Print Email Download Reference This Send to Kindle Reddit This
submit to reddit

The Business Ethics And Sustainability Philosophy Essay

This study looks into the introduction of Western ethical theories, Consequentialism – Utilitarianism & Deontology – Kantianism, as well the Confucianism theory in the East, particularly China and a brief introduction of the philosophies was conducted.

A personal case study was then reviewed and evaluated using both Western ethical theories and Confucianism philosophy to evaluate if the course of action taken was considered to be ethical or unethical. From different perspective, the course of action could actually be deemed ethical or unethical. So from the author point of view, the author concluded that no single course of action should be deemed outright ethical or unethical from just viewing the action from one viewpoint. Many other factors like the location of the action taken, the cultural upbringing of the stakeholders, and the norms of the culture would determine if the action taken is ethical or not.

This study only utilized the Western and Eastern ethical theories to evaluate the course of action in the case study. Probably for further studies, more insights could be looked into “Chinese Business Ethics”, introduced by Dr Ip (Ip, 2009). Cultural quotient would be another area which could be looked into determining the cultural difference in handling of ethical issues.

LIST OF TABLES

Tables

Pages

INTRODUCTION

With the opening up of the economy of China to the global market, there was a huge influx of foreign companies trying to grab a share of the China market, particular established US companies. When these foreign companies came into the China economy, they not only bring along their experience in running the business, but also their expectation on how business should be run in an ethical manner. The Chinese were made to be in a position where they had to undergo many changes; the emergence of new social values, social conflicts, the role of leaders, and the global transformation wrought out by new technology (deBary, 1991). This would inevitably bring about a collision between the Western ideology and the East ideology on how a business should be run ethically and while the Chinese might find Western ideals to be refreshing but traditionally they would still find their traditional to be inadequate in many instances (Steidlmeier, 1997).

There are many existing Western ethical theories and the theories are basically summarized in the Figure Western Ethical Theories.

Figure Western Ethical Theories

And the most prominent ethical theories from the West would have to be Consequentialism - Utilitarianism and Deontology – Kantianism. Utilitarianism theory is based on that the rightness or wrongness of an action would be determined by the action’s usefulness in bringing out the most happiness of all those affected by it. Kantianism on the other hand focuses more on the actual action and the morality of that action as opposed to the consequences of the action (Farlex, 2008).

Whereas in the East, Confucianism, Taoist and Buddhism were the three primary philosophies that shaped the Chinese culture (Clair & Norris, 2010).Confucianism is not in doubt the most influential and is the most correlated to the economic prosperity in East Asia countries (Hofstede & Bond, 1988). Its philosophy had been existence in the Chinese culture for thousands of years and it played a critical role in the shaping of the current existing ethical culture of China.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Confucianism

File:Konfuzius-1770.jpg

Figure Portray of Confucianism

Looking into the background of Confucianism, its philosophy had been in existence in China for 2,500 years and the practice of which could be dated back to the Ming dynasty. In spite of several political and ideological campaigns, which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, to purge Confucianism out of the Chinese culture, but all attempts were to be futile as the concept persevered into the modern society. With Confucianism philosophy embraced by several China government bodies and the recent growth of Confucianism academics around the world, seems to be suggesting that Confucianism is set to stay and probably grow and influence much more than just China (Ip, 2009).

Confucianism ethics is basically humanistic, obligation-based, and collectivistic in nature(Ip, 1996). The main core elements of Confucianism are Ren, compassion, Yi, rightness, and Li, rites that define what is right and what is wrong (Ip, 1996). On top of the three core elements, Confucianism also encompasses six core values; moral cultivation, importance of interpersonal relationship, family orientation, respect for seniority and hierarchy, pursuit of harmony and avoidance of conflict, and the concept of face (Fang, 1999). Thus the family is deemed as the most important and an almost sacred form of human relationships (Cheng, 1994).

