined clear parameters for co-operation with the private sector for its agencies. Central to this activity is the Global Compact, which was established by the UN Secretary-General in 1999 as the wake-up call to the economic sector regarding its critical role in socio-economic development in the 21st century. This instrument encourages the commitment of business to sustainable development by: .underpinning the new global economy with social and environmental pillars .safeguarding open markets to make globalization work for all the world’s peoples. The Global Compact is based on 9 key principles covering the three domains of human rights, labour standards and environmental protection. Business leaders were challenged to embrace and act upon these principles following their initial presentation during the World Economic Forum at Davos. As a subsequent step in July 2000, the UN issued Guidelines for Co-operation between the United Nations and the Business Community. These provide data on the purpose and rationale U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 18BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker for UN/private sector linkages, partner selection, essential principles, the use of the UN name and logo, co-operation modalities and the institutional capacities required by the UN and its respective agencies to implement such partnerships. Businesses co-operating with the UN – and with its agencies – are expected to demonstrate responsible citizenship by supporting UN core values and a commitment to meeting the principles of the Global Compact by translating these into sound commercial practice at all levels of operation. The Private Sector also plays a key role in helping to meet the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which advcoate innovative strategies to provide more effective solutions to global problems in the 21st Century . Eight goals were identified for collective action by the world’s nations: the eradication of poverty, the achievement of universal primary education, gender equality, women’s empowerment, the reduction of child mortality, the improvement of women’s health, the treatment of serious diseases ( such as HIV/AIDS and malaria), the promotion of environmental sustainability, and the creation of global partnerships for development. This 8th and last goal comprises 7 targets requiring concerted action between the UN and its various partners to ensure: fair trading and financial systems, consideration for the socio- economic needs of developing nations, better debt management and relief, decent and productive employment for young people, access to affordable drugs and to the benefits of new technologies for the developing world. Each target implies a major role for the economic sector and for its business and financial communities at all levels. This also serves to reconfirm that the global development dynamic is played out in national and community contexts where local business must address these challenges by using its own strengths and expertise. Nearly a decade after the establishment of the Global Compact, the private sector has emerged as a major advocate on the global stage and a significant donor as regards development aid. Examples are many from the corporate sector ( for instance, a sample of UNESCO ‘s partners include Daimler –Chrysler, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, the Banque de l’IndoSuez, Samsung Electronics, Coca Cola, Toyota and L’Oréal ) to the resulting foundations and trusts ( the UN Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Unilever Trust, the Global Business Coalition, the Hans Christian Andersen abc Foundation ), to the proliferation of celebrity goodwill ambassadors drawn from the ranks of the performing arts. While this philanthropy has clear impact, it also serves both to burnish personal reputations and to offer interesting tax reductions for corporate or personal wealth. At national and local levels, the importance of the private sector as embodied in small or medium enterprises (SMEs) should be mentioned. A SME is a business employing between 10 and 100 people. Examples are small firms, shops and restaurants. These are an integral element of the private sector in the 21st century. The profound social and economic global changes which characterize the present era are now the subject of regular debates in major international fora such as Davos and Porto Alegre and are crucial to every country’s development, as the following statistics illustrate: .60-80% of all business is generated by SMEs at national level .70%+ of every country’s GNP results from this level of business .some 100.000 million jobs exist in SMEs worldwide. The concept of small and medium enterprises is now a reality in all regions of the world. Such entities can be either public or private. In both instances, they are considered as U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 19BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker important elements for national economic growth and prosperity, thus impacting positively on the lives and living standards of many millions of citizens and their families. In this regard and in contrast with multinational corporations, SMEs are a major source of socio- economic empowerment for significant segments of many populations. Consequently, the significance of SMEs –as a commercial concept with socio- economic ramifications – is widely understood. Special mention should be made of women in the business world where they constitute 50% of all small and medium entrepreneurs, often in the informal sector. Of the many examples exist, two are Bangladesh, where the micro-credit system conceived by the Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Prize laureat , Mohammad Yunus,has helped many thousands of women to set up small scale business activities, and France, where women are running one third of the 3 million SMEs in that country. Yet another aspect of the private sector is a number of other major networks exist with memberships which are closely associated with the business and professional sectors. For this reason, they offer very promising opportunities for collaboration at the country and community levels. These networks include: Lions Clubs (180 countries),Rotary International (160 countries),the International Chamber of Commerce (134 countries), the Junior Chamber of Commerce, JAYCEES ( 120 countries), the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, IFBPW (138 countries), the International Association of Students in Economics and Management, AIESEC (70 countries). In concrete terms, citizens might launch projects to: help build schools and improve educational services and facilities; provide sports and leisure activities for young people, women and other groups of the populations; support local initiatives for environmental protection; safeguard national heritage sites; encourage local industries such as handicrafts; protect local languages and traditions; sponsor cultural festivals; promote intercultural visits and exchanges; involve senior citizens in community activities. Many of these activities are of considerable interest to the local business community which may be ready to give support in diverse ways, both financial and in kind. This overview has sketched the wide range of social engagement involving cooperation with the private sector. Each type of alliance brings its specific benefits. In this regard, the private sector is no exception. For the UN, benefits may include greater visibility for the Organization’s goals and programmes, the further diversification of partnerships, notably those with leading country and community actors, and the potential for enhanced funding support. For International, national and local business, partnership with the UN demonstrates commitment to social engagement and responsibility and to business ethics as well as support for sustainable human development through economic stability and growth. Such action can add considerable prestige to the image and impact of the private sector at country and community contexts. However, this activity, which is undeniably invaluable, has a more complex dimension related to its ethical nature . This opens a debate as to how ethics must underpin business activity so that business ethics are respected and upheld. This will be explored in the next section of the paper. IV. Implications for the Role of Academic Research This section will consider how academic research and research universities are significant catalysts in promoting both ethical conduct and social engagement and comment impact of this research. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 20BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker .Academic research and ethics Recognizing the variety of different problems involving the study of ethical issues, academic research has long been a very useful instrument for ensuring in –depth analysis of the inherent complexity of such questions. At the outset, the overall landscape of academic research should be recalled. This is typically carried out in research universities which are dedicated to the objective pursuit of knowledge. Such institutions are characterized by the quality of their infrastructure, research talent, adequate funding and facilitating climate for scientific investigation. In particular, they respect the principle of academic freedom which reduces the dangers arising from the “politics of knowledge”. At the present time, it is estimated that the best research universities in the world , numbering less than 25, are located mainly in the USA. However, what about sound research capacity in the rest of the world? The ranking of institutions based on their proven research excellence has gained considerable ground in recent years and certain emerging economies such as China and Nigeria have declared their intention to raise the calibre of these universities and have set a timetable for this goal. It is important to ensure a correct balance in the distribution of research excellence in the interests of equity. Academic research related to ethics per se may well involve a myriad of disciplines , each of which brings necessary expert knowledge to the study of the issues involved. Inter alia, philosophy, history, law, economics, theology, and sociology might all bring crucial evidence and perspectives to the research exercise. Thus, a cross- or transdisciplinary methodology becomes essential. Complications can arise from various sources - from professional norms ( for instance, the duty to preserve confidentiality in the practice of criminal law), from differing cultural contexts and their values ( for example, the outcry against cartoons depicting religious figures), or from the behaviour of peers ( complaints about co-workers’ possible illegal or unethical conduct are permitted by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the USA but not condoned in certain other contexts). Against this background, facilitating research on ethics becomes important. Two useful initiatives in this direction are UNESCO’s Global Ethics Observatory launched in 2005 to list researchers, programmes and institutions, and the Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles which has developed an extensive website for similar data. By extrapolation, these general principles governing quality research apply to the field of business ethics. Here, many complex and fascinating issues merit serious reflection: the values espoused by business leaders, the boundaries between personal and corporate responsibility, the legitimacy of profit margins and the methods used to obtain these and so on. In their 1993 book entitled Can Ethics Be Taught? Perspectives,Challenges and Approaches at the Harvard Business School, Thomas Piper and his co-authors suggest that social problems frequently result from unethical and weak leadership. Conversely, communities which are rich in reciprocal social relationships can derive great benefit from the trust and cooperation engendered amongst their members. This social capital of diverse networks and interaction produces positive results in terms of building efficient societies. This thesis is evidenced by research carried out in the field of political science by a Princeton professor, Robert Putnam who lead a team of American and Italian experts to investigate the efficiency of various regional governments in Italy. The findings tabled in Putnam’s book, Making Democracy Work – Civic Traditions in Modern Italy ( Princeton University Press, 1993) demonstrate the positive effects of civic virtue, responsibility, tolerance and dialogue. Moreover, they have clear applications for understanding the working of all sorts of institutions including those related to the business world. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 21BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker The value of academic research has been recognized by the UN Global Compact which has recently taken concrete steps to engage academic and educational institutions in partnership. The purpose is to strengthen the unpinning of its mission and goals through research-based evidence. Academia adds a reflective and intellectual dimension to the Compact’s operations, especially through research in areas such as business ethics, business law and management. For this reason, academic research is seen to bring strategic benefits to the concept of the Global Compact and in its advocacy in support of corporate citizenship. The academic network launched 2006 already numbers over 80 institutions in all regions. A sample includes the All Africa Group, the Asia Institute of Management, the American University of Beirut, Harvard Business School, the Universidad Externado de Colombia and the International University of Sofia, Bulgaria. .Assessing the impact of academic research on ethics Of course, a key question to pose is whether all this research on values, business ethics and the like has widespread impact, even when certain investigations appear to clearly prove positive conclusions. This is not easy to answer due to the inherently complex nature of ethical issues. If it is true that one size cannot fit all, then the multiple nature of ethical attitudes, beliefs and behaviours must be acknowledged. Indeed, evidence exists to support this view. For example, a decade ago, UNSCO launched a preliminary study to establish a Universal Ethics Programme. Member States were divided in their support with certain countries contending that diversity in ethical matters should be respected. Similarly, UNESCO’s World Culture Report on Public Opinion and Global Ethics commissioned a public opinion poll which indicated that there are no homogenously supported ethical values. Despite these facts, there should be strong support for academic research on ethical issues and their applications. In newer disciplines such as environmental conservation, behavioural economics and intellectual property which have real impact on social change and development, the ethical dimension of content and strategies has great significance. Furthermore, while research does not conclusively prove that personal ethical behaviour helps to increase an individual’s wealth, there is ample data from bodies such as Transparency International and the World Bank to demonstrate a link between wealthy and democratic societies and a commitment to ethical conduct, at least at the macro-level. In this regard, what does emerge as a priority is the need for all countries to have sound research capacity in a range of essential fields so as to track their own socio-economic change and to ensure ownership of this process. Charting progress is essential but this must go beyond the material aspects alone. In parallel, analysis of the moral dimensions and important frameworks which ensure good governance and citizenship are equally vital. Many developing countries have yet to attain this capacity, or, due to the frequent exodus of their qualified academics, have been greatly weakened in addressing these priorities. V. Concluding Remarks Consideration of the questions raised in this paper illustrates the complexity of the subject of business ethics. Businesses vie for clients and try to win in the struggle with their competition. But even the law places limits on too aggressive competition, i.e. rules against unfair competition which in France prohibit stealing a significant number of employees of a competitor so the competitor's business is seriously disorganized. Being ethical in business is U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 22BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker a difficult exercise in weighing the business interests required to survive and prosper against current or improving ethical principles, which, some believe, are being more and more enforced by the free market system. Building corporate social responsibility into mainstream management theory and practice is now necessary if our society is to improve but it complicates the job for management because ethical expectations are now higher for businessmen and their ethical obligations are not always clear. Ethical conduct needs to be based on a case by case study of particular situations. The primary duty of business remains, nevertheless, to maximize profit for their shareholders otherwise it will cease to exist. Despite these difficulties, the public now more and more expects the private sector to fulfill its ethical and environmental obligations because it has become a most important actor in modern society with a direct and serious impact on the public interest. Public opinion expects it to produce a good result in all three of its balance sheets – financial success, ethics, social justice and sustainable development. It is critical to find some way to raise the ethical level of conduct in business more rapidly. However, for the moment, the traditional measures – the fear of punishment and the negative economic effects of conduct that is generally rejected by the community within which the businessman operates – appear to have some effect although it is difficult to measure. More creative effort will need to be made to invent market mechanisms which will shape the market so it will, through the profit motive, motivate ethical conduct by making ethical conduct lead to more profits and/or punish unethical conduct. There are forces which exist today that help public opinion do this, such as criticism in the press, a growing body of literature militating for more ethical conduct and environmentally cleaner companies. Ethical funds facilitate raising capital for the most ethical and those who avoid damaging the environment. Lawyers file lawsuits for governments, NGOs and others against unethical companies where a legal cause of action exists. So many groups are putting pressure in various forms on companies whose ethics are substandard. In addition, some businessmen have a highly developed sense of ethics and operate their business in accordance with their personal ethical rules. Producing more businessmen with this quality is slow work since it depends upon the complex and long-term influence of family, culture, religion, education and the level of the moral democratic and economic development of a country. Last but not least, academic research which is objective, of high technical calibre and focused on relevant issues of current importance to the private sector can play a critical role in helping to evidence the evolution of Business Ethics. There is no single answer to increasing the ethical and social contributions of business to human welfare. However, if academic research can investigate both good practice and analyze the nature and consequences of malpractice, this constitutes a service to society at large and demonstrates that higher education is indeed a public good. U:\Public\HED\FRK\Research Forum Public Folder\UNESCO FORUM 2009\Wshop 19-21 March\UNESCO Forum Papers and PPs\BAKER Wallace\bakerglobalcompact.doc 23BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker References Aristotle. 2003. Ethics. Signet Classics, a division of Penguin Group, Selection and Introduction by Renford Bambrough. Axelrod, Robert. 1984. The Evolution of Cooperation. Basic Books. Axelrod, Robert and Dion, Douglas. Further Evolution of Cooperation. Science Volume 242, December 1988. Bakan, Joel. 2004. The Corporation. Free Press, a Division of Simon and Schuster Inc. Benedict, Ruth. 1950. Patterns of Culture, An Analysis of Our Social Structure as Related to Primitive Civilizations. Mentor Book. Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert. Jun. 21, 2002. Santa Fe Institute Working Paper 02- 07-028. To appear in: The Economy as an Evolving Complex System III, by Lawrence E. Blume and Steven N. Durlauf. Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert. Nov. 2002. Social Capital and Community Governance. The Journal of the Royal Economic Society, Vol. 112, No. 483. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, GB, and Boston, USA. Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert. June 20, 2002. Strong Reciprocity: Origins of Human Cooperation. Background Paper for Dahlen Conference on Cultural and Genetic Origins of Cooperation. Berlin. To appear in Peter Hammerstein (ed.) The Genetic and Cultural Origins of Cooperation. Cambridge, MIT Press, 2003. Cercle Ethique des Affaires. Oct. 1996. Le coût de la non-éthique. Clutton-Brock, Tim. Sept. 2002. Meerkats Stand Tall. National Geographic. Heinrich, Boyd, Bowles, Carnerev, Fehr, Gintis, McElreath. Jan. 13, 2001. Cooperation, Reciprocity and Punishment in Fifteen Small-Scale Societies. Reprinted in The American Economics Review, May 2001. Olson, Mancur. Nov. 2000. Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships. Basic Books. Kim, Yersu. 1997. Prospect For a Universal Ethics. UNESCO Kindleberger, Charles P. Jan. 2001. Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. John Wiley & Sons; 4th edition. OECD. 2000. OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises - Revision 2000. Piper, Thomas R. et al. Can Ethics Be Taught? Perspectives,Challenges and Approaches at the Harvard Business School. Harvard Business School Press, 1993. Putnam, Robert D. Making Democracy Work – Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, USA, 1993 Rhodes, Richard. 1999. Why They Kill. The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. Vintage Books, New York. 24BUSINESS ETHICS Wallace R. Baker Terré, Dominique. 2000. L'éthique financière. A private paper Wilson, Edward O. 1998. Consilience - The Unity of Knowledge. Alfred Knopf Wrangham, Richard W. and Peterson, Dale. Aug. 1996. Demonic Males. Houghton Mifflin Company. Reviewed by Jeffrey Kluger in Time of 21 Oct. 1996 in an article entitled Females In Charge (The sex lives of apes raise provocative questions for humans). BakerGlobalCompact 25

