Business ethics is a term that has been associated with business entity for a long time, with conflict perceived to exist between the two terms (Frederick, 2002, p.208). The primary purpose of business, making profit, seems to contradict with business ethics which is concerned with appropriating ends and distributive justice; thus the latter is perceived to limit the self-interest of the business in accumulating profits (Duska, 2007, p.62). The contradiction is further explored by O’Brien and Paeth (2006, p.55) where they believe that many people have believed that it is impossible for ethics to be functional in the business world. The argument is that, the business goals and objectives always contradict the necessity for ethics where some business practices largely take different goals from that of ethics (Duska 2007, p.60). Albert Carr (1968; cited in Crane & Matten, 2007, p.4) in his published article ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical’ argued that business could not be compared to the same moral standards as the rest of society but need to be seen as a game of poker where cheating and using untruth was accepted and allowed.
Deciding whether ethics in business is possible or impossible, it is important first to emphasis the purpose and role of the business. For instance, from the perspective of the society, business is viewed to function purposively not as an entity to maximize profit but to engage in the creation of goods and services that will meet the needs of members of a society and not at their expense (Duska, 2007, p.62). The overriding conviction here is that, business in the first place was not created to benefit some people at the expense of the majority and that to believe the sole aim of the business should be to maximize profit as the primary aim is to confuse purpose with motive of the business (Duska 2007, p.62).
Generally, what can be expressed about business and ethics is that, any functional and good business needs to have good ethics, for example, Duska (2007, p.62) asserts that, “Good business is ethical.” Such statements may seem contradictory when some aspects that businesses engage in are analyzed. Take the case where business may produce substandard goods and services for the market, use bribes to influence government activities, deceive consumers into making purchases of wrong products or even participate in environmental degradation; all these show the unethical side functioning of the business. But what needs to be remembered is that such malpractices do not indicate that the business lacks any form of values and principles (ethics) that guide its operations (Crane & Matten 2007, p.4). Everyday business operations need some kind of basic regulatory standards like honesty, trustworthiness and co-operation, without which it would be impossible for business activities to take place successfully (Collins, 1994; Watson, 1994 cited in Crane & Matten, 2007, p.4).
To this end, it can be seen that business ethics are enacted and exist to provide answers as to why specific and particular decisions should be evaluated as ethical or unethical or as right or wrong; therefore, without ethics, how can such evaluation be realized? According to Aristotelian, the concept of business ethics constitutes the moral goodness of an activity of practice which should emanate from adequate functioning of a specific technique adopted by the business. For instance, he asks, “what is the quality of the end(s) the activity is supposed to realize and how effective and efficient it is in doing so?” (Liedekerke, Gerwen and Cassimon, 2000, p.50).
In conclusion, it can be said that although business ethics has been regarded to be contradiction due to its conflicting role with business motive of pursuing and aiming to maximize profit at the expense of everything else, it should not get lost in minds of many people that business as an entity cannot function on itself. It works in the midst of society that involves lives of people and therefore rules and regulations are inevitable in form of ethics for it to function effectively.
- Crane, A. and Matten, D., 2007. Business ethics: managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization. NY, Oxford University Press. (Online). Web.
- Duska, R. F., 2007. Contemporary reflections on business ethics. NY, Springer. (Online). Web.
- Frederick, R., 2002. A companion to business ethics. NY, Wiley-Blackwell. (Online). Web.
- Liedekerke, L. V., Gerwen, J. M. and Cassimon, D., 2000. Explorations in financial ethics. Belgium, Peeters Publishers. (Online). Web.
- O’Brien, T. and Paeth, S., 2006. Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology. MA, Rowman & Littlefield. (Online). Web.