After thousands of years of practicing Confucianism, the Chinese had deeply embraced its philosophy. The principles of reciprocity, trust and hierarchy had manifested in the practice and concept of "Guan xi" (Luo, 1997). Thus gift giving had become an integrated part of right relationships and expected behavior, which shows respect to another person (Steidlmeier, 1997). "Guan xi" was even termed as the second currency that pervaded through China economy system and it can be the key to corporate success (Luo, 1997).

This concept of "Guan xi" was deemed to differ from the Western practice of networking because the focus of networking was on the utilitarian reciprocation of favours and an emphasis of fulfilling role obligations instead of solely pursing one's own interest (Yi & Ellis, 2000).

Consequentialism - Utilitarianism

bentham-mid-life-vg.jpg

Figure Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)

Utilitarianism was based upon the philosophies of Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873). Jeremy Bentham philosophy was based upon the ancient system of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain based on one’s action. Whereas John Stuart Mill developed this idea further and focus on maximizing the happiness for the greatest good for the greatest number (Kahn, 2008).

There are many forms of utilitarianism been discussed where the principle of utility could be applied to either particular actions, called “act-utilitarianism”, or general rules, called “rule-utilitarianism” (Cavalier, 2002). Act utilitarianism based on the moral judgment on the amount of pleasure and the amount of pain a particular action can bring about. Rule utilitarianism questions the underlying principle of an action and determines if the action will produce more pleasure than pain in the long run (Crane & Matten, 2010). There are even discussions of contemporary utilitarianism, whereby three accounts of well-being are being acknowledged; Mental-state accounts explicate well-being in terms of pleasure or satisfaction, desire-satisfaction theories account for well-being in terms of realization of desires, and lastly objective-list theories explicate well-being in terms of a list of properties that constitute a person’s well-being regardless of both mental states and desires (Risse, 2008).

Although there are many voices of support for the utilitarianism theory, there are also many critics that are saying that utilitarianism theory is “too demanding”, as it would require individual to promote the happiness of others, even at the expenses of one’s happiness or even the welfare of our friends and family (Hills, 2009). Non-consequentialists argue that act-utilitarianism fails as a criterion of rightness because there are other factors besides aggregate utility that are relevant to determining an act’s deontic status. (Portmore, 2007).

Deontology - Kantianism

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/43/Immanuel_Kant_%28painted_portrait%29.jpg/220px-Immanuel_Kant_%28painted_portrait%29.jpg

Figure Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)

Kantianism was based on the philosophies of German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804). He was a keen opponent of utilitarianism and his philosophy is that the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences, but on whether they fulfill our duty. Thus whether a person is deemed good or bad depends on the motivation of their actions and not on the goodness of the consequences of those actions. For Kant, morality was a question of certain eternal, abstract, and unchangeable principles that humans should apply to all ethical problems (Crane & Matten, 2010).

Kant also came up with the categorical imperatives, which consists of three maxims, and these maxims can be used as tests for every possible action, and an action is to be regarded as morally right if it ‘survives’ all three tests.. The three maxims of the categorical imperatives are as follows (Crane & Matten, 2010):

Maxim 1: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

Maxim 2: Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.

Maxim 3: Act only so that the will through its maxims could regard itself at the same time as universally lawgiving.

Similar to the utilitarianism theory, there are many critics of the Kantianism theory as well. Critics were saying the Kant theory took too little consideration for the consequences of one’s action as there was no real way to access the outcomes using Kant theory. The basic idea for Kant theory was too complex and his principle-based way of evaluating a decision requires a certain amount of abstraction and it is this level of intellectual scrutiny that one cannot take for granted in each and every case. Lastly, his theory was deemed to be too optimistic as his philosophy expects a man to act according to self-imposed duties sounded too idealistic.

CASE STUDY

Case in Study

After looking at the ethical philosophies from the East and the West, let me introduce the case study which was going to be evaluated. In 2008, I began working as a technical engineer for a US oil and gas company, based in Singapore. My company was not only listed on the US stock market but it was also listed as the most admired company within the oil and gas industry. Strict code of conduct and stringent code of ethical practices were preached upon us and refreshed on an annual basis to as to let the employees remained updated to the codes but also to remind the employees to stay ethical at all times. The practices were practiced very successfully not only in US but also in Singapore.

