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Business Ethics Essay

1712 words - 7 pages

The success of modern business is apparent, but recently there is much concern in the business-and-society literature and in the general press on whether business fulfils its social role responsibly. Business ethics, corporate social responsibility and corporate governance movements have been developed in recent decades as responses to a growing sense of corporate wrongdoing. This paper attempts to explain why the three movements seem yet to have generated little in the form of widely accepted prescriptions for improvement of business behaviour to the satisfaction of the “constituents” of business, i.e. the major stakeholders. Without denying the usefulness of any of the three movements, the ...view middle of the document...

In the United States, antimonopoly legislation has existed, for example in the Anti-Trust laws from the 1880s. Consumer lobbies have successfully campaigned over the safety of motorcars and many other issues. However, business activity has also raised a wide range of critical views expressed largely in the communications media. The presence of critiques of business activity is not a new phenomenon. In particular, business activity by large enterprises has always faced criticism. Some of the critics have been internal1 , but other criticism is extended to the way large businesses behave towards small businesses and dominate consumers, suppliers and the labour market, for example2 . Some of these issues have given rise to legislation and to regulatory agencies, designed to remedy particular problems or excesses that have been identified. The publication of the International Labour Organisation’s Labour Standards in the 1920s resulted from reports of abuses as well as from the economic disruptions following the First World War. These standards have often been reported as being systematically and chronically evaded in many areas. Following these criticisms, three movements have emerged in America and Europe in recent decades, which appear to offer ways of alleviating corporate abuse. They have much in common, despite their different origins and different emphases. They are: business ethics, corporate social responsibility and corporate governance. The purposes of the present paper are: 1) to review these three movements in the light of the literature that serves them, and in the light of the problems they seek to address; 2) to identify their similarities and differences; 3) to provide a summary critique based on the notion of business as an ideology that could benefit from the introduction of a more pluralistic conception of the role of business and management; 4) to explain why the three movements seem yet to have generated little in the form of widely accepted prescriptions for improvement of business behaviour to the satisfaction of the “constituents” of business, i.e. the major stakeholders.
As mentioned in the outset of this paper, recently, i.e. in the last twenty years or so, attention has been drawn to the idea that businesses also have obligations to the wider communities. This has been manifested in the (now well-organised and articulated) business ethics movement, in the corporate social responsibility movement, and in the corporate governance movement. Within their contexts, concepts such as stakeholders and codes of practice have been, and are being developed. These three movements can now be examined in the light of the literature that serves them, and in the light of the problems they seek to address in order to identify their similarities and differences.
Business ethics as a self-conscious (voluntary) way of looking at business has shown a major growth since the 1980s. In particular, in the USA in the 1970s, concerns were being...

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