Towards improved business
practice: Implementing the
principle of double effect
Oddny Wiggen and Lene Bomann-Larsen
We have presented a framework for assessing the side-effect harm of business operations by introducing a revised version of the classic principle of double effect (PDE), known from the just war tradition as well as other ethics discourses. The PDE has been reconstructed to fit the business context without jeopardizing its real meaning – the idea that, as an actor, one is responsible not only for the deliberate outcomes of one's actions but also for unplanned, but foreseeable, results. The revised PDE has then been evaluated in light of concrete cases from the world of business. This evaluation has provided valuable feedback to the framework; it has confirmed the applicability of the PDE, but also drawn attention to some shortcomings.
It is important to keep in mind that the revised PDE is a tool for assessing the side-effect harm of corporate activity. As such, it has the advantage of narrowing the scope of corporate responsibility for social and environmental predicaments by tying responsibility closely to what lies within the sphere of the company's own activities. Blaming a company for all sorts of problems that befall a community in which it operates is counterproductive. By limiting the reasonable scope of blame to actual side-effect harm, the PDE helps avoid a moving of the goalposts and may aid decision makers in taking on this responsibility and thereby improve performance.
To repeat, the revised PDE says that: