We are all taught basic ethics at a young age. Don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t blame your sister for the cake missing from the fridge if you are the culprit.
At its most fundamental level, ethics (and business ethics) involves distinguishing from right from the wrong and then doing the right rather than the wrong thing.
Unfortunately, ethical dilemmas are rarely that simple and particularly so in relation to business ethics.
No, a business should not steal another’s intellectual property, mislead a court about doing so and if caught, blame others rather than accept responsibility, however these are not the areas in which organisations run into issues. If a business is doing any of this then it will be doing so with its eyes open.
The more problematic area for business ethics is where the organisation is acting legally but where its actions are morally dubious. Where they are blindsided and unprepared for the consequences.
For instance, did Cambridge Analytica break any laws with its data harvesting? Why should it matter how old the employees are who manufacture the soccer balls you sell? How much should a supermarket pay for the litre of milk it will sell to its customers? All issues that have affected major corporations.
When organisations get it wrong, there is no hiding from the speed of the internet. Viral outrage on Facebook is now the building blocks for mainstream news stories. The reputation and branding of an organisation can be damaged so swiftly, even in instances where they have acted within legal requirements.
Good business ethics is about doing what is right by users, customers, suppliers and employees and to society as a whole, without losing sight of the organisations reason for being. To do this an organisation must be able to recognise what is ‘right’ and not just what is lawful.
When it does so, a healthy workplace culture will result, delivering strong values throughout its workforce, and the rewards that follow. Responsible and committed employees deliver high levels of productivity and greater creativity within the organisation. New ideas, new products and new practices lead to improvement. This leads to growth and so on.
Practicing good business ethics in the majority of instances is an important ingredient in the recipe for success.