Today was a great day, and the end of a great week of studying. Already arrived at week four of my current trimester. (Here at Griffith University we study in blocks of twelve weeks, so that’s basically a quarter of the way to the end of another course of new learning.) So, this trimester I’m studying Digital & Social Media Marketing, Negotiation, Business Ethics & Corporate Governance, and Japanese 1B. As you could imagine, student life is already picking up towards those first major mid-semester assessments. Just finished my first online quiz for Japanese yesterday. On Sunday I have my Negotiation Plan for a negotiation between the management of a dairy company (that I have been assigned to represent) and the Union, looking to create a first-time Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. Then at the end of next week, before our mid-semester break, I’ve got my Research component (Situation Analysis, SWOT Analysis, Personas and Digital Challenge Assessment) as the basis for my Digital Marketing Campaign plan due at the end of my Digital Marketing course! Phew, so yeah, I’m a busy boy right now!

Well, getting back to today! Our workshop in Business Ethics and Corporate Governance was putting the finishing touches on the first module of our studies, looking at the basic theoretical frameworks of ethical decision-making. It is pretty philosophical, but I’m really glad for what I’m learning. It is definitely laying a good foundation from which I can begin exploring business ethics over the rest of the course, looking at various case studies. We’re going to be begin our investigation with the “AWB & Iraqi Oil for Food Scandal”. Honestly, its way more interesting than it might sound!

Why Business Ethics?

To some, the concept of “business ethics” is a contradiction in terms. However, as in any area of life, there are ways to conduct business while keeping ethical considerations in mind – and not just the money. Ethics itself is the study of morality, and delves into the realm of philosophy, considering what is the best rationale for determining what is right and wrong, what is the best decision to be made in any particular situation. Similar to the pluralist society that we live in, where there are many interests represented and power is to some extent decentralized, so there are many ethical perspectives that should be taken into account when making a decision in business that could impact on the society in which we live.

Foundations of CSR & Global Citizenship

Of course, even a statement like what I just made could be questioned. What responsibility does business actually have towards society at large? There is one perspective (basically, classic economics) represented by Milton Friedman, which states that business is ultimately really only responsible to make a profit for its shareholders. Any greater responsibility towards social well-being is considered to be an unnecessary burden that ought to be rather borne primarily by the State.

In contrast, another major perspective centers on the concept of “corporate social responsibility” and “stakeholder management,” which is a big foundational element to things I’ll be learning in this course. Two basic elements to introduce CSR are Carroll’s model of CSR, in which the different economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities can be seen in a hierarchy, in which some are required (business must make a profit to survive and must comply to regulation to not get in trouble), and others are expected by society (ethics) while others are more desired (philanthropic endeavours). This also keys into the concept of the “triple bottom line,” where rather than everything being the profit/loss (economics), social and environmental contributions come into the formula for success.

Making Ethical Decisions – A Process

So how does one make ethical decisions? And more importantly, in the context of this course, how do companies make ethical decisions? Are companies (as legal entities under law) expected to be “held accountable” for ethical issues? Concepts such as “limited liability”, where shareholders are only liable to the extent of their investment of capital, are worth considering how ethical that is. Should shareholders be held liable for what they invest in? What if a company engages in unethical conduct, and you know that, but you give them your money?

Anyway, the essential process of making ethical decisions begins with underlying principles, gathering information about a particular issue, and then finally making a judgment on it. We do this every day – often in countless little situations. But what we’re considering in this course is that first stage – what principles are we following in the judgments that we make? Are they reasonable or unreasonable? We want to learn to get behind our decisions to the underlying reasons for them, and consider their basis.

A Brief Introduction to Moral Philosophy

Now we touched on some of the basic ethical theories that have been historically propounded, particularly in the West. Ethics has been debated about by philosophers such as Aristotle who spoke about virtue and ethics – essentially, that good actions flow from people of good character. Basically, all theories can be divided into two basic perspectives – those that look at the consequences and decide based on that whether decisions are right; and theories that look at the underlying moral principles behind decisions. They are called consequentialist and non-consequentialist, or more technically, teleological (coming from the Greek word for “ends”) and deontological (comes from the Greek word for “duty”).

The four theories we looked at today were:

  1. Egoism or Self-Interest – A consequentialist theory that looks at both the fulfillment of desires (short-term) and interests (long-term) of the decision-maker to decide what is right and wrong. Adam Smith was a major proponent of this, and it keys into liberal democratic concepts of the “free market”.
  2. Utilitarianism – Another consequentialist theory, but having a more collective focus on what creates a good outcome for the most people. Often associated with hedonism in the sense that it balances out the pleasure (benefits) and pain (costs) of a decision to come to a conclusion about what is best.
  3. Ethics of Duty and Kant’s Categorical Imperative – A non-consequentialist theory of ethics, originating in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher. It is primarily founded on three maxims of consistency, human dignity and universality. It is similar to the classic “Golden Rule” – doing unto others what you would have them do to you.
  4. Ethics of Rights and Justice – Another non-consequentialist theory, but rather than being focused on duty, instead the focus is on rights (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and building from there, looking at what corresponding duties are created by these rights.
All these theories have points of analysis that can be useful. Ultimately, we take these theories in a pluralist perspective, that rather than being mutually exclusive, they can be complementary. Rather than limiting ourselves to one lens, we can look through the prism of many theories to give a richer answer. That is a large part of what we’ll be doing in this course, as we approach our case studies. We will apply different theories to the facts of the case to consider different ways of understanding the ethical dilemmas being discussed.

Hope You Enjoy My Blog

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this article! And more than that, I hope you’ve been enjoying my blog (or if this is the first post you reached, that you’d decide to browse the rest of the articles I’ve been writing and sharing. I’m planning on writing more articles like this about academic topics. But I’ve also written other articles that are more about being healthy as a student under a tight budget, about fulfilling other my other aspirations, like getting back to the garden and finding out what my “big game” is. I had a friend yesterday who I met on campus who has been fasting and who was vastly encouraged by my simple green smoothie recipe! He said, “You’ve got a fan!” That was pretty confirming, I must say. It’s not that I’m out to get a fan club, but more I could tell that he didn’t just catch on that my smoothie recipe was a valuable tip, but the overall ethos of contribution and sharing resonated with him. That’s really my intention.

So if that is you too, if you find my content valuable or stimulating, please leave a comment or even leave a message on my Facebook page – or better yet, fill out my minute-long “Your Student Journey” survey! Have a great day!

P.S. A book that I highly recommend for look at CSR, and in particular in the realm of environmental and social impacts of business is Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence. It is a powerful book, with one central concept being “radical transparency” – how by providing consumers with the back-story of where a product came from and all of its impacts, we could make informed decisions about who we want to support through our buying, and how this could mobilise consumer power towards shaping the direction that business will take. Basically, it is an amazing way that free market forces could be used to help society to head into a more positive direction.

You can find the book at Amazon or Book Depository.

Also see more reviews I’ve written about some of Daniel Goleman’s other books here.





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