Business Ethics and Social Responsibility

By Paribesh Sapkota

Ethical Issues in Management

Ethical issues in management are critical as they shape the trust and reputation of an organization among its stakeholders. These issues often revolve around principles such as fairness, transparency, honesty, and respect for individuals and the environment. Here is a detailed elaboration on some common ethical issues:

1. Conflicts of Interest

Definition: Conflicts of interest occur when an individual’s personal interests could potentially interfere with their professional responsibilities.


  • Personal Financial Gain: An employee might favor a supplier that they have a financial stake in, rather than choosing the best option for the company.
  • Nepotism: Hiring or promoting relatives or friends over more qualified candidates.

Consequences: Conflicts of interest can lead to biased decision-making, loss of trust, and damage to the organization’s reputation.

Management: Establishing clear policies and requiring disclosure of potential conflicts can help mitigate this issue. Training programs can also raise awareness and encourage ethical behavior.

2. Bribery and Corruption

Definition: Bribery involves offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting something of value to influence a business decision. Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.


  • Bribery: Offering money to a government official to secure a contract.
  • Kickbacks: Returning a portion of the payment to someone who facilitated the deal.

Consequences: Bribery and corruption undermine fair competition, lead to legal penalties, and severely damage an organization’s reputation.

Management: Implementing strict anti-bribery and anti-corruption policies, conducting regular audits, and fostering a culture of integrity can help prevent these practices.

3. Discrimination and Harassment

Definition: Discrimination involves unfair treatment based on characteristics such as gender, race, age, religion, or disability. Harassment refers to unwanted behavior that creates a hostile work environment.


  • Discrimination: Denying promotions to employees based on their gender or ethnicity.
  • Harassment: Persistent unwelcome comments or actions based on someone’s personal characteristics.

Consequences: Discrimination and harassment can lead to low employee morale, high turnover, legal action, and a toxic workplace culture.

Management: Establishing comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, providing training, and setting up clear reporting mechanisms are essential steps.

4. Privacy

Definition: Privacy issues concern the handling of sensitive personal information, ensuring it is kept confidential and used appropriately.


  • Data Breaches: Unauthorized access to personal customer or employee data.
  • Surveillance: Monitoring employees without their knowledge or consent.

Consequences: Violations of privacy can result in legal penalties, loss of trust, and reputational damage.

Management: Implementing robust data protection measures, complying with privacy laws, and ensuring transparency about data usage are key strategies.

5. Environmental Sustainability

Definition: Environmental sustainability involves conducting business in a way that protects and preserves the environment for future generations.


  • Pollution: Emitting harmful substances into the air, water, or soil.
  • Resource Depletion: Overusing natural resources without considering long-term availability.

Consequences: Neglecting environmental responsibility can lead to regulatory fines, community backlash, and long-term ecological harm.

Management: Adopting sustainable practices, reducing waste and emissions, and using renewable resources are important measures. Reporting on sustainability initiatives can also demonstrate commitment to stakeholders.

6. Fair Labor Practices

Definition: Fair labor practices ensure safe working conditions, fair wages, and respect for workers’ rights.


  • Unsafe Working Conditions: Failing to provide necessary safety equipment or training.
  • Unfair Wages: Paying below the living wage or denying benefits.

Consequences: Poor labor practices can lead to workplace accidents, low morale, legal action, and damage to the company’s reputation.

Management: Ensuring compliance with labor laws, conducting regular safety audits, and engaging in fair wage practices are critical. Creating an open dialogue with employees can also help address labor concerns.

7. Product Safety

Definition: Product safety involves ensuring that products and services are safe for consumers and do not cause harm.


  • Defective Products: Releasing products that have not been properly tested for safety.
  • Misleading Advertising: Making false claims about the benefits or safety of a product.

Consequences: Failing to ensure product safety can lead to consumer injuries, recalls, lawsuits, and a tarnished brand image.

Management: Implementing rigorous quality control processes, ensuring accurate labeling, and adhering to safety standards are essential. Responding promptly to safety concerns and recalls can also mitigate damage.

The Roots of Unethical Behavior

The roots of unethical behavior are complex and multifaceted, involving a combination of individual motivations, organizational influences, and external pressures.

Individual Factors:

  • Personal Gain: The pursuit of self-interest can lead individuals to prioritize their own needs over ethical considerations, especially when financial rewards or career advancement are at stake.
  • Rationalization: People often find ways to justify their unethical actions, whether by convincing themselves that the ends justify the means or by blaming external factors for their behavior.

Organizational Factors:

  • Culture: The prevailing culture within an organization shapes employees’ attitudes and behaviors. A culture that values results above all else or turns a blind eye to unethical conduct can create an environment where unethical behavior thrives.
  • Leadership: Leaders serve as role models and set the tone for ethical behavior within an organization. When leaders engage in or condone unethical conduct, it undermines the company’s ethical standards and encourages similar behavior among employees.
  • Pressure: High performance expectations, intense competition, and fear of failure can create pressure on employees to compromise their ethical principles in pursuit of success.

