Academic journal article International Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management

Values Driving Decisions in Questionable Purchasing Situations

Academic journal article International Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management

Values Driving Decisions in Questionable Purchasing Situations

Article excerpt


During the past two decades, considerable attention has been paid to the ethics of purchasing professionals.[1] A principal finding has been that these professionals continue to be enticed, and in many cases acquiesce, to behavior that can be construed as morally questionable.[2]

The purpose of this article is to examine the values underlying ethical and unethical behavior within the purchasing profession. The exploratory study undertaken here suggests that purchasing professionals approach ethical decision making with a set of values related to the socialization process both inside and outside of their profession. More specifically, the study assesses the following questions:

1. How ethically do purchasing professionals handle a variety of situations, and are some situations more difficult than others?

2. Are the different situations faced by purchasing professionals driven by different sets of values?

Following a brief discussion of the history of ethics and a more extensive discussion of the relationship of culture, values, and ethical behavior, the results of an exploratory study addressing the two questions are presented. A summary of the findings and suggestions for further research intended to improve the development of ethical guidelines concludes the presentation.


Ethics is primarily a normative discipline, describing what should be, not how someone acts or reacts to a situation. The normative study of ethics has two major perspectives or types of theories: deontological and teleological.[3] Deontological theories of ethics suggest that only the end is important, while teleological theories suggest that means and even intentions must be examined in order to determine whether an action is ethical. To further assess ethical behavior, the concepts of rights, obligations, and justice have been promoted as evaluative criteria.[4] Thus, mainstream normative ethics consists of two broad models for determining ethical behavior and uses the concepts of rights, obligations, and justice as evaluative criteria. As an example, a buyer going to lunch with a supplier may be considered ethical or unethical based on the end result of the action, or on the intentions of the parties involved and on the nature of the luncheon experience itself. In deciding whether the end result is ethical, the notion of obligations of the parties to themselves and others, the resulting justice to the parties, or rights of the affected parties may be used.

Recently, psychologists have taken a positive approach to theory development and provided psychologically based theories for moral conduct.[5] The focus of these theories is on learning theory, with the suggestion that people move through a series of behavioral stages from a moral perspective. Much of the psychologically based work treats individuals as isolated decision makers with no ties to an organization or industry. Very little psychological research has examined contexts in which organizations and their cultures and rules impact behavior. This limits the application of these theories in situations in which behavior may be constrained or even dictated by policy or environment.

To rectify this problem, marketing scholars have developed several models of ethical behavior and have conducted numerous surveys of ethical and nonethical behavior patterns.[6] These models improve on the psychologically based models by providing for the impact of organizational, situational, and environmental factors not present in psychological theories.

This article reports the results of an exploratory study that is intended to lay the groundwork for more expansive attempts at synthesizing the psychological tradition with that of a context which may affect the decision being made. In particular, values are examined for their impact on purchasing decision making.


Values are an important component of culture. …

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