Bussiness Ethics Approaches

The different ethical approaches to bussiness ethics.


The Bible

Contains laws and injunctions about the fair treatment of employees. Laviticus 19:13. about justice, honesty and fairness in bussiness, " Do not steal ". Deutronomy 25;13-15 being another example. Giving full amount for fair payment.

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Protestant Theology

Protestant social teaching focused on two points, the individualistic approach which was concerned with the individuals calling and personal integrity. The second the concern about competitive individualism of capitalism and the great social inequality it brought so social solutions were offered.

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Catholic Approach

Revolves around the common good of solidarity which is a basic value held by catholic social teaching. The catholic church criticises both communism and free capitalism which acts against the poor and leads to the selish pursuit of wealth.

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Max Weber

Calvanist religous belief, max rejected economic determinism of marx. Weber claimed that calvanist beliefs helped the emergence of  modern capitalism. Calvanist dominant countries would tend toe becom capitalist countries. Calvanists believed in pre destination. Their reward for rigtheous living was economic success. However this is contrary to christian belief of charity and helping out the poor. For this reason Weber critiqued the christian approach to bussiness ethics.

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Kant would completely reject the idea that a business' main responsibility was to its shareholders. This would be treating humans (the workers) merely as a means to an end. In Kant's ethical framework, you need to imagine yourself as a law-making member in a kingdom of ends. In other words, you need to consider all stakeholders.

If someone is acting unethically, you have a duty to expose them. Put another way, if you were being scammed, you would want somebody to say something. If a factory was leaking dangerous materials and you lived nearby, you would want someone to alert the authorities. As such, you are duty bound to act this way yourself as well.

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Utilitarians would have high expectations of businesses. It isn't enough to merely consider shareholders - in fact, each shareholder's happiness is worth no more or less than the happiness of each worker. As there are usually far more workers than stockholders, Utilitarianism will protect workers rights, ensuring fair pay, safe working conditions, sociable hours etc.

People in business might misuse Utilitarian arguments. For example, imagine I am a buyer for a company. I am placing a large order - worth £50,000. I know that one company will send me a free family holiday worth £2,000 if I place my order with them. If they happen to also give the best quote, who am I harming if I take the holiday? The pleasure my family gets lying on the beach makes it ethically right to take the bribe. An Act Utilitarian would have to agree, but a Rule Utilitarian may say that taking bribes generally leads to bad decisions being made, with negative consequences. Can I really be trusted to make an unbiassed choice if a free family holiday is involved? It is a common criticism of Utilitarianism that people cannot be trusted, and are likely to make a selfish decision and then try to justify it afterwards with Utilitarian arguments.

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Natural Law

One of the purposes of human life is to live in an ordered society. As such, businesses need to be regulated to prevent them mistreating workers. Another Primary Precept is education, so Natural Law would be against child labour - it prevents a child fulfilling his God-given purpose.

People who support Natural Law take an absolutist stance on the sanctity of life, and would not work for or invest in businesses that benefitted from experiments on embryos. They would also avoid businesses that produced pornia, encouraged gambling etc. Natural Law provides absolute, deontological secondary precepts against all forms of exploitation and human rights abuse.

Some companies look to save money and cut corners to increase profits. Money here is an efficient cause for business - it is the thing that fuels the business, or provides the drive to do business. However, Aristotle said that the final cause was more important. Monsanto genetically modified soya to make it resistent to RoundUp, their herbicide. This increases the yield of the soya crop, because you can spary the crop liberally with RoundUp, and there are no weeds at all. However, this kills off lots of other wildlife, directly and indirectly. The final cause of a farmer is not to make money, and focussing on the effecient cause alone here is disasterous.

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Virtue Ethics

Aristotle talked about two types of business:

  1. Oikonomikos or household trading - e.g. where a farmer, who has crops, trades some of these for, say, clothes. Aristotle thought this sort of trading was an essential part of a eudaimon society. Clearly an individual cannot be an expert in all areas of life, and it would be inefficient to try to make everything one needs. So, you specialise, and then exchange what you produce for other goods or services. As some goods are seasonal, you need a system of money so that you can save up when it is your season (say after a harvest) and trade coins for services
  2. Chrematisike or trade for profit - Aristotle saw this as 'wholly devoid of virtue'. For Aristotle, true wealth is 'the stock of things that are useful in the community'. Trade, if done purely for profit, does not involve acquiring any true wealth. Put another way, money only has value if you exchange it for something useful. As such, if I come to a market with bread, I bring some true wealth. I exchange it for money, which I then exchange for fruit - I leave with true wealth. If I come to the market with only money, I bring nothing of true value. I may exchange several times and leave with more money, but I have produced nothing of true wealth at all.
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Virtue Ethics Pt 2

Clearly Aristotle attacks the profit-driven approach to business.

Business Ethics has in many ways made a move towards an Aristotelian approach. In the past, there was a focus on rules within a business. These just didn't work, as there was no incentive to keep the rules, and lots of reasons to break them. For example, it would be against the rules to take a day off work if I wasn't ill, but what's to stop me having a duvet day? Businesses have changed completely, and see the value of a sense of community, with both workers and customers. When you ring up, a recorded voice tells you "Your call is important to us". Lists of rules have been replaced with company values. Offices have become communities, and there has been a focus on the importance of building up relationships among staff. Are you likely to take a duvet day if you know Dave will have to work much harder in your absence?

Every business seems to have a 'mission statement' - a summary of their telos or purpose. There are no companies that state their purpose purely in terms of profits.

Virtue Theory says that eudaimonia for a community is even more important than for the individual. Asda recognises the importance of community:

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Some information used in the following revision cards was taken from:



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