It may seem that the concept of “business ethics” is an oxymoron (contradiction in terms). Can a business BE ethical — ethics asks the question of how we should behave… and businesses aren’t “people”…
But, businesses do “act” — since they express the collective actions of a group of people. So, for the purposes of our discussion, we’ll assume that a business could, possibly be ethical or unethical.
In the most general terms, ethics concerns duties. So, what are the duties concerning businesses? There are three kinds of actors in this equation, the “business”, individual persons and “society”… Think of them in a triangle (I’m not good with graphics and things…) with a double-sided arrow ( < ——- > ) between each actor and you’ll get a decent visual…..
In the most general way the question asks what each actor owes to the other two members of the triangle — so, businesses have duties to individuals (employees, customers, shareholders) and to “society”, individuals have duties to “society” and businesses and “society” has duties to individuals and businesses.
Philosophically, those duties may be based on one of many different ethical theories. The convenient, and sometimes frustrating, thing about ethical theories is that they may be applicable to a variety of topics at any given time. Also, in many instances, an ethical theory may not provide a definitive answer to an ethical quandary.
So… that’s a start… following posts will discuss specific issues..