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What Are Business Ethics & Why Are They Important?

Business professional pressing a graphic that reads "Business Ethics" and is surrounded by icons

  • 27 Jul 2023

From artificial intelligence to facial recognition technology, organizations face an increasing number of ethical dilemmas. While innovation can aid business growth, it can also create opportunities for potential abuse.

“The long-term impacts of a new technology—both positive and negative—may not become apparent until years after it’s introduced,” says Harvard Business School Professor Nien-hê Hsieh in the online course Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “For example, the impact of social media on children and teenagers didn’t become evident until we watched it play out over time.”

If you’re a current or prospective leader concerned about navigating difficult situations, here's an overview of business ethics, why they're important, and how to ensure ethical behavior in your organization.

Access your free e-book today.

What Are Business Ethics?

Business ethics are principles that guide decision-making . As a leader, you’ll face many challenges in the workplace because of different interpretations of what's ethical. Situations often require navigating the “gray area,” where it’s unclear what’s right and wrong.

When making decisions, your experiences, opinions, and perspectives can influence what you believe to be ethical, making it vital to:

  • Be transparent.
  • Invite feedback.
  • Consider impacts on employees, stakeholders, and society.
  • Reflect on past experiences to learn what you could have done better.

“The way to think about ethics, in my view, is: What are the externalities that your business creates, both positive and negative?” says Harvard Business School Professor Vikram Gandhi in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “And, therefore, how do you actually increase the positive element of externalities? And how do you decrease the negative?”

Related: Why Managers Should Involve Their Team in the Decision-Making Process

Ethical Responsibilities to Society

Promoting ethical conduct can benefit both your company and society long term.

“I'm a strong believer that a long-term focus is what creates long-term value,” Gandhi says in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “So you should get shareholders in your company that have that same perspective.”

Prioritizing the triple bottom line is an effective way for your business to fulfill its environmental responsibilities and create long-term value. It focuses on three factors:

  • Profit: The financial return your company generates for shareholders
  • People: How your company affects customers, employees, and stakeholders
  • Planet: Your company’s impact on the planet and environment

Check out the video below to learn more about the triple bottom line, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more explainer content!

Ethical and corporate social responsibility (CSR) considerations can go a long way toward creating value, especially since an increasing number of customers, employees, and investors expect organizations to prioritize CSR. According to the Conscious Consumer Spending Index , 67 percent of customers prefer buying from socially responsible companies.

To prevent costly employee turnover and satisfy customers, strive to fulfill your ethical responsibilities to society.

Ethical Responsibilities to Customers

As a leader, you must ensure you don’t mislead your customers. Doing so can backfire, negatively impacting your organization’s credibility and profits.

Actions to avoid include:

  • Greenwashing : Taking advantage of customers’ CSR preferences by claiming your business practices are sustainable when they aren't.
  • False advertising : Making unverified or untrue claims in advertisements or promotional material.
  • Making false promises : Lying to make a sale.

These unethical practices can result in multi-million dollar lawsuits, as well as highly dissatisfied customers.

Ethical Responsibilities to Employees

You also have ethical responsibilities to your employees—from the beginning to the end of their employment.

One area of business ethics that receives a lot of attention is employee termination. According to Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability , letting an employee go requires an individualized approach that ensures fairness.

Not only can wrongful termination cost your company upwards of $100,000 in legal expenses , it can also negatively impact other employees’ morale and how they perceive your leadership.

Ethical business practices have additional benefits, such as attracting and retaining talented employees willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. Approximately 40 percent of millennials say they would switch jobs to work for a company that emphasizes sustainability.

Ultimately, it's critical to do your best to treat employees fairly.

“Fairness is not only an ethical response to power asymmetries in the work environment,” Hsieh says in the course. “Fairness—and having a successful organizational culture–can benefit the organization economically and legally.”

Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability | Develop a toolkit for making tough leadership decisions| Learn More

Why Are Business Ethics Important?

Failure to understand and apply business ethics can result in moral disengagement .

“Moral disengagement refers to ways in which we convince ourselves that what we’re doing is not wrong,” Hsieh says in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “It can upset the balance of judgment—causing us to prioritize our personal commitments over shared beliefs, rules, and principles—or it can skew our logic to make unethical behaviors appear less harmful or not wrong.”

Moral disengagement can also lead to questionable decisions, such as insider trading .

“In the U.S., insider trading is defined in common, federal, and state laws regulating the opportunity for insiders to benefit from material, non-public information, or MNPI,” Hsieh explains.

This type of unethical behavior can carry severe legal consequences and negatively impact your company's bottom line.

“If you create a certain amount of harm to a society, your customers, or employees over a period of time, that’s going to have a negative impact on your economic value,” Gandhi says in the course.

This is reflected in over half of the top 10 largest bankruptcies between 1980 and 2013 that resulted from unethical behavior. As a business leader, strive to make ethical decisions and fulfill your responsibilities to stakeholders.

How to Implement Business Ethics

To become a more ethical leader, it's crucial to have a balanced, long-term focus.

“It's very important to balance the fact that, even if you're focused on the long term, you have to perform in the short term as well and have a very clear, articulated strategy around that,” Gandhi says in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability .

Making ethical decisions requires reflective leadership.

“Reflecting on complex, gray-area decisions is a key part of what it means to be human, as well as an effective leader,” Hsieh says. “You have agency. You must choose how to act. And with that agency comes responsibility.”

Related: Why Are Ethics Important in Engineering?

Hsieh advises asking the following questions:

  • Are you using the “greater good” to justify unethical behavior?
  • Are you downplaying your actions to feel better?

“Asking these and similar questions at regular intervals can help you notice when you or others may be approaching the line between making a tough but ethical call and justifying problematic actions,” Hsieh says.

How to Become a More Effective Leader | Access Your Free E-Book | Download Now

Become a More Ethical Leader

Learning from past successes and mistakes can enable you to improve your ethical decision-making.

“As a leader, when trying to determine what to do, it can be helpful to start by simply asking in any given situation, ‘What can we do?’ and ‘What would be wrong to do?’” Hsieh says.

Many times, the answers come from experience.

Gain insights from others’ ethical decisions, too. One way to do so is by taking an online course, such as Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability , which includes case studies that immerse you in real-world business situations, as well as a reflective leadership model to inform your decision-making.

Ready to become a better leader? Enroll in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability —one of our online leadership and management courses —and download our free e-book on how to be a more effective leader.

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  • Ethical Considerations in Research | Types & Examples

Ethical Considerations in Research | Types & Examples

Published on October 18, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. Scientists and researchers must always adhere to a certain code of conduct when collecting data from people.

The goals of human research often include understanding real-life phenomena, studying effective treatments, investigating behaviors, and improving lives in other ways. What you decide to research and how you conduct that research involve key ethical considerations.

These considerations work to

  • protect the rights of research participants
  • enhance research validity
  • maintain scientific or academic integrity

Table of contents

Why do research ethics matter, getting ethical approval for your study, types of ethical issues, voluntary participation, informed consent, confidentiality, potential for harm, results communication, examples of ethical failures, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research ethics.

Research ethics matter for scientific integrity, human rights and dignity, and collaboration between science and society. These principles make sure that participation in studies is voluntary, informed, and safe for research subjects.

You’ll balance pursuing important research objectives with using ethical research methods and procedures. It’s always necessary to prevent permanent or excessive harm to participants, whether inadvertent or not.

Defying research ethics will also lower the credibility of your research because it’s hard for others to trust your data if your methods are morally questionable.

Even if a research idea is valuable to society, it doesn’t justify violating the human rights or dignity of your study participants.