As per all companies heading towards globalization, setting up operations in China was an inevitable route path in order to gain access into the vast China market. Operations in China at that point of time were facing many technical and operation issues and theclient kept getting back to the higher management that there was lack of commitment and support for the operations in China. From an operational and technical point of view, the issues were all trivial and the personnel carrying out the tasks on duty were more than capable to handle and resolve all the issues. The management from my company was getting worried over the continuous influx of calls and emails that were complaining about the support and services of the company.Thus in 2010, I was appointed to be the engineer re-located to China to provide support for the operation.

Upon starting work in China, I came to realize the ground-level reason as to why the client was so unhappy about the support that was provided from my company. It was apparent that as a US company, following the code of ethic; they would not be into trying to build up the “guan xi” with the client.My companywas only interested inhow to resolve the operation and technical issues in the shortest possible time. During the first few months of my working in the China operation office, I had several conversation with the client and based upon the content and tone of the conversation, I could sense that they were looking at us to build up the "guan xi" with them in exchange for a smoother operation and probably less complaints from them to the management.And a key part of the conversation was that the client kept emphasizing that other third party contractors, which many were also US based companies, were also conducting the same practice of building up “guan xi” with the client by buying them dinner and gifts and thus the client was unable to understand as to why my company was unable to follow the practices as per other third party contractors.

I was caught in a dilemma as it was apparent that my company would not be receptive towards the idea of having to buy dinner or even gifts to the client for the sake of “guan xi”. This would definitely violate the code of ethical practices that the company had been preaching and following. On the other hand, if I were not to build up the “guan xi” with the client,I would be deem as unsupportive of their operation and my company’s operation would be subjected to stringent monitoring from the client. Even the most trivial issue would be blown out of proportion and reported to my management. This would not reflect well on my ability to resolve the problems at the ground-level and in turn affect my career advancement in the company.

Possible Course of Actions

After being caught in such a dilemma over what course of actions would be more suitable to resolve a situation like this, I basically came up with three different modes of action which I could undertake in order to try to resolve the problem. The first mode of action would be to simply start on building up the “guan xi” with the clientby buying dinner and gifts for them. Second mode of actions would be to adhere to the code of ethical behavior as per the company guidelines and ignore on the concept of building “guan xi” and focus on the resolution of technical and operational issues. Last of not least, third method was to report to the management and mentioned that I would not have the capabilities to resolve dilemma like this and this was to be beyond my scope and return to work in Singapore.

Possible Outcome from Course of Action

If the first mode of action was to be undertaken, the most possible outcome would be that the rapport with the client would be built up and the client would definitely be very delighted. In this way, “guan xi” with the client would be good and this will also enable the operation to run more smoothly and the personnel would have a much easier time in handling the client when on duty. The client complaints to the company would definitely reduce and the company would be happy with my performance in handling the issues in China. From Confucianism or Utilitarian point of view, this would definitely fulfilled the need to make most of the stakeholders happy and everyone would have a relatively easier time when at work. From Kantianism point of view, by conducting acts of gift giving and buying dinner to the client would defy the code of ethical behavior from the company. The company would definitely not accept the course of action taken and I would be terminated if the company were to find out on the actions taken.

By undertaking the second mode of action, the most possible outcome would be that the client would be very unhappy with the lack of attempts in trying to build up the “guan xi” with them. They would continue to pick out the most trivial issues and make an issue out of them to the management. The personnel who were on site to carry out the tasks would be subjected to stringent monitoring by the client and most likely be subjected to verbal abuse. The company management would still be handling the multi complaints from the client and I would be deemed by the company for being incapable to resolve the issues in China. From Confucianism point of view, I would be deemed to be not trying to form up society relationship with the client for the better goodness of the society. From Utilitarianism point of view, I could not fulfill the requirement of most stakeholders in order to make most of the stakeholders happy. From Kantianism point of view, the code of ethics from the company should take prevalence. And the code of ethics clearly stated that for all conduct of business, employees should not use any ways or any modes to attempt to get into the flavours of the client in order to obtain any form of advantage or preferred treatment from the client. I would be deemed to have taken the right path in terms of rightness of things.

