As with other perspectives on this page, this is not a definitive list or set of absolute criteria.
It's a set of examples to illustrate typical modern Western concerns of ethical investors and ethical business people:. As stated, this is not a pronouncement of what's unethical. It's a reflection of current attitudes, which you can use in your own way alongside the other information on this page to develop your own ideas as to what's ethical and what's not. Also as stated, things change with time and situation.
For example if technology is developed enabling nuclear power to be safer and less impactful on the future then obviously concerns in this area would reduce and the ethical implications would decrease or disappear. Standards of what is considered ethical change over time, and generally these standards become more humane as humankind develops greater tolerance, awareness, and capacity for forgiveness and compassion.
Humankind's - or any society's - capacity for ethical behaviour increases with its own safety and confidence of survival and procreation. Thus ethical behaviour is a relative judgement, as well as a subjective one. We cannot impose one society's moral code onto another society with different needs and demands. Interestingly what is considered unethical in present times, commonly becomes unlawful in the future. The leading ethical thinking of any time tends to pioneer social and civilization change.
And so here lies substantial advantage for corporations and other groups and bodies which anticipate such changes. They adapt quicker, and are seen generally to lead rather than follow. They also manage change more successfully, since they have time to do it. Organisations and institutions which fall behind public ethical expectations find catching up a lot more difficult. Many believe that the word ethical equates to lawful, and that by being lawful an organisation or activity is automatically ethical. In fact while most unlawful actions will also tend to be unethical, certain situations can contain a strong ethical justification for breaking the law, or changing the law.
Notable examples are situations in which the law, or the way law is applied, is considered unethical 'wrong' is the typical description by sufficient numbers of people to pressure the legal system to change. You can perhaps think of examples when this has happened, and such cases are examples of an ethical viewpoint being ultimately more powerful than the law. Examples of this happening through Western history illustrate the tendency for ethical considerations to drive the law: women's suffrage women's right to vote ; the abolition of slavery; and modern human rights and equality legislation are examples of ethical pressures causing change in law.
The independence of nations and the break-up of colonial rule are further examples of ethical pressures overwhelming the force of law. Interestingly, the UK Consumer Protection Regulations effective on 26 May are a good example of unethical business practices becoming prohibited in law. For example it has always been unethical to mislead customers into buying products or services. However, religion is not a basis for arriving at consistent standards of ethics, any more than the law is.
A particularly dangerous implication arising from mixing decision-making with religion is the one which provides the decision-maker with a sort of safety net if everything goes wrong. For people who are not religious, or who have a different religious faith to decision-maker, these words are a little disturbing in the context of ethical decision-making.
And when? When will the whatever chosen god be judging this decision? While the decision is being made? Before the decision is implemented? Immediately after the decision's implementation when on Earth some serious monitoring, checking and managing needs to be happening? Far into the future when the decision-maker has expired and gone to whatever version of heaven his it's generally a man particular faith promises him?
And by what criteria will the whatever chosen god be judging the decision? To whose and with precisely what standards are we being asked to agree here? And what will be the results of whatever chosen god's decision, especially if it's a mighty god-like thumbs down? What are the whatever chosen god's contingencies for putting it all straight again? Worse, using religion as a personal safety net for serious decision-making is a reckless desertion of leadership responsibility.
- G.K. Chesterton, Theologian.
- Oeuvres de Honoré de Balzac (Illustrée) (French Edition).
- Business Ethics and Social Responsibility;
- A Sustainable Ethics for Future Energy Systems – 4TU!
Right-minded people want leaders to take ultimate full absolute responsibility for decisions. They do not want a leader to seek refuge or personal salvation in whatever chosen god or heaven or a confession box.
This is an additional reason for not mixing religion with leadership and ethical decision-making: too many people simply do not accept the basic premise that a leader can delegate responsibility in such a very strange and unaccountable way. Aside from anything else, if religion were useful in leadership and decision-making then all human organisations would be run by the clergy. Civilization tried that a few thousand years ago and it doesn't work.
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Please note: If you are religious and believe that religion has a place in leadership and decision-making then you might disagree with this section. If so please understand that I am not berating religion or religious people. I accept that through humankind's existence - especially in the last few hundred years - religion in various forms has often provided an essential code of ethics arguably for civilizations and societies to live positively, harmoniously, generously, peacefully, lovingly, etc.
I am making a different point, namely: reference to religion, and especially a strong personal faith, is not generally very helpful towards achieving great objectivity, which is vital for ethical decision-making. Moreover, religion of certain types can be extremely divisive, which is obviously not useful for decision-making entailing diverse groups of people, as commonly arises in today's increasingly diverse world. Instead of trying to arrive at a standard or all-encompassing rule of what is ethical, it is helpful to illustrate the depth and variety of ethics through suitable examples.