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Before you start any study involving data collection with people, you’ll submit your research proposal to an institutional review board (IRB) .

An IRB is a committee that checks whether your research aims and research design are ethically acceptable and follow your institution’s code of conduct. They check that your research materials and procedures are up to code.

If successful, you’ll receive IRB approval, and you can begin collecting data according to the approved procedures. If you want to make any changes to your procedures or materials, you’ll need to submit a modification application to the IRB for approval.

If unsuccessful, you may be asked to re-submit with modifications or your research proposal may receive a rejection. To get IRB approval, it’s important to explicitly note how you’ll tackle each of the ethical issues that may arise in your study.

There are several ethical issues you should always pay attention to in your research design, and these issues can overlap with each other.

You’ll usually outline ways you’ll deal with each issue in your research proposal if you plan to collect data from participants.

Voluntary participation means that all research subjects are free to choose to participate without any pressure or coercion.

All participants are able to withdraw from, or leave, the study at any point without feeling an obligation to continue. Your participants don’t need to provide a reason for leaving the study.

It’s important to make it clear to participants that there are no negative consequences or repercussions to their refusal to participate. After all, they’re taking the time to help you in the research process , so you should respect their decisions without trying to change their minds.

Voluntary participation is an ethical principle protected by international law and many scientific codes of conduct.

Take special care to ensure there’s no pressure on participants when you’re working with vulnerable groups of people who may find it hard to stop the study even when they want to.

Informed consent refers to a situation in which all potential participants receive and understand all the information they need to decide whether they want to participate. This includes information about the study’s benefits, risks, funding, and institutional approval.

You make sure to provide all potential participants with all the relevant information about

  • what the study is about
  • the risks and benefits of taking part
  • how long the study will take
  • your supervisor’s contact information and the institution’s approval number

Usually, you’ll provide participants with a text for them to read and ask them if they have any questions. If they agree to participate, they can sign or initial the consent form. Note that this may not be sufficient for informed consent when you work with particularly vulnerable groups of people.

If you’re collecting data from people with low literacy, make sure to verbally explain the consent form to them before they agree to participate.

For participants with very limited English proficiency, you should always translate the study materials or work with an interpreter so they have all the information in their first language.

In research with children, you’ll often need informed permission for their participation from their parents or guardians. Although children cannot give informed consent, it’s best to also ask for their assent (agreement) to participate, depending on their age and maturity level.

Anonymity means that you don’t know who the participants are and you can’t link any individual participant to their data.

You can only guarantee anonymity by not collecting any personally identifying information—for example, names, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, physical characteristics, photos, and videos.

In many cases, it may be impossible to truly anonymize data collection . For example, data collected in person or by phone cannot be considered fully anonymous because some personal identifiers (demographic information or phone numbers) are impossible to hide.

You’ll also need to collect some identifying information if you give your participants the option to withdraw their data at a later stage.

Data pseudonymization is an alternative method where you replace identifying information about participants with pseudonymous, or fake, identifiers. The data can still be linked to participants but it’s harder to do so because you separate personal information from the study data.

Confidentiality means that you know who the participants are, but you remove all identifying information from your report.

All participants have a right to privacy, so you should protect their personal data for as long as you store or use it. Even when you can’t collect data anonymously, you should secure confidentiality whenever you can.

Some research designs aren’t conducive to confidentiality, but it’s important to make all attempts and inform participants of the risks involved.

As a researcher, you have to consider all possible sources of harm to participants. Harm can come in many different forms.

  • Psychological harm: Sensitive questions or tasks may trigger negative emotions such as shame or anxiety.
  • Social harm: Participation can involve social risks, public embarrassment, or stigma.
  • Physical harm: Pain or injury can result from the study procedures.
  • Legal harm: Reporting sensitive data could lead to legal risks or a breach of privacy.

It’s best to consider every possible source of harm in your study as well as concrete ways to mitigate them. Involve your supervisor to discuss steps for harm reduction.

Make sure to disclose all possible risks of harm to participants before the study to get informed consent. If there is a risk of harm, prepare to provide participants with resources or counseling or medical services if needed.

Some of these questions may bring up negative emotions, so you inform participants about the sensitive nature of the survey and assure them that their responses will be confidential.

The way you communicate your research results can sometimes involve ethical issues. Good science communication is honest, reliable, and credible. It’s best to make your results as transparent as possible.

Take steps to actively avoid plagiarism and research misconduct wherever possible.

Plagiarism means submitting others’ works as your own. Although it can be unintentional, copying someone else’s work without proper credit amounts to stealing. It’s an ethical problem in research communication because you may benefit by harming other researchers.

Self-plagiarism is when you republish or re-submit parts of your own papers or reports without properly citing your original work.

This is problematic because you may benefit from presenting your ideas as new and original even though they’ve already been published elsewhere in the past. You may also be infringing on your previous publisher’s copyright, violating an ethical code, or wasting time and resources by doing so.

In extreme cases of self-plagiarism, entire datasets or papers are sometimes duplicated. These are major ethical violations because they can skew research findings if taken as original data.

You notice that two published studies have similar characteristics even though they are from different years. Their sample sizes, locations, treatments, and results are highly similar, and the studies share one author in common.

Research misconduct

Research misconduct means making up or falsifying data, manipulating data analyses, or misrepresenting results in research reports. It’s a form of academic fraud.

These actions are committed intentionally and can have serious consequences; research misconduct is not a simple mistake or a point of disagreement about data analyses.

Research misconduct is a serious ethical issue because it can undermine academic integrity and institutional credibility. It leads to a waste of funding and resources that could have been used for alternative research.

Later investigations revealed that they fabricated and manipulated their data to show a nonexistent link between vaccines and autism. Wakefield also neglected to disclose important conflicts of interest, and his medical license was taken away.

This fraudulent work sparked vaccine hesitancy among parents and caregivers. The rate of MMR vaccinations in children fell sharply, and measles outbreaks became more common due to a lack of herd immunity.

Research scandals with ethical failures are littered throughout history, but some took place not that long ago.

Some scientists in positions of power have historically mistreated or even abused research participants to investigate research problems at any cost. These participants were prisoners, under their care, or otherwise trusted them to treat them with dignity.

To demonstrate the importance of research ethics, we’ll briefly review two research studies that violated human rights in modern history.

These experiments were inhumane and resulted in trauma, permanent disabilities, or death in many cases.

After some Nazi doctors were put on trial for their crimes, the Nuremberg Code of research ethics for human experimentation was developed in 1947 to establish a new standard for human experimentation in medical research.

In reality, the actual goal was to study the effects of the disease when left untreated, and the researchers never informed participants about their diagnoses or the research aims.

Although participants experienced severe health problems, including blindness and other complications, the researchers only pretended to provide medical care.

When treatment became possible in 1943, 11 years after the study began, none of the participants were offered it, despite their health conditions and high risk of death.

Ethical failures like these resulted in severe harm to participants, wasted resources, and lower trust in science and scientists. This is why all research institutions have strict ethical guidelines for performing research.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles
  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Thematic analysis
  • Cohort study
  • Peer review
  • Ethnography

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Conformity bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Availability heuristic
  • Attrition bias
  • Social desirability bias

Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. These principles include voluntary participation, informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, potential for harm, and results communication.

Scientists and researchers must always adhere to a certain code of conduct when collecting data from others .

These considerations protect the rights of research participants, enhance research validity , and maintain scientific integrity.

Research ethics matter for scientific integrity, human rights and dignity, and collaboration between science and society. These principles make sure that participation in studies is voluntary, informed, and safe.

Anonymity means you don’t know who the participants are, while confidentiality means you know who they are but remove identifying information from your research report. Both are important ethical considerations .

You can only guarantee anonymity by not collecting any personally identifying information—for example, names, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, physical characteristics, photos, or videos.

You can keep data confidential by using aggregate information in your research report, so that you only refer to groups of participants rather than individuals.

These actions are committed intentionally and can have serious consequences; research misconduct is not a simple mistake or a point of disagreement but a serious ethical failure.

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Your Environment. Your Health.

What is ethics in research & why is it important, by david b. resnik, j.d., ph.d..

December 23, 2020

The ideas and opinions expressed in this essay are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the NIH, NIEHS, or US government.

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When most people think of ethics (or morals), they think of rules for distinguishing between right and wrong, such as the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), a code of professional conduct like the Hippocratic Oath ("First of all, do no harm"), a religious creed like the Ten Commandments ("Thou Shalt not kill..."), or a wise aphorisms like the sayings of Confucius. This is the most common way of defining "ethics": norms for conduct that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Most people learn ethical norms at home, at school, in church, or in other social settings. Although most people acquire their sense of right and wrong during childhood, moral development occurs throughout life and human beings pass through different stages of growth as they mature. Ethical norms are so ubiquitous that one might be tempted to regard them as simple commonsense. On the other hand, if morality were nothing more than commonsense, then why are there so many ethical disputes and issues in our society?

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One plausible explanation of these disagreements is that all people recognize some common ethical norms but interpret, apply, and balance them in different ways in light of their own values and life experiences. For example, two people could agree that murder is wrong but disagree about the morality of abortion because they have different understandings of what it means to be a human being.

Most societies also have legal rules that govern behavior, but ethical norms tend to be broader and more informal than laws. Although most societies use laws to enforce widely accepted moral standards and ethical and legal rules use similar concepts, ethics and law are not the same. An action may be legal but unethical or illegal but ethical. We can also use ethical concepts and principles to criticize, evaluate, propose, or interpret laws. Indeed, in the last century, many social reformers have urged citizens to disobey laws they regarded as immoral or unjust laws. Peaceful civil disobedience is an ethical way of protesting laws or expressing political viewpoints.

Another way of defining 'ethics' focuses on the disciplines that study standards of conduct, such as philosophy, theology, law, psychology, or sociology. For example, a "medical ethicist" is someone who studies ethical standards in medicine. One may also define ethics as a method, procedure, or perspective for deciding how to act and for analyzing complex problems and issues. For instance, in considering a complex issue like global warming , one may take an economic, ecological, political, or ethical perspective on the problem. While an economist might examine the cost and benefits of various policies related to global warming, an environmental ethicist could examine the ethical values and principles at stake.

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Many different disciplines, institutions , and professions have standards for behavior that suit their particular aims and goals. These standards also help members of the discipline to coordinate their actions or activities and to establish the public's trust of the discipline. For instance, ethical standards govern conduct in medicine, law, engineering, and business. Ethical norms also serve the aims or goals of research and apply to people who conduct scientific research or other scholarly or creative activities. There is even a specialized discipline, research ethics, which studies these norms. See Glossary of Commonly Used Terms in Research Ethics.

There are several reasons why it is important to adhere to ethical norms in research. First, norms promote the aims of research , such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error. For example, prohibitions against fabricating , falsifying, or misrepresenting research data promote the truth and minimize error.

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Second, since research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among many different people in different disciplines and institutions, ethical standards promote the values that are essential to collaborative work , such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness. For example, many ethical norms in research, such as guidelines for authorship , copyright and patenting policies , data sharing policies, and confidentiality rules in peer review, are designed to protect intellectual property interests while encouraging collaboration. Most researchers want to receive credit for their contributions and do not want to have their ideas stolen or disclosed prematurely.

Third, many of the ethical norms help to ensure that researchers can be held accountable to the public . For instance, federal policies on research misconduct, conflicts of interest, the human subjects protections, and animal care and use are necessary in order to make sure that researchers who are funded by public money can be held accountable to the public.

Fourth, ethical norms in research also help to build public support for research. People are more likely to fund a research project if they can trust the quality and integrity of research.

Finally, many of the norms of research promote a variety of other important moral and social values , such as social responsibility, human rights, animal welfare, compliance with the law, and public health and safety. Ethical lapses in research can significantly harm human and animal subjects, students, and the public. For example, a researcher who fabricates data in a clinical trial may harm or even kill patients, and a researcher who fails to abide by regulations and guidelines relating to radiation or biological safety may jeopardize his health and safety or the health and safety of staff and students.

Codes and Policies for Research Ethics

Given the importance of ethics for the conduct of research, it should come as no surprise that many different professional associations, government agencies, and universities have adopted specific codes, rules, and policies relating to research ethics. Many government agencies have ethics rules for funded researchers.

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Singapore Statement on Research Integrity
  • American Chemical Society, The Chemist Professional’s Code of Conduct
  • Code of Ethics (American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science)
  • American Psychological Association, Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct
  • Statement on Professional Ethics (American Association of University Professors)
  • Nuremberg Code
  • World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki

Ethical Principles

The following is a rough and general summary of some ethical principles that various codes address*:

man holding hand over his chest and his other in the air to make a pledge

Strive for honesty in all scientific communications. Honestly report data, results, methods and procedures, and publication status. Do not fabricate, falsify, or misrepresent data. Do not deceive colleagues, research sponsors, or the public.

statue holding a scale


Strive to avoid bias in experimental design, data analysis, data interpretation, peer review, personnel decisions, grant writing, expert testimony, and other aspects of research where objectivity is expected or required. Avoid or minimize bias or self-deception. Disclose personal or financial interests that may affect research.

people standing in a circle with their hands in the middle

Keep your promises and agreements; act with sincerity; strive for consistency of thought and action.

using a microscope to inspect specimen on a petri dish


Avoid careless errors and negligence; carefully and critically examine your own work and the work of your peers. Keep good records of research activities, such as data collection, research design, and correspondence with agencies or journals.

Man working on a laptop with a cup of coffee

Share data, results, ideas, tools, resources. Be open to criticism and new ideas.

magnifying glass on top of a word cloud including the word transparency


Disclose methods, materials, assumptions, analyses, and other information needed to evaluate your research.

a black ribbon with the word accountability written on it


Take responsibility for your part in research and be prepared to give an account (i.e. an explanation or justification) of what you did on a research project and why.

a pad lock on top of a computer keyboard

Intellectual Property

Honor patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property. Do not use unpublished data, methods, or results without permission. Give proper acknowledgement or credit for all contributions to research. Never plagiarize.

folders with labels


Protect confidential communications, such as papers or grants submitted for publication, personnel records, trade or military secrets, and patient records.

Scientists reviewing documents

Responsible Publication

Publish in order to advance research and scholarship, not to advance just your own career. Avoid wasteful and duplicative publication.

two scientists reviewing information together

Responsible Mentoring

Help to educate, mentor, and advise students. Promote their welfare and allow them to make their own decisions.

scientists working together in a lab

Respect for Colleagues

Respect your colleagues and treat them fairly.

a group of people lisening to a lecture

Social Responsibility

Strive to promote social good and prevent or mitigate social harms through research, public education, and advocacy.

scientists working together in a lab


Avoid discrimination against colleagues or students on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or other factors not related to scientific competence and integrity.

woman reading a book while sitting at a table

Maintain and improve your own professional competence and expertise through lifelong education and learning; take steps to promote competence in science as a whole.

a gavel and two books

Know and obey relevant laws and institutional and governmental policies.

doctor holidng an albino rabit

Animal Care

Show proper respect and care for animals when using them in research. Do not conduct unnecessary or poorly designed animal experiments.

doctor putting hand on the shoulder of an older patient

Human Subjects protection

When conducting research on human subjects, minimize harms and risks and maximize benefits; respect human dignity, privacy, and autonomy; take special precautions with vulnerable populations; and strive to distribute the benefits and burdens of research fairly.

* Adapted from Shamoo A and Resnik D. 2015. Responsible Conduct of Research, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press).

Ethical Decision Making in Research

Although codes, policies, and principles are very important and useful, like any set of rules, they do not cover every situation, they often conflict, and they require considerable interpretation. It is therefore important for researchers to learn how to interpret, assess, and apply various research rules and how to make decisions and to act ethically in various situations. The vast majority of decisions involve the straightforward application of ethical rules. For example, consider the following case,

The research protocol for a study of a drug on hypertension requires the administration of the drug at different doses to 50 laboratory mice, with chemical and behavioral tests to determine toxic effects. Tom has almost finished the experiment for Dr. Q. He has only 5 mice left to test. However, he really wants to finish his work in time to go to Florida on spring break with his friends, who are leaving tonight. He has injected the drug in all 50 mice but has not completed all of the tests. He therefore decides to extrapolate from the 45 completed results to produce the 5 additional results.

Many different research ethics policies would hold that Tom has acted unethically by fabricating data. If this study were sponsored by a federal agency, such as the NIH, his actions would constitute a form of research misconduct , which the government defines as "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism" (or FFP). Actions that nearly all researchers classify as unethical are viewed as misconduct. It is important to remember, however, that misconduct occurs only when researchers intend to deceive : honest errors related to sloppiness, poor record keeping, miscalculations, bias, self-deception, and even negligence do not constitute misconduct. Also, reasonable disagreements about research methods, procedures, and interpretations do not constitute research misconduct. Consider the following case:

Dr. T has just discovered a mathematical error in his paper that has been accepted for publication in a journal. The error does not affect the overall results of his research, but it is potentially misleading. The journal has just gone to press, so it is too late to catch the error before it appears in print. In order to avoid embarrassment, Dr. T decides to ignore the error.

Dr. T's error is not misconduct nor is his decision to take no action to correct the error. Most researchers, as well as many different policies and codes would say that Dr. T should tell the journal (and any coauthors) about the error and consider publishing a correction or errata. Failing to publish a correction would be unethical because it would violate norms relating to honesty and objectivity in research.

There are many other activities that the government does not define as "misconduct" but which are still regarded by most researchers as unethical. These are sometimes referred to as " other deviations " from acceptable research practices and include:

  • Publishing the same paper in two different journals without telling the editors
  • Submitting the same paper to different journals without telling the editors
  • Not informing a collaborator of your intent to file a patent in order to make sure that you are the sole inventor
  • Including a colleague as an author on a paper in return for a favor even though the colleague did not make a serious contribution to the paper
  • Discussing with your colleagues confidential data from a paper that you are reviewing for a journal
  • Using data, ideas, or methods you learn about while reviewing a grant or a papers without permission
  • Trimming outliers from a data set without discussing your reasons in paper
  • Using an inappropriate statistical technique in order to enhance the significance of your research
  • Bypassing the peer review process and announcing your results through a press conference without giving peers adequate information to review your work
  • Conducting a review of the literature that fails to acknowledge the contributions of other people in the field or relevant prior work
  • Stretching the truth on a grant application in order to convince reviewers that your project will make a significant contribution to the field
  • Stretching the truth on a job application or curriculum vita
  • Giving the same research project to two graduate students in order to see who can do it the fastest
  • Overworking, neglecting, or exploiting graduate or post-doctoral students
  • Failing to keep good research records
  • Failing to maintain research data for a reasonable period of time
  • Making derogatory comments and personal attacks in your review of author's submission
  • Promising a student a better grade for sexual favors
  • Using a racist epithet in the laboratory
  • Making significant deviations from the research protocol approved by your institution's Animal Care and Use Committee or Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects Research without telling the committee or the board
  • Not reporting an adverse event in a human research experiment
  • Wasting animals in research
  • Exposing students and staff to biological risks in violation of your institution's biosafety rules
  • Sabotaging someone's work
  • Stealing supplies, books, or data
  • Rigging an experiment so you know how it will turn out
  • Making unauthorized copies of data, papers, or computer programs
  • Owning over $10,000 in stock in a company that sponsors your research and not disclosing this financial interest
  • Deliberately overestimating the clinical significance of a new drug in order to obtain economic benefits

These actions would be regarded as unethical by most scientists and some might even be illegal in some cases. Most of these would also violate different professional ethics codes or institutional policies. However, they do not fall into the narrow category of actions that the government classifies as research misconduct. Indeed, there has been considerable debate about the definition of "research misconduct" and many researchers and policy makers are not satisfied with the government's narrow definition that focuses on FFP. However, given the huge list of potential offenses that might fall into the category "other serious deviations," and the practical problems with defining and policing these other deviations, it is understandable why government officials have chosen to limit their focus.

Finally, situations frequently arise in research in which different people disagree about the proper course of action and there is no broad consensus about what should be done. In these situations, there may be good arguments on both sides of the issue and different ethical principles may conflict. These situations create difficult decisions for research known as ethical or moral dilemmas . Consider the following case:

Dr. Wexford is the principal investigator of a large, epidemiological study on the health of 10,000 agricultural workers. She has an impressive dataset that includes information on demographics, environmental exposures, diet, genetics, and various disease outcomes such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease (PD), and ALS. She has just published a paper on the relationship between pesticide exposure and PD in a prestigious journal. She is planning to publish many other papers from her dataset. She receives a request from another research team that wants access to her complete dataset. They are interested in examining the relationship between pesticide exposures and skin cancer. Dr. Wexford was planning to conduct a study on this topic.

Dr. Wexford faces a difficult choice. On the one hand, the ethical norm of openness obliges her to share data with the other research team. Her funding agency may also have rules that obligate her to share data. On the other hand, if she shares data with the other team, they may publish results that she was planning to publish, thus depriving her (and her team) of recognition and priority. It seems that there are good arguments on both sides of this issue and Dr. Wexford needs to take some time to think about what she should do. One possible option is to share data, provided that the investigators sign a data use agreement. The agreement could define allowable uses of the data, publication plans, authorship, etc. Another option would be to offer to collaborate with the researchers.

The following are some step that researchers, such as Dr. Wexford, can take to deal with ethical dilemmas in research:

What is the problem or issue?

It is always important to get a clear statement of the problem. In this case, the issue is whether to share information with the other research team.

What is the relevant information?

Many bad decisions are made as a result of poor information. To know what to do, Dr. Wexford needs to have more information concerning such matters as university or funding agency or journal policies that may apply to this situation, the team's intellectual property interests, the possibility of negotiating some kind of agreement with the other team, whether the other team also has some information it is willing to share, the impact of the potential publications, etc.

What are the different options?

People may fail to see different options due to a limited imagination, bias, ignorance, or fear. In this case, there may be other choices besides 'share' or 'don't share,' such as 'negotiate an agreement' or 'offer to collaborate with the researchers.'

How do ethical codes or policies as well as legal rules apply to these different options?

The university or funding agency may have policies on data management that apply to this case. Broader ethical rules, such as openness and respect for credit and intellectual property, may also apply to this case. Laws relating to intellectual property may be relevant.

Are there any people who can offer ethical advice?

It may be useful to seek advice from a colleague, a senior researcher, your department chair, an ethics or compliance officer, or anyone else you can trust. In the case, Dr. Wexford might want to talk to her supervisor and research team before making a decision.

After considering these questions, a person facing an ethical dilemma may decide to ask more questions, gather more information, explore different options, or consider other ethical rules. However, at some point he or she will have to make a decision and then take action. Ideally, a person who makes a decision in an ethical dilemma should be able to justify his or her decision to himself or herself, as well as colleagues, administrators, and other people who might be affected by the decision. He or she should be able to articulate reasons for his or her conduct and should consider the following questions in order to explain how he or she arrived at his or her decision: .

  • Which choice will probably have the best overall consequences for science and society?
  • Which choice could stand up to further publicity and scrutiny?
  • Which choice could you not live with?
  • Think of the wisest person you know. What would he or she do in this situation?
  • Which choice would be the most just, fair, or responsible?

After considering all of these questions, one still might find it difficult to decide what to do. If this is the case, then it may be appropriate to consider others ways of making the decision, such as going with a gut feeling or intuition, seeking guidance through prayer or meditation, or even flipping a coin. Endorsing these methods in this context need not imply that ethical decisions are irrational, however. The main point is that human reasoning plays a pivotal role in ethical decision-making but there are limits to its ability to solve all ethical dilemmas in a finite amount of time.

