Ethics can be regarded as “the moral standards by which people judge behavior” (Bradburn 2001, pp. 33). In usual circumstances, ethics stipulates that a person should do onto others what he/she would have others do onto him/her. Many people have argued that this cannot apply to a business setting, where there are different players such as; the clients, shareholders, customers and even competitors. Thus, the concept of business ethics is complex and multi-faceted (Goree, 2007). This paper seeks to describe legal/ethical issues affecting work environments and how they can be tackled.
Description of ethics and ethical issues
Organizational ethics can be defined as ethics “that pertain to the moral rules and regulations governing the business world” (Bradburn, 2001, pp. 34). This can also be said to be moral values that direct the way business organizations make decisions (Carr, 1968). The laid down ethical code varies from organization to organization, but generally they often aim at the following main areas; “Honesty, Objectivity, Integrity, Carefulness, Openness, Respect for intellectual property, Confidentiality, Responsible publication, Responsible mentoring, Respect for colleagues, Social responsibility, Non-discrimination, Competence, Legality, Human subjects protection” (Bradburn, 2001). Some ethical rules are often captured by the state laws. However, it is impossible for legislation to offer a complete guideline for business ethics as situations that lead to ethical dilemmas are varied. It may sometimes become difficult for one to differentiate between law and ethics, in any case the law is also about right and wrong. In addition a considerable overlap between ethics and law are often seen. “The law basically institutionalizes or codifies ethics into particular social rules and regulations” (Armstrong, 2002, pp. 56). The law can be said to represent the minimum acceptable standards. In real sense there are many ethically contestable issues that are not covered by the law. But most managers will want to believe that what is not covered by law is not wrong. This brings the concept of legalism in which it is believed that because there are laws and policies to cover the issues of right and wrong then ethics is irrelevant.
Ethical principles and challenges
Basic ethical principles and beliefs are drawn from different sources (Goree, 2007). Most individuals tend to identify ethical principles with the following: The first is authority, under which something is considered right or wrong because someone important has said so, for instance stealing is considered ethically wrong because the government has made it illegal; the second source of ethical belief is culture. The idea of morality of an action depends on a person’s culture; a third source of ethical belief is intuition, in which the principles and knowledge of right and wrong are built within a person’s conscience. The dependence on intuition is quite common; the last source of ethical belief is reason. Logical thinking is often a primary tool in ethical judgement (Bradburn, 2001). Currently, globalisation has created a new dimension to business ethics. For instance, Companies conducting business in different countries always come to face with different cultures that have varied views on what should or should not be considered as ethical. It is a normal occurrence for firms to outsource for cheaper labour on developing countries. This implies that the workers in those countries are paid less than their counter parts in the developed world. In such instances it becomes difficult to define the boundaries of business ethics. However, many people will consider this as unethical practice. This only shows that new developments in the business arena are creating new ethical dilemmas that are more complex and thus difficult to address. In the above case, the organization usually decides to outsource in order to cut costs by paying less for the same service. Many issues should be considered to determine whether such practice is unethical. For instance, the benefits to the society in that area or country, the real value of the service, the profits accrued form the arrangement, among others. This is just an instance of ethical challenges that are brought about by globalization.
Many people have argued that, due to the competitive nature of business it is impossible to apply ethical ideals of the society. “Violations of ethical ideals of society are common in business, but are not necessarily violations of business practices” (Carr, 1968). ThusIn business, ethics has now become a prominent subject. Around the globe many debates have come up surronding the issue of business ethics. Currently, its common to see consumers and pressure groups increasing their demand for more ethically and ecologically friendly ways of conducting business. The media is also seen to play acentral roll to ensure corporate malpractrices are exposed. Through this efforts, many more firms are now realizing that embracing business ethics or bieng seen to embrace it is actually good for business (Goree, 2007).
The following are reasons why organizations and business need to have a better understanding of ethics. First, it is emerging that business is increasingly becoming a major influence on the contemporary society (Bradburn, 2001). This might culminate into a situation where most ethical conducts are compromised at the expense of business activities. The human rights abuses in work enviroments may just increase as a result. Thus it is important for this situation to be understood so that methods can be developed to effectively deal with the situation. Secondly, it is clear to us that business provides a major contribution to the society by providing the products and services needed, creating employment opportunities, paying taxes and acting as an engine for economic development (Thompson, 2008). The way this contribution is realized often raises major ethical issues that question the social role of business in the current society. Thirdly, business malpractices provide a real danger of causing harm on people and the environment. Business ethics can help concerned persons understand the factors that lead to such malpractices and thus formulate ways through which the issues can be tackled. Company owners should specifically aim to improve human condition through ethical practice. Fourthly, it has been noted that as economic development increases, so is the scope for ethical practice. Currently, the demands being placed on businesses for ethical practice have become more complex and challenging (Bradburn, 2001). Thus, there is need to reorganize the concept of business ethics so that it is well understood by the concerned parties for easier implementation. The fifth challenge comes from the fact that most organizations are developed spontaneously by individuals of diverse background who have no formal training in ethics (Armstrong, 2002). This may result in unethical practices that are not necessarily as a result of premeditation and which may not be regarded as unethical by the business owner. To counter this, managers should be provided with adequate tools and knowledge that will allow them to correctly identify, diagnose, analyze, and provide to ethical problems and dilemmas they are confronted with (Thompson, 2008). The sixth challenge to legal/ethical practice is facilitated by job pressure. Most employers, employees experience infractions towards their own or Company’s ethical standards (Bradburn, 2001). The reality at the workplace is provides an exceptionally tempting situation that may make an employee compromise the established ethical standards. For instance, a manager in a company that provides outsourcing services may not realize that buying lunch or any other favors for the manager of another company that he/she hopes to work with is unethical. A comprehensive understanding of business ethical practice and the will to implement it to the latter may provide some solution to such infractions (Gress, 2009). However, this problem is better dealt with by managers, regulators, and fellow employee’s ad other members of the public who are interested in improving business ethics (Armstrong, 2002).
This paper sought to describe legal/ethical issues affecting work environments and how they can be tackled. It has been established that indeed the concept of ethics in business/work environments is complex and requires both skill and will to be implemented successfully. In particular, the competitive nature of the business world and the use of profit as a major driving force present the greatest challenge to business ethical practice. It is the responsibility of the employees, employer and the regulatory bodies to ensure that organizations uphold ethical standards in their day to day activities (Armstrong, 2002).
Armstrong, B. (2002). Ethical issues in Accounting. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bradburn, R. (2001). Understanding Business Ethics. New York: Continuum.
Carr, A. (1968). Is Business Bluffing Ethical. New York: Harvard College.
Goree, K. (2007). Ethics in the Workplace. USA: Thomson South-Western.
Gress, J. (2009). Breach of Business ethics. London: Reuters.
Thompson, R. (2008). Short-Term Profit vs. Long-term Gain: Is Honesty Still the Best Policy. Missouri: The Physician Executive.