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Introduction to Business Ethics

Introduction to Business Ethics

Simply put, ethics involves learning what is right or wrong, and then doing the right thing -- but "the right thing" is not nearly as straightforward as conveyed in a great deal of business ethics literature. Most ethical dilemmas in the workplace are not simply a matter of "Should Bob steal from Jack?" or "Should Jack lie to his boss?"

Many ethicists consider emerging ethical beliefs to be "state of the art" legal matters, i.e., what becomes an ethical guideline today is often translated to a law, regulation or rule tomorrow. Values, which guide how we ought to behave, are considered moral values, e.g., values such as respect, honesty, fairness, responsibility, etc. Statements around how these values are applied are sometimes called moral or ethical principles.

The concept has come to mean various things to various people, but generally it's coming to know what it right or wrong in the workplace and doing what's right -- this is in regard to effects of products / services and in relationships with stakeholders. Consequently, there is no clear moral compass to guide leaders through complex dilemmas about what is right or wrong.
Note that many people react that business ethics, with its continuing attention to "doing the right thing," only asserts the obvious ("be good," "don't lie," etc.), and so these people don't take business ethics seriously. For many of us, these principles of the obvious can go right out the door during times of stress.

Business ethics has come to be considered a management discipline, especially since the birth of the social responsibility movement in the 1960s. In that decade, social awareness movement raised expectations of businesses to use their massive financial and social influence to address social problems such as poverty, crime, environmental protection, equal rights, public health and improving education. The emergence of business ethics is similar to other management disciplines. As commerce became more complicated and dynamic, organizations realized they needed more guidance to ensure their dealings supported the common good and did not harm others -- and so business ethics was born.

Note that 90% of business schools now provide some form of training in business ethics. Today, ethics in the workplace can be managed through use of codes of ethics, codes of conduct, roles of ethicists and ethics committees, policies and procedures, procedures to resolve ethical dilemmas, ethics training, etc.

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