Promoting Ethical Conduct in Science

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Most academic institutions in the US require undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate students to have some education in the responsible conduct of research (RCR) . The NIH and NSF have both mandated training in research ethics for students and trainees. Many academic institutions outside of the US have also developed educational curricula in research ethics

Those of you who are taking or have taken courses in research ethics may be wondering why you are required to have education in research ethics. You may believe that you are highly ethical and know the difference between right and wrong. You would never fabricate or falsify data or plagiarize. Indeed, you also may believe that most of your colleagues are highly ethical and that there is no ethics problem in research..

If you feel this way, relax. No one is accusing you of acting unethically. Indeed, the evidence produced so far shows that misconduct is a very rare occurrence in research, although there is considerable variation among various estimates. The rate of misconduct has been estimated to be as low as 0.01% of researchers per year (based on confirmed cases of misconduct in federally funded research) to as high as 1% of researchers per year (based on self-reports of misconduct on anonymous surveys). See Shamoo and Resnik (2015), cited above.

Clearly, it would be useful to have more data on this topic, but so far there is no evidence that science has become ethically corrupt, despite some highly publicized scandals. Even if misconduct is only a rare occurrence, it can still have a tremendous impact on science and society because it can compromise the integrity of research, erode the public’s trust in science, and waste time and resources. Will education in research ethics help reduce the rate of misconduct in science? It is too early to tell. The answer to this question depends, in part, on how one understands the causes of misconduct. There are two main theories about why researchers commit misconduct. According to the "bad apple" theory, most scientists are highly ethical. Only researchers who are morally corrupt, economically desperate, or psychologically disturbed commit misconduct. Moreover, only a fool would commit misconduct because science's peer review system and self-correcting mechanisms will eventually catch those who try to cheat the system. In any case, a course in research ethics will have little impact on "bad apples," one might argue.

According to the "stressful" or "imperfect" environment theory, misconduct occurs because various institutional pressures, incentives, and constraints encourage people to commit misconduct, such as pressures to publish or obtain grants or contracts, career ambitions, the pursuit of profit or fame, poor supervision of students and trainees, and poor oversight of researchers (see Shamoo and Resnik 2015). Moreover, defenders of the stressful environment theory point out that science's peer review system is far from perfect and that it is relatively easy to cheat the system. Erroneous or fraudulent research often enters the public record without being detected for years. Misconduct probably results from environmental and individual causes, i.e. when people who are morally weak, ignorant, or insensitive are placed in stressful or imperfect environments. In any case, a course in research ethics can be useful in helping to prevent deviations from norms even if it does not prevent misconduct. Education in research ethics is can help people get a better understanding of ethical standards, policies, and issues and improve ethical judgment and decision making. Many of the deviations that occur in research may occur because researchers simply do not know or have never thought seriously about some of the ethical norms of research. For example, some unethical authorship practices probably reflect traditions and practices that have not been questioned seriously until recently. If the director of a lab is named as an author on every paper that comes from his lab, even if he does not make a significant contribution, what could be wrong with that? That's just the way it's done, one might argue. Another example where there may be some ignorance or mistaken traditions is conflicts of interest in research. A researcher may think that a "normal" or "traditional" financial relationship, such as accepting stock or a consulting fee from a drug company that sponsors her research, raises no serious ethical issues. Or perhaps a university administrator sees no ethical problem in taking a large gift with strings attached from a pharmaceutical company. Maybe a physician thinks that it is perfectly appropriate to receive a $300 finder’s fee for referring patients into a clinical trial.

If "deviations" from ethical conduct occur in research as a result of ignorance or a failure to reflect critically on problematic traditions, then a course in research ethics may help reduce the rate of serious deviations by improving the researcher's understanding of ethics and by sensitizing him or her to the issues.

Finally, education in research ethics should be able to help researchers grapple with the ethical dilemmas they are likely to encounter by introducing them to important concepts, tools, principles, and methods that can be useful in resolving these dilemmas. Scientists must deal with a number of different controversial topics, such as human embryonic stem cell research, cloning, genetic engineering, and research involving animal or human subjects, which require ethical reflection and deliberation.

Professional Ethics Research Paper Topics

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This page provides a comprehensive list of professional ethics research paper topics , offering students studying ethics a valuable resource for their academic endeavors. Delve into the diverse world of professional ethics, explore its significance, and discover a wide array of research paper topics that can enrich your studies. Whether you seek to understand the ethical dimensions of various professions or wish to analyze ethical challenges in professional settings, this page is your gateway to a wealth of knowledge in the field of professional ethics. Additionally, learn about the writing services offered by iResearchNet, which can help you excel in your research paper assignments. Explore this page and take the first step toward crafting a compelling research paper on professional ethics.

100 Professional Ethics Research Paper Topics

Professional ethics stands as a cornerstone in the realm of ethical studies, guiding individuals and organizations toward responsible and morally sound conduct within their respective fields. It is through the lens of professional ethics that we scrutinize the behavior, values, and dilemmas that arise within various professions. This page provides an invaluable resource for students delving into the intricate world of professional ethics. By exploring the extensive list of research paper topics curated here, you will gain insights into the ethical dimensions of diverse professions and the challenges they face. Through in-depth analysis and critical examination, you can contribute to the ongoing discourse on professional ethics. Dive into this comprehensive collection, and discover the myriad topics awaiting exploration in this vital field.

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Healthcare Professions

  • Ethical considerations in organ transplantation.
  • The role of confidentiality in healthcare ethics.
  • Medical malpractice and professional responsibility.
  • Bioethical dilemmas in end-of-life care.
  • Ethical implications of pharmaceutical marketing.
  • Mental health professionals’ duty to protect confidentiality.
  • Patient autonomy and decision-making in medical ethics.
  • Ethical challenges in clinical trials and research.
  • Ethics of healthcare resource allocation.
  • Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide debates.

Legal and Judicial Professions

  • Legal ethics and attorney-client privilege.
  • Judicial impartiality and the rule of law.
  • Ethical dilemmas in criminal defense.
  • Professional ethics in corporate law.
  • Judges’ recusal and conflicts of interest.
  • Prosecutorial misconduct and accountability.
  • The role of ethics in alternative dispute resolution.
  • Legal ethics in the age of technology.
  • The death penalty and ethical considerations.
  • Ethical issues in international human rights law.

Business and Corporate Ethics

  • Corporate social responsibility and ethical business practices.
  • Workplace ethics and employee rights.
  • Ethical dimensions of business advertising.
  • The role of whistleblowers in corporate ethics.
  • Environmental ethics in business and sustainability.
  • Ethics in international business negotiations.
  • Leadership ethics and the impact on organizational culture.
  • Ethical considerations in outsourcing and globalization.
  • Corporate governance and ethical decision-making.
  • Business ethics in the digital age.

Journalism and Media Ethics

  • Ethical challenges in reporting on sensitive topics.
  • Journalistic objectivity and the pursuit of truth.
  • The role of ethics in photojournalism and image manipulation.
  • Media ownership and its implications for journalistic ethics.
  • The impact of social media on ethical journalism.
  • Whistleblowing in the media industry.
  • Ethical considerations in celebrity reporting.
  • Censorship, freedom of the press, and ethical dilemmas.
  • Conflict of interest in journalism.
  • Privacy issues in the digital media era.

Education and Academic Ethics

  • Plagiarism and academic integrity.
  • Ethical issues in student-teacher relationships.
  • The role of ethics in academic publishing.
  • Educational equity and ethical considerations.
  • Ethical dilemmas in standardized testing.
  • Academic freedom and its ethical boundaries.
  • The ethics of diversity and inclusion in education.
  • Ethics in research involving human subjects.
  • Student rights and educational ethics.
  • The ethics of technology in the classroom.

Engineering and Technology Ethics

  • Ethical considerations in artificial intelligence development.
  • Privacy concerns in the digital age.
  • The impact of automation on job ethics.
  • Environmental ethics in engineering and technology.
  • Ethical dilemmas in genetic engineering.
  • Cybersecurity and ethical responsibilities.
  • Ethical dimensions of autonomous vehicles.
  • Intellectual property and technology ethics.
  • Ethical issues in biotechnology research.
  • The role of ethics in software development.

Social Work and Counseling Ethics

  • Ethical principles in counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Confidentiality and informed consent in counseling.
  • Ethical challenges in child welfare services.
  • The intersection of spirituality and counseling ethics.
  • Cultural competence and ethical practice in social work.
  • Ethical considerations in addiction counseling.
  • Dual relationships in therapeutic settings.
  • The ethics of mental health advocacy.
  • Social justice and ethical social work practice.
  • Ethical issues in gerontology and elder care.

Environmental Ethics

  • Conservation ethics and wildlife protection.
  • Climate change ethics and global responsibility.
  • Environmental justice and ethics.
  • Ethical dimensions of sustainable agriculture.
  • The ethics of natural resource management.
  • Biodiversity preservation and ethical considerations.
  • Pollution control and environmental ethics.
  • Eco-friendly technology and ethical innovation.
  • Corporate responsibility for environmental ethics.
  • Ethical considerations in eco-tourism.

Military and Defense Ethics

  • The ethics of military intervention and just war theory.
  • Soldiers’ moral responsibilities in combat.
  • Ethical dilemmas in intelligence operations.
  • The use of drones and unmanned warfare ethics.
  • Cyber warfare and its ethical implications.
  • Military leadership ethics and responsibility.
  • Ethical considerations in nuclear deterrence.
  • War crimes, accountability, and international law.
  • The ethics of humanitarian assistance in conflict zones.
  • Military ethics in the digital age.

Public Service and Government Ethics

  • Public officials’ duty to uphold the law and ethical conduct.
  • Corruption, transparency, and government ethics.
  • Whistleblowing and ethics in public service.
  • Ethical dimensions of public health policy.
  • Ethical challenges in international diplomacy.
  • Accountability and ethical governance.
  • The role of ethics in disaster management.
  • Ethical considerations in intelligence agencies.
  • Lobbying, special interests, and government ethics.
  • Ethical issues in public-private partnerships.

The compilation above represents merely a fraction of the vast landscape of research paper topics within professional ethics. As you delve into these categories, you’ll find that professional ethics transcends specific vocations, touching on fundamental principles of responsibility, integrity, and accountability. By exploring these topics, students can gain a deeper understanding of the ethical considerations that underpin various professions and industries. From healthcare to journalism, from business to environmental preservation, professional ethics plays a pivotal role in shaping our society.

The Range of Professional Ethics Research Paper Topics


Professional ethics is a cornerstone of ethical studies, offering a compass to navigate the complex terrain of our working lives. As students delve into the world of ethical research, they encounter the multifaceted domain of professional ethics. This page serves as a gateway to exploring the ethical considerations that underpin various vocations and industries, providing a rich tapestry of research paper topics to explore.

Exploring Professional Ethics

Professional ethics, nestled within the larger field of applied ethics, plays a pivotal role in guiding the moral conduct of individuals and organizations in diverse professions. At its core, it seeks to bridge the gap between theoretical ethical principles and the practical realities encountered in professional life.

In various fields, ethical considerations are woven into the fabric of daily practice. For instance, healthcare professionals grapple with dilemmas related to patient autonomy, confidentiality, and end-of-life decisions. Journalists strive to balance the pursuit of truth with concerns regarding privacy and sensitivity. Business leaders navigate the intricate interplay of corporate social responsibility and profit margins.

Research in professional ethics extends beyond academia, impacting real-world practices. By examining the ethical dimensions of specific professions, scholars and practitioners can contribute to the development of ethical guidelines, policies, and practices. Such research aids in addressing ethical challenges, fostering responsible conduct, and safeguarding the integrity of professions.

Range of Research Paper Topics

Professional ethics offers a diverse array of research paper topics that span different vocations and industries, each with its unique ethical considerations. These topics shed light on the moral dimensions of professions and are integral to ethical studies:

Within the expansive realm of professional ethics, students can explore topics ranging from the ethical dilemmas in organ transplantation to legal ethics and the attorney-client privilege. They can delve into corporate social responsibility in business ethics or investigate ethical challenges in reporting sensitive topics in journalism ethics.