This is an extension of the ethical business investment items listed above, and goes into far greater detail of different behaviours which might often be regarded as unethical. The first category might seem obvious and clear-cut, and actually it's a reasonable starting point for the vast majority of ethical decisions, but this one point cannot be applied exclusively in assessing whether something is ethical or not:. Conversely, and more importantly, very many legal activities and behaviours can be extremely unethical.
For example, behaviours that are not necessarily unlawful but which are generally considered to be unethical to Western society would now typically include:. You will perhaps think of other examples of behaviours or activities which are not necessarily unlawful, but which a reasonable majority of people especially those directly affected by the activities would consider to be unfair, unjust or simply wrong and therefore effectively unethical.
Most of the above are subject to extent or degree, whereby serious extensive examples are more likely to be unethical than minor transgressions and negligible effects. Ethical considerations are not wholly determined by majority view, just as they are not wholly defined by law or religion. Popular opinion is a significant factor in the consideration of what is ethical, but it is not the only factor, and the significance of popular opinion in determining ethical decisions will vary according to the situation.
A significant influence on ethical judgement is the 'flip-side' of whatever situation is under question: the effects of the 'ethical' decision. Upholding an ethical principle might not be sensible if the effect of doing so causes a wider or greater disadvantage. This sort of justification when used for unethical actions and policies, etc. Looking at the flip-side and assessing the 'greater good' implications can be helpful, ideally leading to the facilitation of a compromise solution.
Considering the flip-side or sides is actually necessary for relatively straight-forward uncontroversial decisions and actions, especially when opinions on all sides can be aired, debated, and understood. However the 'greater good' approach can be a risky angle if used subjectively and proactively, not least because it tempts the decision-maker to play god, and to attempt a god-like appreciation of a wide and complex situation, instead of adopting a less personal and more detached approach.
Remember a significant inescapable part of ethical actions are the views and needs of the rational majority, of the people affected by the action or decision. If you don't know reliably what these views and needs are then you don't understand the flip-side enough to justify anything, let alone a risky borderline decision.
Beware of this 'greater good' dimension also when you see it used by others, because the defence of an unethical decision as being " The 'greater good' can be a big trap - especially for anyone prone to subjective high-minded thinking. Corporate governance in the face of big ethical decisions is characterised by wisdom and objectivity, not by subjective personal belief, worse still when it protected by control mechanisms and the recklessness which often accompanies emotional insecurity, or a strong personal 'faith' or power delusion. Beware the leader for whom the personal victory of the decision appears to be more important than the decision's outcome, whatever the scale and situation - and recognise these tendencies in yourself if they arise.
Leaders who make decisions subjectively and personally for reasons of building power, reputation and wealth, entirely miss the point about ethics, and their fundamental philosophy or lack of effectively prevents any real ethical objectivity. So, law alone is not a basis for ethical decision-making. Nor is religion. Nor is 'the greater good'.
Strengthening ethical political leadership for sustainable peace and social justice in Africa
And even the rational views and needs of the affected majority are not a basis alone for ethical decision-making. In simple terms this means you must be able to see the other people's points of view. This might seem a simple statement of the bleeding obvious, and it might be, but it is not often practised. True objectivity is quite difficult to achieve, especially for leaders under pressure.
Similarly, fairness is difficult to define, let alone apply. Detachment is a huge part of the process. Objectivity is impossible without personal detachment. Fairness cannot begin to be achieved without detachment, since it's about other people, not the leader, nor the leader's supporters and environment.
Being ethical is not a matter of evangelizing or imposing your standards and views on other people. Being ethical is being fair. Being fair means understanding implications from other people's perspectives - not your own.
The more widely and well you appreciate other people's issues and implications, then the easier you will find it to be ethical. Objectivity entails understanding how systems work and inter-relate. But systems here means merely the general sense of people and the way life is organised. Systems does not refer to complex mathematics or scientific formulae. Again, it requires you to step back - to detach yourself, resist personal bias and emotion - step back, be objective, adult, mature - fair.
Objectivity is a wonderfully potent and extremely flexible ability to pursue.
Business Ethics and Social Responsibility
Objectivity is flexible because it can be approached and achieved in so many different ways - intuitively, logically, systematically, creatively - anyone can do it. In the same way that the truth - purity, probity - is available to anyone who cares to look for it. The list is not exhaustive - you will see other significant perspectives for different situations. For small local decisions most of the list might not apply.
What You Can Do to Improve Ethics at Your Company
But if your decision has potentially significant effects, consider these different perspectives in striving for as much objectivity as you can. Ethical considerations comprise several variables in one combination or another, if you are striving for real objectivity:. Not everyone readily relates strongly to the principles of corporate integrity, sustainability, the 'Triple Bottom Line', etc. For example, many entrepreneurial personalities are actually more likely to prefer and utilise logical and critical thinking, and relatively dispassionate decision-making, than idealistic principles.
These qualities enable entrepreneurs to do what they do well, and most organisations need a good sprinkling of these types of people.