Business ethicsGeneral definition of Business Ethics
Business ethics is the branch of ethics that examines ethical rules and principles within a commercial context; the various moral or ethical problems that can arise in a business setting; and any special duties or obligations that apply to persons who are engaged in commerce. Those who are interested in business ethics examine various kinds of business activities and ask, "Is the conduct ethically right or wrong?"
Business ethics is a form of applied ethics, a branch of philosophy. As such, it takes the ethical concepts and principles developed at a more theoretical, philsophical level, and applies them to specific business situations. Generally speaking, business ethics is a normative discipline, whereby particular ethical standards are assumed and then applied. It makes specific judgements about what is right or wrong, which is to say, it makes claims about what ought to be done or what ought not to be done. While there are some exceptions, business ethicists are usually less concerned with the foundations of ethics (metaethics), or with justifying the most basic ethical principles, and are more concerned with practical problems and applications, and any specific duties that might apply to business relationships.
Business ethics isn't identical to the philosophy of business, the branch of philosophy that deals with the philosophical, political, and ethical underpinnings of business and economics. Business ethics operates on the premise, for example, that the ethical operation of a private business is possible -- those who dispute that premise, such as libertarian socialists, do so by definition outside of the domain of business ethics proper.
The philosophy of business also deals with questions such as what, if any, are a the social responsibilities of a business; business management theory; theories of individualism vs. collectivism; free will among participants in the marketplace; the role of self interest; invisible hand theories; the requirements of social justice; and natural rights, especially property rights, in relation to the business enterprise.
Business ethics is also related to political economy, which is economic analysis from political and historical perspectives. Political economy deals with the distributive consequences of economic actions. It asks who gains and who loses from economic activity, and is the resultant distribution fair or just, which are central ethical issues.
Typical issues in business ethics
While hardly exhaustive, some typical issues addressed in business ethics include:
- accounting and financial standards, and "creative accounting"
- advertising deception
- black market sales
- bribery and kickbacks
- business intelligence and industrial espionage
- political contributions
- competition versus cooperation
- corporate governance, including hostile take-overs, fiduciary responsibility, and shareholder rights issues
- corporate crime, including insider trading, price fixing, and price discrimination
- competitive disinformation
- discrimination, affirmative action, and sexual harassment;
- employee issues, such as rights, duties, illicit drug testing, key employee raiding, and professional conduct
- environmental issues, animal rights (e.g., in agriculture), and related social concerns
- Labor issues such as union strikes and union busting
- Marketing, sales, and negotiation techniques
- Product issues such as patent and copyright enfringement, planned obsolescence, product liability and product defects