Ethical dimensions are not confined to traditional professions. In the ever-evolving world of technology, the ethics of artificial intelligence development and privacy concerns in the digital age are pressing topics. Additionally, questions about conservation ethics and wildlife protection resonate in environmental ethics.

These are but a few examples of the vast landscape of professional ethics research paper topics. Whether you are drawn to the complexities of healthcare, the legal arena, business ethics, or any other profession, the study of professional ethics offers a captivating journey into the moral dimensions of our working lives.

In conclusion, professional ethics is an essential facet of ethical studies, guiding individuals and organizations to uphold principles of responsibility, integrity, and accountability within their respective professions. As students embark on their exploration of professional ethics research paper topics, they enter a realm where ethical principles are put to the test in real-world scenarios.

The breadth of topics within professional ethics mirrors the diversity of professions themselves. Each field presents unique ethical challenges and dilemmas, providing a fertile ground for ethical inquiry. Through rigorous research and thoughtful analysis, students and scholars have the opportunity to contribute to ethical frameworks that shape our society and professions.

We encourage you to delve into the ethical considerations of your chosen profession, for it is within this exploration that you will uncover insights, perspectives, and solutions that can lead to a more ethical and responsible world of work. Embrace the journey, and let your research on professional ethics illuminate the path toward ethical excellence in your chosen field.

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170+ fantastic business ethics research paper topics to try out.

business ethics research paper topics

Many students struggle to choose their business ethics research paper topics. That’s because this subject has controversial and fascinating issues. What’s more, this subject keeps widening because people engage in different businesses. And people can’t do business without ethics. Therefore, companies in various countries must adhere to an ethical code of conduct to ensure their credibility and reliability.

University professors and lecturers ask learners to write research papers to gauge their understanding of this subject. Students should select interesting and engaging topics for their essays to ensure that educators love their work and award them high grades. If struggling to decide what to write about, here’s a list of business ethics topics to consider.

Interesting Business Ethics Topics

These are interesting business ethics topics that learners can research and write about to earn superior grades. Nevertheless, students should prepare to research extensively and analyze information to develop quality papers.

  • Should a company be honest with its customers?
  • Should a corporation be responsible for environmental protection
  • Moral principles and decision making in business
  • Employee relationships as an ethical principle of an employer
  • Ethical issues that surround corporation governance
  • Social responsibility in business
  • How to think, act, and compete ethically in business
  • Business ethics and environmental policies
  • How to teach business ethics
  • Ethical conflicts- Ways to avoid arguments on cultural, religious, national, and political basis in business
  • Cross-cultural and ethical concerns in business
  • Business decision making- What are the ethical considerations?
  • Psychological perspectives in corporate ethics
  • Approaching business ethics from a psychological viewpoint
  • How to approach business ethics from a philosophical viewpoint
  • Business principles and ethical standards
  • How to adhere to ethical rules in business
  • Ethical codes for trade associations
  • Ethical ways to prevent sexual harassment in business
  • Ethical codes for multinational companies
  • Can an ethical mistake cause bankruptcy?
  • Ethical dilemmas facing business owners
  • Organizing the structures that control ethical issues in business
  • Ethical values that employers share with workers
  • Are personnel and manager ethics different?
  • Ethical values for industrial communities
  • Corporate responsibility as an ethical concept
  • How to balance pragmatics with ethics- Effective managerial methods
  • How criminal behaviors can limit large corporations
  • How necessary are ethical codes for a company?
  • Types of corporate and white-collar crimes
  • Who’s responsible for a company’s corporative ethics?
  • Approaching ethics from a pragmatic perspective
  • Ethical failures caused by leadership malfunctions
  • To work ethics can facilitate making the right decisions
  • Moral leadership role in business
  • Business success and personal integrity
  • Business ethics- What are their psychological roots?
  • How to avoid being a victim of unethical actions at the workplace
  • What causes unethical behavior in business?

Easy Business Ethics Paper Topics

Some college students need simple topics that they won’t struggle to research, write about, and impress their educators. Consequently, they prefer writing about simple but exciting business ethics topics. If that’s what you’re looking for, here are brilliant ideas to consider.

Most students can have a relatively easy time researching and writing about these business ethics paper topic ideas. Nevertheless, a learner should first examine any of these ideas to develop a paper that will earn them the top grade.

  • What measures should a business organization implement to prevent sexual harassment?
  • Can business ethics help in evaluating the capital amount that a company should spend on health benefits?
  • Is being absolutely transparent with a target market ethical for a company?
  • Is discouraging pregnancies among employees ethical for a company?
  • How to evaluate illegal practices like bribery, corruption, and nepotism during the tendering process
  • How illegal and unethical behavior affect a company and society
  • Ethical evaluation of favoritism in a family-owned business
  • How to examine ethics in business contracts
  • Exploring privacy violation and social media as an infringement of business ethics
  • Is authenticity a type of business ethics?
  • How the management can stop the perception of women as sex symbols at the workplace
  • A case study of business ethics- A brief review of privacy infringements and surveillance by Facebook
  • How child labor amounts to business ethics’ violation
  • Should a company that profits from others’ peril continue operating?- Investigating unhealthy products from alcohol and cigarette companies
  • Privacy violation by social media as a business ethics’ breach
  • Misinformation to shareholders and the board- Investigating negligence as an unethical practice in business.
  • Ethics behind hazardous working conditions
  • Subway business model and ethics
  • How to promote a company’s ethical practices
  • Should businesses be held accountable for claims and promises they make regarding their service or product purposes?
  • Ethics behind the sale of a product before through testing and approval
  • How to address the ethical problem of a country that leads in production and manufacturing by has poor working conditions, low wages, and remuneration schemes
  • Ethical ways to achieve corporate social responsibility
  • Ethics governing different marketing techniques
  • Why do companies misinform their target customers about services and goods?
  • Is marking fast foods as healthy yet they increase the risk of diseases like diabetes ethical?
  • Examining the code of ethics in different economic sectors
  • Is refusing a female football coach in a male team ethical?
  • Is having an unsafe working environment unethical?
  • Is it ethical for a company to monitor the online behavior of its employees?

Business Ethics Research Paper Topics about Social Media

It’s almost impossible for a company to ignore social media and succeed in the current digital era. Consequently, ethical conduct by businesses on different social media platforms is a prominent research area. Here are some of the best topics in this category.

These are brilliant topics for an essay or research paper. Learners should research any of these ideas extensively and take time to write top-notch pieces.

  • Should a corporate organization fire a worker with social media details that could hurt its image?
  • How corporate social responsibility initiatives on social media affect a business
  • How enterprises manage negative social media responses
  • Is controversial fit notion on social media ethical?
  • The performance of product introductions on social media
  • How social media can help in the achievement of responsible business
  • Can social media cause a confidentiality breach in a company?
  • Improper business activities and practices in social media
  • How blogs have toned down most business ethics
  • Ethical ways employees can use social media for non-company and personal purposes
  • Ethical ways a business can use social media to answer customer questions
  • Health company policies for guiding employees’ conduct on social media
  • How a business can ethically post on social media
  • Practical tips for using social media for corporate social responsibility
  • How companies can manage brands and trust in social media
  • Should a business turn off social media comments?
  • Proper ethical conduct on social media
  • How to apply Kantian Ethics when using social media for business purposes
  • How employees can use social media ethically to achieve a company’s objectives
  • How to enhance ethics when using social media for business

Business Ethics Essay Topics for College Students

Perhaps, you want to write an essay on an ethics topic in business. In that case, consider these ideas for your paper.

  • How fair play can improve a company’s bottom line
  • Corporate responsibility- What are the ethical underpinnings?
  • Is ethics a required course in business?
  • Ethical practices for modern businesses
  • What causes unethical behavior by companies
  • Is personal integrity a moral and a function for corporate success?
  • Ethical decision-making rules in a corporate environment
  • What are the qualities of an ethical business leader?
  • Transparency and objectivity as business leadership traits
  • How ethical leaders maintain their temper
  • How ethical business leaders deal with anger
  • Is using violence and strength a trait of ethical leaders?
  • What is the role of corporate culture in business ethics?
  • Methods of incorporating ethics in a company’s corporate culture
  • How the management affects an organizational culture
  • Factors determining people’s behavior in a corporate environment
  • How to conduct a cultural audit in a company
  • Lessons from organizational crises and corporate scandals
  • Business ethics in mergers’ management
  • How organizational culture can enhance a company’s performance
  • How encoding business values can prevent destructive technologies
  • Building a robust foundation for a company’s data to improve security
  • Stakeholder privacy in information dissemination
  • How to cultivate trust when dealing with dangerous technologies
  • How to demonstrate transparency when using business technology
  • How ethical is data surveillance?
  • How to deploy technology’s power of all
  • How to advise employees about the ethical use of technology
  • How unethical use of technology can affect a business
  • How to train technologists about ethical ways of eliminating product bias

This category also has hot topics in business ethics that educators and the audience will find interesting to read. Nevertheless, extensive research is necessary to come up with a brilliant essay on any of these ideas.

Dissertation Topics in Business Ethics

Perhaps, you’re pursuing an MBA or Ph.D., and you need a topic for your dissertation. In that case, this section has some of the best business ethics topics for presentation to your dissertation committee. Consider the following ideas for your paper.

These are ethics topics in business that most experts will find interesting. Yet, hese ideas still require extensive research to develop comprehensive papers.

  • Business ethics in the publishing industry- Authorship collaboration and sponsorship
  • How higher education institutions can teach business ethics- Comparing developing and developed countries
  • How to define the aesthetics concept in business ethics
  • Challenges facing ethical practices in the tourism sector
  • Ethics in practice and theory- What is the difference?
  • Business research ethics- An evaluation of incentives and more profound objectives in business
  • Analyzing ethical decision-making when doing business online
  • Historical countdown of ethical decision-making in business
  • Exploration of ethic code in a company via the management perspective
  • How to use the code of ethics to win trust among the employees
  • Business ethics within the share market
  • Motivations for business decisions by citizens- An ethical perspective
  • Corporate egoism, bribery, and exploitation- What are the links?
  • Business ethics practice and perceptions by students doing business while pursuing higher education
  • Business contracts and corruption among the international society
  • Investigating gift-giving, pharmaceutical representatives, and business ethics
  • Analyzing the relationship between business organizations and civil society via an ethical perspective
  • How corporate ethic code influences the employees’ sales behavior
  • How to integrate business ethics in corporate social responsibility
  • A critical analysis of a company’s management ethics

Business Ethics Debate Topics

Debates around business ethics aim to argue a position’s merit, differences between right and wrong, and common ethical boundaries. Here are controversial business ethics topics to consider for your project.

  • Should companies ban workplace relationships?
  • A comparison of genetically modified seeds versus pesticide use on seeds
  • Should clearance pricing have controls?
  • Is monopolizing all industry aspects ethical for a company?
  • How antibacterial soap affects people
  • Should countries that have legalized marijuana allow businesses to advertise it?
  • How ethical and relevant is performance review in a company?
  • Should companies compensate customers for delayed deliveries?
  • How over criminalizing a company affects society
  • The effectiveness of shareholder model in public company’s management
  • Is native advertising ethical and appropriate?
  • How large companies use their monopoly to influence consumers
  • Are white-collar criminals corporate psychopaths?
  • Should pharmaceutical companies sell their drugs at high prices?
  • Is tracking customers’ phones an ethical practice for banks to reduce fraud?
  • Is seeking opportunities that conflict with a government job ethical misconduct?
  • Using predictive analytics in siphoning worker’s email for risk- Is it ethical?
  • Why is reducing tax payment through inversion unethical?
  • Is colonizing another planet ethical from a business perspective?
  • Companies should give women more time to nurse their newborn babies
  • Should companies buy products from a business that doesn’t practice business ethics?
  • Should public institutions like schools hire the services of private companies?
  • Should amusement parks have unique safety regulations, depending on their locations?
  • Should business leaders and CEOs earn higher salaries than the other employees?
  • Should a small business have similar recall rules with global corporations?
  • Should US companies depend on the federal government’s bailout during financial trouble?
  • Should businesses use healthcare programs to pay for employees’ yoga studios, health clubs, and fitness needs?
  • Should companies share cancer research data with the general public?
  • Should firms that manufacture dangerous or addictive products contribute resources to the research for their use?
  • Why using workplace surveillance systems on employees is unethical
  • Why internet censorship is unethical and ridiculous
  • Businesses should ethically pay employees the minimum wage that the federal government mandates them
  • Companies should pay equal wages to all employees regardless of their gender or sex identity
  • Companies should prevent sexual harassment
  • Businesses should be responsible for preventing workplace discrimination
  • Companies should educate employees about ethical issues regarding their social media usage
  • Every company should be responsible for the safety and health of employees at the workplace
  • Every business should be held accountable for ethical issues surrounding its environmental responsibility

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research paper on ethics in business

80 Outstanding Business Ethics Research Paper Topics

Business Ethics Research Paper Topics

A business ethics research paper has to be engaging and a solution to a particular economic challenge. We have a compilation of the best business ethics topics to help you achieve this task. Read on.

Social Media Business Ethics Paper Topics

Writing a research paper for a high grade is not an easy task for every student. Check social media business ethics topics to get some inspiration.  

  • Is monitoring employee’s online behavior by companies ethical?
  • Should a company fire an employee if they find their information on social media detrimental to its image?
  • What is the role of social media in achieving responsible business
  • The impact of CSR initiatives on Facebook and Twitter
  • How do new product introductions perform on social media?
  • How do enterprises manage negative responses on Facebook?
  • How to increase positive responses without eroding business ethics
  • Is the notion of ‘controversial fit’ on social media ethical?

Business Ethics Research Topics on Privacy

  • Installation of surveillance cameras to supervise employees
  • To what extent can bosses watch over the actions of their staff?
  • Is intercepting and reading E-mail messages in an office ethical?
  • What ethical problem does the merging of databases containing personal information pose?
  • The emergence of hackers and crackers and the threat to privacy
  • Software for decoding digital information
  • Who decides the personal or private information to gather?
  • Do businesses adhere to the confidentiality of information policy?

Health and Safety Business Ethics Paper Topics

  • How does organizational ethical climate affect personal safety ethics?
  • The conflict between personal safety ethics and professional safety ethics
  • Is the office ergonomics a pressing concern?
  • The role of the Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • Facility design consistent with health and safety regulations
  • Hazard identification and correction by companies
  • Who is responsible for shutting down dangerous activities
  • Provision of medical surveillance in workplaces

List of Business Ethics Topics on Environmental Damage

  • Are businesses using energy-efficient lighting?
  • Proper thermostat control of heating and cooling systems
  • Do companies have computer equipment operating efficiently?
  • Use of wind power and solar panels by industries
  • Reducing the business’s environmental impact and carbon footprint.
  • Replacing plastic packaging with biodegradable materials
  • Examining the effects of the business practices on other species
  • Dealing with activities that involve clearing land and destroying animals’ habitats

Ethical Research Paper Topics on Internal Relationships

  • Job satisfaction and dedication levels of employees
  • Impact of bullying and discrimination on workers
  • Productivity levels fall of employees when companies do not care about them
  • How to sustain a healthy atmosphere among employees
  • Unfair treatment due to race, religion or gender
  • How effective is the anti-discrimination law?
  • Bias among employees
  • Eliminating unethical behaviors within an organization

Ethics Research Paper Topics on Business Leadership

  • What is the mark of an ethical leader?
  • Objectivity and transparency as leadership traits
  • Leaders with strong, virtuous values those with weak values
  • Maintaining your temper as a leader
  • Dealing with anger in business as a leader
  • Can leadership prevail in the use of strength and violence?
  • How a leader’s moral stance determines his ethics
  • Are women better business leaders than men?

Interesting Business Ethics Topics on Social Responsibility

  • Making ethical decision making in big corporations.
  • Understanding the concept of corporate responsibility.
  • An inspiration for social responsibility in the workplace
  • Investing in corporate social responsibility
  • How CSR trends are evolving over time
  • Striking a balance between profit and social responsibility
  • Achieving competitive advantage and CSR
  • How learning can contribute to CSR

Business Ethics Paper Topic Idea in Sports

  • Encouraging character development through sports
  • How unethical behavior affects ones moral and ethical standards outside the pitch
  • Are sports competitions alienated from real life?
  • How games serve as a primary outlet of our ethics
  • Is faking a foul or injury ethical?
  • How athletes attempt to get a head start in a race
  • Using performance-enhancing drugs
  • Intimidating or taunting opponents

Advertising Ethical Issues Topics for Papers

  • Should children appear in adverts?
  • Is it right for half-naked ladies to appear in adverts?
  • Is exaggerating ads ethical?
  • Talking about the side effects of products in ads
  • Alcohol ads on TV
  • Cigarettes and tobacco
  • Fooling customers through practical things
  • Ethics of advertising a sanitary napkin

Bonus Ethics Paper Topics

  • The roots of business ethics in psychology.
  • The relationship between business success and personal integrity
  • The place of moral leadership in a company
  • How to make the right decisions every day at work
  • Implications of leadership malfunctions and ethical failures
  • How far can an ethical mishap take a company?
  • Who should be the moral police in a corporate organization?
  • What are the kinds of ethical dilemmas that people face at work every day?

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After going through the comprehensive list of topics concerning papers on business ethics, nothing can stop you now. All you need to do is to select one and get going. Nonetheless, if you still find it difficult, we have guru writing help on how to write business ethics research papers and much more! Give your assignment a professional feel by using our top-rated assistance now! The process is as easy as pie. Just c ontact us with a “ do my custom research paper now” request and get an A+. Why try to work on a paper and risk failing when an expert is only a click away! 

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Ethics in the Business Research Research Paper

This paper is bout business research ethics. Generally, when undertaking a business research, the researcher needs to understand that the exercise involves dealing with many other societal issues that can directly affect the final outcome of the research.

This paper explores in detail various aspects of research ethics in business. Even though personal values are an important consideration in ethical decision making, they are regarded by some scholars as just one of the components that guide the decisions, actions, and policies of organizations (Carrigan, 2005).

It has been noted that the burden of ethical behavior relates to an organization’s values and traditions, not just to the individuals who make the decisions and execute them.

Various business research ethical issues and how they affect the world of business research are discussed. In some cases, suggestions are made on how to ensure that researchers emerge victorious despite the challenging social environment that they have to operate in.


Ethics, be it in management practice, or in research, requires very strong leadership. To a large degree, ethical behavior within an organization is controlled by existing values and the culture.

However, it is important to note that values and culture in an organization are just some of the components that affect the decision making process. Other components are existing competition and the operating environment, whether political or technological.

As noted by John Maxwell, the level of a person’s effectiveness is, to a large extent, determined by his or her ability to lead others (Maxwell, 2007). This is an important characteristic in research and researchers must work hard to improve their leadership qualities in order to achieve a high level of effectiveness. A researcher with strong leadership skills exhibits a high level of influence and this leads to a greater impact.

The ability to prioritize issues is a critical quality of any leader, manager, or researcher. According to Maxwell’s law of priorities, the fact that a researcher may be busy carrying on with his or her research does not necessarily imply that he or she is realizing the original objectives of the research.

It is, therefore, extremely essential for the researcher to assess the weight of every research issue in order to determine how best to approach the whole research process without causing harm to any one (Maxwell, 2007).

The Nature of Business and Management Research

A misconception within the business world is that research, regardless of what it is about, is simply an academic activity meant to help the research receive his or her academic qualification. This, however, is not true. These circles also believe that researchers are not familiar with the managerial environment and the type of issues faced by managers in the business world (Ferrell, Fraedrich & Ferrell, 2009).

This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that most managers do not know how to use research findings and as such, they can not utilize the results and conclusions of research. However, there are similarities that cut across research for academic qualification and that for solving business related problems. The nature of the research is what will guide the planning process.

Typically, business research plays two critical roles for businesses. First, it is part of the business intelligence feedback process. It, therefore, provides decision makers with data on the effectiveness of the current business strategies and provides insights for essential changes.

These may be strategies for marketing, production, quality assurance, and distribution (Carrigan, 2005). Secondly, business research is the principal instrument for exploring and pinpointing new opportunities in the market place such as identifying potential customers, forecasting the number of customers, and learning as much as possible their life styles, ages, genders, incomes, and professions.

Research contributes to management activities through three distinct functional roles. Firstly, research has a descriptive function, which deals with the collection and presentation of data. Secondly, research has a diagnostic function which is about trying to explain the data with a view to finding specific solutions to particular business issues.

For example, determining the impact on sales when the sales strategy changes. Thirdly, research has a predictive function. In a continuously changing global business environment, the concern is how businesses can forecast future developments in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arise (Ferrell et al., 2009).

Among other things, research facilitates effective management. In the business world, undertaking a research is a way clearing any doubts about the business operations. Based on research findings, an organization’s decision making process may be greatly enhanced and any decision arrived at will be backed by existing facts rather than assumptions.

Ethical Issues in Business Research

Generally, ethics is about how people relate with one another based on what is morally acceptable. It is different from law in that while under law, there is always punishment for wrong doing, this is not the case where issues are dealt with ethically. To a large extent, having a code of ethics in place is meant to protect all parties involved in a research project (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004).

Despite the fact that ethical considerations are philosophical in nature, there is no common agreement among philosophers regarding such beliefs.

However, there is a common trend among different societies seeking to determine their own norms in order to control how individuals behave towards one another. Generally, these norms are about suggesting what a member of a group should do under certain conditions (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004).

According to Bryman, Bell and Bryman (2007), the subject of ethics in business research spins around a number of issues that occur quite frequently in the process of carrying out a research project. First, there is need to determine whether any harm was caused to participants.

Secondly, it is important to find out whether participants consented to working closely with the researcher in whichever way. Another critical thing for the researcher to concern himself or herself with is privacy. Intruding a participants’ private space is another thing that is ethically not acceptable by researchers. Finally, it is vital to check if there is any form of deception.

These four principles, nevertheless, overlap somewhat (Ferrell et al., 2009). As an example, one can not easily figure out how the concept of informed consent can be embedded into a research activity where a researcher conceals so much information from the participants in order to fool them into taking part in the research.

Human Rights and Onuses of Parties

There are three groups of people in any research process. These include the researcher, the user of the research results, and the respondent. Ordinarily, a number of ethical issues arise when members of these distinct groups interact with one another.

Rights and Obligations of the Researcher

Ordinarily, any business research should concern itself with providing scientific proof for any business phenomena being examined. The rights and obligations of the researcher include the following:

Harm to Participants

Any research that will eventually harm participants is dangerous and must be rejected by all means. According to Bryman et al. (2007), harm may happen in a number of ways. In some cases, the participants may suffer physical harm while in some the harm caused may ruin a respondent’s reputation or his or her self esteem.

It is also possible that harm may affect one’s career development, ruining his or her opportunities to work in other places. Sadly, this may be accompanied with disgraceful acts. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to identify cases where harm may be caused to participants.

However, a researcher must take all necessary precautions to ensure that the research being undertaken will not cause harm to the participants (Carrigan, 2005).

The aim of the researcher should be to maintain high moral standards by ensuring that research data is objective and factual. Furthermore, it is completely unethical for a researcher to take a stand because of a desire to see the research turn out in a certain way.

Distortion of Research Findings

Ensuring that a research is carried out in an honest manner is the responsibility of all parties involved in the research. Obviously, it is wrong for any one to interfere with the results of a research whether for personal or other reasons. In addition, it is ethically wrong for any researcher to blow up the outcome of a research by altering results.

In other words, it is up to the research professional to ensure that clients as well as participants get results that are genuine and reliable. For example, a researcher must do everything within his or her powers to get questionnaires filled by participants rather than collecting only a few responses and completing the rest.

The researcher should also be willing to explain any unexpected events that may have happened in the process of conducting the research. There is no doubt that the concealment of errors and variations from specific required procedures will lead to a misinterpretation of the results.


