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Business Ethics – Yes or No

Business Ethics – Yes or No related articles

Business Ethics – Yes or No

26.06.2008 ob 12:28

Ethics is applied philosophy that tells us how to act when we find ourselves at the crossroads of different values. This is not only true about ethics in general, but also about business ethics and business communication ethics alike.
However, many people say - without giving it much thought or just out of ease - that reflecting on the values and philosophy of ethics is far too complex and abstract and far too useless to be bothered with. In actual fact, very few people want to be actively involved against the values of other people, who may be immoral or unethical. There are more weaklings who know it would be best to make ethical decisions and act morally, but this is not always comfortable and so they prefer to stay opportunistic. Besides upright people – those who actively stand for ethics – there is a number of people who are ruthless towards both their own and other people’s values – these are amoral people. Ethical and unethical people, weaklings and opportunists, communicate in different manners in personal and business matters, and have a different relationship towards business communication ethics.
Those who find thinking too much about business communication ethics, will of course try to argue their standpoint and behaviour. Here are four common arguments as to why it is right that the management occasionally makes unethical decisions and acts immorally:

Company interests may come before ethics. This means that the end justifies the unethical means for attaining these goals. In addition, these are usually short-term interests and the standpoint is usually contrary to the long-term interests of the management, the company and the owners.
Unethical behaviour will remain subtle. True enough, but the possibility of discovery, on the contrary, is proportional with the consequences, taking a risk is obviously not in line with the confidential role of managers.
A manager who acts unethically due to the (supposed) interests of a company, should be protected in the event of eventual discovery by the company. This expectation is naïve, as the company will protect its own common interests first.
Unethical behaviour is not explicitly in disagreement with the spirit of the law and is therefore not forbidden. Acting between the explicitly permitted and explicitly prohibited can infringe the benefits and rights of the company employees.
Business people are not supposed to be dealing with ethics, as this area is regulated by “law”. Righteousness, otherwise an important aspect of ethics, is defined by laws and other regulatory normative acts. Those who do not abide by law get punished, either in a work organisation or in society. There exist numerous regulations and instructions, articles of association and rules, rules of procedure and standards. All these normative acts are based on values that people learn in wider and more narrow environments. However, this does not mean that every dilemma must be solved between the interests and values brought by the business happening. Many reasons for this exist:
Every legal order defines what is prohibited, while everything else is permitted according to the law. However, this does not imply that everything is fair or ethical in a given case. Laws cannot prescribe everything that is permitted. They would be imperfect and would stifle the creation of the new, and progress in general.
Things that are prohibited by the law (or permitted) can be interpreted by the letter and not the sense. Therefore, judging ethics by the letter of the law is very doubtful.
The more numerous the laws, the less a state can monitor and enforce their enforcement, therefore many of those who act unethically and even on the borderline of legal can dodge punishment.
Between what the law strictly prohibit and what they specifically permit, there is a wide grey area where many unethical things can take place. Narrowing down this area with more detailed and mandatory standardisation would restrict people’s freedom. In this grey area, each man and each business entity is alone with his own judgement and his own conscience. Making decisions between the ethical and unethical, the fair and unfair, in business activity is therefore never just black and white. Every situation brings a difficult decision: how strictly or how loosely one should follow individual values. Therefore, no completely unethical and no completely ethical business behaviour exists.

How a business person thinks and acts in relation to ethics:
Weak business person
"I know I should ..."

Does not enforce values. Moral business person
"A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do!"
Strictly enforces the values.

Amoral business person
"What do I care…?
Neglects enforcing values.

Immoral business person
"The end justifies the means!"
Consciously acts against values.

Summarised from Poslovno komuniciranje: evropske razsežnosti, S. Možina, M. Tavčar, N. Zupan, A.N. Kneževič, Maribor, 2004

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