For the past few decades, many executives, administrators, social scientists, and the public at large have seen unethical behavior as a cancer working on the tissue of society. Many are concerned that a crisis of ethics in the West is undermining our competitive strength. This crisis involves businesspeople, government officials, customers, and employees. Especially worrisome is unethical behavior among employees at all levels of the business organization. For example, consider the notion that employees account for a higher percentage of retail thefts than do customers or the suggestion that one in every fifteen employees steals from his or her employer.
In addition, we are all too familiar with illegal and unethical behavior on Wall Street, pension scandals in which executives gamble on risky business ventures with employees' retirement funds, companies that expose their workers to hazardous working conditions, and blatant favoritism in hiring and promotion practices. Although such practices occur throughout the world, their presence serves to remind us of the challenge facing organizations in the twenty-first century.
This challenge is especially difficult because standards for what constitutes ethical behavior lie in a gray zone where clear-cut right-or-wrong answers may not exist. As a result, sometimes a case can be made that