External Factors:

  • Market Conditions: Competitive pressures and market demands can compel organizations to prioritize short-term gains over long-term ethical considerations. In industries where profit margins are slim and competition is fierce, companies may feel compelled to cut corners to remain competitive.
  • Regulatory Environment: The strength of regulatory enforcement and the effectiveness of legal oversight play a significant role in deterring unethical behavior. Weak enforcement or loopholes in the legal system can create opportunities for unethical conduct to flourish.

Philosophical Approaches to Ethics

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that explores concepts of right and wrong conduct, moral principles, and the nature of ethical judgment. Philosophers have developed various approaches to ethics, each offering distinct perspectives on how to determine what is morally right or wrong. Here are some of the key philosophical approaches to ethics:

1. Utilitarianism:

  • Key Figure: Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill
  • Principle: The ethical value of an action is determined by its consequences. An action is considered morally right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
  • Application: Utilitarianism involves calculating the potential outcomes of different actions and choosing the one that maximizes overall happiness or utility.
  • Example: In a business context, a utilitarian approach might justify a decision to prioritize environmental sustainability initiatives if it leads to greater long-term benefits for society, even if it involves short-term costs for the company.

2. Deontology:

  • Key Figure: Immanuel Kant
  • Principle: Deontology emphasizes the inherent rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, rather than their consequences. Actions are judged based on whether they adhere to moral rules or duties.
  • Application: Deontological ethics involves applying universal moral principles, such as honesty, respect for autonomy, and the preservation of human dignity, to determine the morality of actions.
  • Example: According to deontological ethics, it is morally wrong to lie, regardless of the potential benefits or consequences. Therefore, even if lying could prevent harm or achieve a positive outcome, it would still be considered unethical.

3. Virtue Ethics:

  • Key Figures: Aristotle
  • Principle: Virtue ethics focuses on the character of the moral agent rather than specific actions or outcomes. It emphasizes the development of virtuous traits or qualities, such as honesty, courage, compassion, and integrity.
  • Application: Virtue ethics involves cultivating moral virtues through practice and habituation and making decisions based on what a virtuous person would do in a given situation.
  • Example: In a business context, a virtue ethicist might prioritize honesty and transparency in all dealings, striving to build a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness.

4. Rights-Based Ethics:

  • Key Figures: John Locke, John Rawls
  • Principle: Rights-based ethics holds that individuals possess certain inherent rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property, which must be respected and protected.
  • Application: Rights-based ethics involves evaluating actions based on their impact on individuals’ rights and freedoms. Actions that violate or infringe upon these rights are considered morally wrong.
  • Example: In a business setting, respecting employees’ rights to fair wages, safe working conditions, and freedom from discrimination is paramount. Violating these rights would be deemed unethical according to a rights-based approach.

Social Responsibility of Business


The concept of social responsibility in business refers to the acknowledgment that corporations have obligations beyond profit-making. It encompasses the idea that businesses should consider the impact of their activities on all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, the community, and the environment.

Arguments for Social Responsibility:

  1. Ethical Obligation: Businesses have a moral duty to contribute to the well-being of society. Acting ethically and responsibly is seen as the right thing to do, regardless of financial considerations.
  2. Sustainable Business: Engaging in ethical practices can lead to long-term sustainability and success. By considering the social and environmental impacts of their actions, businesses can mitigate risks and build resilience.
  3. Reputation and Trust: Companies that prioritize social responsibility can build trust and a positive reputation among stakeholders. This can lead to increased customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and investor confidence.
  4. Avoiding Regulation: Proactively addressing social and environmental issues can help businesses avoid stringent regulations. By voluntarily adopting responsible practices, companies can demonstrate their commitment to societal well-being and potentially influence regulatory outcomes.
  5. Market Benefits: There is evidence to suggest that consumers increasingly prefer to support socially responsible companies. Thus, integrating social responsibility into business practices can lead to increased sales, market share, and profitability.

Friedman Doctrine


The Friedman Doctrine, proposed by economist Milton Friedman, argues for a narrow view of the social responsibility of business.

Key Concept:

  • Shareholder Primacy: According to Friedman, the primary responsibility of a business is to maximize shareholder value within the boundaries of the law and ethical customs. He contends that businesses should focus on generating profits while adhering to basic legal and ethical standards, leaving social issues to be addressed by the government and individuals.

Arguments Against Social Responsibility:

  1. Distraction from Primary Goals: Critics of social responsibility argue that businesses should focus on economic efficiency and profitability rather than diverting resources to address social issues. They contend that the primary purpose of a business is to generate profits for shareholders.
  2. Resource Allocation: Some argue that engaging in social responsibility initiatives may divert resources away from productive investments and innovation, potentially harming the long-term competitiveness of businesses.
  3. Lack of Expertise: Businesses may lack the expertise or resources to effectively address complex social and environmental issues. They may be better equipped to focus on their core competencies rather than attempting to solve societal problems.
  4. Unclear Mandates: There may be conflicting opinions on what social responsibilities businesses should prioritize. Without clear guidance or standards, companies may struggle to determine the most appropriate course of action.
Important Questions
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