business ethics

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

business ethics

business ethics, the study and evaluation of decision making by businesses according to moral concepts and judgments. Ethical questions range from practical, narrowly defined issues, such as a company's obligation to be honest with its customers, to broader social and philosophical questions, such as a company's responsibility to preserve the environment and protect employee rights. Many ethical conflicts develop from conflicts between the differing interests of company owners and their workers, customers, and surrounding community. Managers must balance the ideal against the practical—the need to produce a reasonable profit for the company's shareholders with honesty in business practices, safety in the workplace, and larger environmental and social issues. Ethical issues in business have become more complicated because of the global and diversified nature of many large corporations and because of the complexity of government regulations that define the limits of criminal behavior. For example, multinational corporations operate in countries where bribery, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and lack of concern for the environment are neither illegal nor unethical or unusual. The company must decide whether to adhere to constant ethical principles or to adjust to the local rules to maximize profits. As the costs of corporate and white-collar crime can be high, both for society and individual businesses, many business and trade associations have established ethical codes for companies, managers, and employees. Government efforts to encourage companies to adhere to ethical standards include President Clinton's Model Business Principles (1995), in a program overseen by the Dept. of Commerce.

See M. Clinard and P. Yeager, Corporate Crime (1980); R. Berenbeim, Corporate Ethics (1987); C. Walton, The Moral Manager (1988); P. Baida, Poor Richard's Legacy (1990).

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