Where it is the wish of participants to remain unidentified, the researcher must do everything within his or her powers to make sure that this agreement is not broken. Vital information such as name and address of the respondent must be kept a secret and should never be made available to any one without the express authority of the respondent.

Any private information gathered from a participant must never be left in the hands of any other person. Researchers must also ensure that the results of the result are true and not compromised to present a falsified outcome.

This is part of what the user of the research results is entitled to and this right must never be interfered with. It is, therefore, in order for users of the research results to find out if issues of confidentiality were fully addressed by the researcher (Ferrell et al., 2009).

Where a researcher fails to carefully address the participants’ concern of confidentiality, participants eventually develop a negative attitude about taking part in any research. Clearly, this will poses a serious problem for any future research to be undertaken. The researcher’s reputation goes down and unfortunately, this behavior ends up affecting other innocent researchers (Bryman et al., 2007).

Disclosure of Defective Information and/or Erroneous Conclusions

Despite the fact that this does not amount to ethical dilemma, it is, nevertheless, a requirement that the researcher undertakes the research based on acceptable scientific standards. The problem arises when the final outcome of the research is not well aligned with the research data collected.

The researcher must also not use his or her understanding of research methods and techniques to manipulate the results of the research or, to deliberately blind his or her audience (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004).

Stealing Ideas from other Research Proposals

This may happen where a researcher submits his or her research proposal but this is later maliciously used by a client for other reasons and without the knowledge of the research professional. The end result of this is that someone else becomes the beneficiary and illegally uses the proposal to accomplish his or her agenda.

Lack of Informed Consent

Before a research can proceed, it is vital for the researcher to fully address the concern resulting from lack of informed consent. The bulk of the discussion tends to focus on what is commonly called disguised or covert observation. Under covert observation, a researcher secretly observes participants secretly (Bryman et al., 2007).

In spite of the fact that covert research is unethical, it is also advantageous and may be used in some cases to evade serious problems. It is highly likely that participants in a research may fake their actions when being observed.

Fear among respondents may also cause them to avoid researchers. Clearly, covert methods are not acceptable given that they violate the confidentiality of participants. This certainly goes against the desire to protect the privacy of research participants (Bryman et al., 2007).

Rights and Obligations of the User

Similar to the researcher, the user of the research results takes responsibility for certain aspects of the research. Among the rights and obligations of the user are the following:

Ethics between Buyer and Seller

In some cases, a firm may act unfairly by buying a business research proposal and then proceeding to ask for competitive bidding from eligible firms in order to make the public believe that the selection process was duly followed. Unsuspecting bidders fall into this trap and innocently submit their bids.

Asking for research proposals that will not be used like in this situation is totally against research ethics and must be condemned with the strongest terms possible.

Relationship with Research Companies

Considering that each research is a completely different task, research companies must take time to understand the requirements of the research at hand. Among other things, this is meant to ensure that proper results are realized from every single research project. Certainly, each research will have its own unique problem statement, objectives, and research questions among others.

An Open Relationship with Interested Parties

All interested parties are expected to make use of the research outcomes in the correct way. It is wrong for any user to interpret the results in a manner that presents falsified results. Drawing conclusions that are not in line with what the research is expected to achieve is unethical and must not be encourage. Usually, this is done for selfish interests or for political reasons.

Rights and Obligations of the Respondents

Much like the other parties, respondents in a research also have a right to know what the research is all about. Reasons for carrying out the research must be made very clear to the respondents and nothing should be concealed. In addition, participants have a right to know how the issue of confidentiality and privacy will be handled during the research.

The Obligation to be Honest

Given that respondents play a big role in any research, it is essential for the researcher to encourage honesty. Both the researcher and the respondents must be honest with each other. While the researcher must ensure that nothing but the truth is exposed to the respondents, the respondents equally have a responsibility to remain honest and respond truthfully.

Privacy is a major concern especially for respondents. While some respondents decide on remaining anonymous, others will choose to disclose personal details such as names and addresses among others.

Very important is the fact that the researcher must make a covenant with the respondents not to disclose any confidential details to third parties. Any confidential information must be stored securely and only accessed by authorized personnel.

Among other things, this principle is meant to encourage participants to freely participate in the research and cooperate fully. Where respondents feel cheated and disrespected their level of participation will definitely be affected and the researcher may end up on the losing end.


Researchers must be aware of the fact that hiding the truth from respondents in quite unethical. Concealing the truth is a clear indicator of the fact that the researcher is not being honest. It is common for researchers to hide the truth when the type of research being done is a sensitive one that could be scary for the respondent.

Some people have, however, defended this behavior claiming that no harm is caused by concealing information from the participants. Regardless of the reason for the concealment, the practice is unethical and must not be encouraged for whatever reason. Closely related to this is the respondent’s right to be informed of everything about the research.

Opponents of this notion always wonder whether a small deception leads to any substantial increment to the value of the research. According to (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004), however, some degree of concealment is necessary in some research. An example is where undertaking a research carries some risk and the researcher has no option but to conduct the research covertly.

According to Bryman et al. (2007), deception is used by some researchers to try and model the desired results. Apparently, deception may be allowed in some cases so as to ensure that the originality of the data is not lost. For those opposed to the idea of deception in research, there are two things to bear in mind. First and foremost, it is completely wrong to encourage deception in research.

Despite the fact that scholars are fully aware of the existence of deception in research, the practice is totally unethical and the problem must be seriously dealt with in order to guarantee the usefulness of a research. Secondly, vested interest in research by professional researchers is also a major concern.

The idea of researchers behaving like spies can really work against them and make participants treat them with so much suspicion. Obviously, this will work against future research undertakings (Bryman et al., 2007). It is, however, important to note that when discussion this aspect of ethics, the biggest challenge has to do with the fact that deception is so rampant in business related research.

In most instances, researchers will rarely provide research participants with the complete details about a research. To some scholars, researchers have to condone with this practice and seemingly, there is no way they can avoid it. To such researchers, therefore, the practice of deception is justifiable. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to know when to act covertly and when not to.

Considering the negative impact of deception on research, it is critical for researchers to do every thing possible to minimize or even get rid of deception in research. No researcher should seek to glorify himself at the expense of fellow human beings. However, where a research may not succeed without deception, the onus is on the researcher to explain everything clearly to the respondents.

Researchers and their assistants must understand that it all depends on them to use inquiry methods that appreciate and respect the social side of business research. Anything else done contrary to this is in bad light and must not be encouraged.

Other Ethical Considerations

Besides the ethical principles that have been discussed above, there are other vital ethical considerations that must be carefully examined when planning to carry out a business research (Dunfee & Nagayasu, 1993). One of these concerns relates to the gathering, storing, and using electronic data.

Questions often arise regarding the extent to which data previously collected for a research may be used in a current research with similar characteristics.

However, considering that data privacy is well guarded by law, research professional have no choice but to comply with the requirements of the law. Legal advice may, therefore, be sought in order to determine how confidential data previously gathered from research participants may be used and to what degree.

Another area of concern touches on being open and honest when presenting research outcomes to interested individuals or even organizations. To some extent, this is also closely linked to the ethical issues of informed consent as well as deception discussed earlier. It is important for the researchers to ensure that there is mutual benefit from research for the researcher and the participants (Dunfee & Nagayasu, 1993).

In a way this leads to reciprocity where the research ends up benefiting the researcher as well as his or her participants. Clearly, this is in line with the principle of giving back to the society which is a very important consideration especially because research work is here to stay if participants are not well taken care of, involving them in future research projects may prove to be very challenging (Bryman et al., 2007).

Others issues are related to affiliation and conflict of interest. Obviously, where a research has been sponsored by a funding organization, it is highly likely that the organization will influence the research results given that it has a vested interest in the research outcome. Clearly, the integrity of such a research is highly questionable and doubts associated with it may render the research outcomes unreliable.

However, this problem may be lessened or fully addressed by involving an independent party in the verification of the research findings. The independent verifier may even be involved right from the planning stage of the research.

As discussed in this paper, there is so much that goes into planning for a business research activity. Clearly, a good understanding of ethical principles is necessary to ensure that research is done in a way that does not disrespect the wishes of all parties involved.

It is, however, quite difficulty to distinguish between ethical and unethical research practices. Despite this difficulty, an honest research professional and one who is determined to do what is right can easily tell the difference between these two.

Where rules have to be bent slightly, it is imperative to do so with so much caution so as not to harm anyone involved in the research. As explained earlier, there are instances this may apply such when a researcher has to carry out his or her research covertly.

Although it may be challenging to guarantee honesty on the part of the respondents, researchers must everything possible to make sure that this happens. Apparently, enough literature exists to offer guidance to the researcher in this regard.

With the advancement in technology and the increased use of the increased use of the Internet, numerous approaches may be used to gather data for research purposes. Unfortunately this presents a serious ethical concern.

Most data is available through online databases and can be accessed by any one with or without permission. Luckily, such challenges resulting from the increased use of technology are negligible considering that computer experts who can effectively deal with issues of security and data privacy are today available almost everywhere.

Bryman, A., Bell, E., & Bryman, A. (2007). Business Research Methods. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Carrigan, M. (2005). Ethics and International Marketing: Research Background and Challenges . Bingley, BD: Emerald Group Publishing.

Dunfee, T.W., & Nagayasu, Y. (1993). Business Ethics: Japan and the Global Economy. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Ferrell, O. C., Fraedrich, J., & Ferrell, L. (2009). Business Ethics 2009: Ethical Decision Making and Cases . Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Herbst, F., & Coldwell, D. (2004). Business Research. Cape Town, South Africa: Juta and Company Ltd.

Maxwell, J.C. (2007). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership; Follow them and People will Follow You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

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    Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. Scientists and researchers must always adhere to a certain code of conduct when collecting data from people.

  17. The Perception of Ethics in Business: Analysis of Research Results

    The paper addresses the concepts of business ethics and corporate social responsibility in the old vis-à-vis the new economy. The effects of globalization and its impact on the transition from ...

  18. What Is Ethics in Research & Why Is It Important?

    For instance, ethical standards govern conduct in medicine, law, engineering, and business. Ethical norms also serve the aims or goals of research and apply to people who conduct scientific research or other scholarly or creative activities. There is even a specialized discipline, research ethics, which studies these norms.

  19. Professional Ethics Research Paper Topics

    This page provides a comprehensive list of professional ethics research paper topics, offering students studying ethics a valuable resource for their academic endeavors. Delve into the diverse world of professional ethics, explore its significance, and discover a wide array of research paper topics that can enrich your studies.

  20. Business Ethics Research Paper Topics

    170+ Fantastic Business Ethics Research Paper Topics To Try Out Many students struggle to choose their business ethics research paper topics. That's because this subject has controversial and fascinating issues. What's more, this subject keeps widening because people engage in different businesses. And people can't do business without ethics.

  21. 80 Excellent Business Ethics Research Paper Topics

    Are businesses using energy-efficient lighting? Proper thermostat control of heating and cooling systems Do companies have computer equipment operating efficiently? Use of wind power and solar panels by industries Reducing the business's environmental impact and carbon footprint.

  22. Ethics in the Business Research

    This paper is bout business research ethics. Generally, when undertaking a business research, the researcher needs to understand that the exercise involves dealing with many other societal issues that can directly affect the final outcome of the research. This paper explores in detail various aspects of research ethics in business.

  23. Privacy and Ethics in Data Collection for Business Intelligence (BI

    Guidance for putting data ethics into practice, including in generative AI applications; Embracing ethical data use in BI is not just the right thing to do—it's a strategic move that mitigates risks and builds trust with customers and stakeholders. Set out towards a more ethical and data-savvy future by downloading the full white paper today.

  24. research paper on business ethics

    References 1. Stephanie yang (2014) Bernie madoff imprisonment for the fraud he occurred and importance of ethics while continuing business 2. Karan berman and joe knight (2009) too good to be true and relevance of ethics 3. Will Kenton (2018) ethics erosion and relevance of ethics in the business 4.