If I would to undertaken the third mode of action, I would have avoided all possible ethical collision and need not face any problems and need not make any difficult choices as to determine who to please. By taking this course of action, I would not have violated any ethical theories and from the Utilitarian point of view, I would be only trying to keep myself happy while from Kantianism point of view, I would be trying to stick to the company code of ethical behavior.

Options

Consequences

Probability [P]

Utility

(Impact on human welfare) [U]

Weighted Average Score [P x U]

Total Weighted Average Score

1st Mode of Action

Build up “guan xi” with client

(Confucianism or Utilitarianism)

Client pleased with support

5

5

25

68

On duty personnel had a better time at work

4

5

20

Company find out about the issue of buying gifts and dinner

3

1

3

Better career advancement

4

5

20

2nd Mode of Action

Continue work as it is and ignore need to build up “guan xi”

(Kantianism)

Client pleased with support

1

1

1

12

On duty personnel had a better time at work

2

3

6

Company find out about the issue of buying gifts and dinner

1

1

1

Better career advancement

2

2

4

3rd Mode of Action

End the job assignment and go back to Singapore.

(Kantianism)

Client pleased with support

1

1

1

7

On duty personnel had a better time at work

2

2

4

Company find out about the issue of buying gifts and dinner

1

1

1

Better career advancement

1

1

1

Table Utilitarianism Evaluation Table

Course of Action Taken

After taking much time taking into considering all the consequences of all the possible actions to be taken, finally I came up with this logic. I personally think that ‘In Rome, do what the Roman do’. Confucianism philosophy had been embedded into the Chinese for thousands of years and if I would to attempt to try to change the cultural mindset of the client, I would be trying to pit an egg against a stone. So I decided to adopt the Utilitarianism philosophy for the sake of seeking the happiness of most of the stakeholders, and I tried to build up the “guan xi” with the client. I ended up not only treating the client to dinner, I also purchased gifts for them during the festival seasons but I carried out all these on my own account and didn’t receive any reimbursement from the company and kept all activities out of sight from the company.

The outcome of the actions taken to build up the relationship was as predicted, the complaints from the client to the management virtually disappeared and any technical or operation issues that were to arise would be handled at a lower level. The client no longer conducted any stringent monitoring on the personnel working on the tasks on their site and the personnel were having a much better and smoother time as compared to before. As the operation seemed to be running a lot more smoothly and client was very happy with the current development of “guan xi”, I was promoted to a higher position in less than 6 months. But from the ethical behavior point of view, I had violated an important code whereby I used some means to please the client in order to obtain favorable advantage.

Evaluation on Course of Action Taken

Was the action that I undertook considered to unethical? Was I defying the company's code of ethics in order to accomplish something that I wanted? The issue would be that who and how the judgment was supposed to be made. If we are looking at the issue from Kantianism point of view, what I had done was totally unacceptable. I was actually hoping to receive some sort of favorable returns from the client by giving the client some gifts. Was I supposed to be ethical from the Westerner's viewpoint and let the company operation run into trouble and the client being unhappy with the operation?

Standing on the Confucianism or Act Utilitarianism point of view, what I had done was trying to achieve was to build up a long lasting relationship with the client and this relationship, "guan xi", was actually one of the main core values of Confucianism. In return, the client would reciprocity by showing more tolerance towards the trivial problems that might occur during the operation. After spending two years in China, interacting with the colleagues and the client, I found that through this sort of dinner session and exchange of gift, could actually foster great relationship as well as true friendship between us. Till now, I am still in contact with some clients, whom I had fostered such a strong relationship with, that we are even meeting up on an annual basis for dinner session.

CONCLUSION

After reviewing my personal case study experience in China, I could conclude that defining the ethical level of a course of action would not be as straightforward as just taking references to a particular ethical theory and determined if the course of action is ethical or not. There are many factors which I think should be taken into consideration like the location where the course of action had taken place, cultural upbringing of the stakeholders, norms of the culture, and the impact, both good and bad, on the stakeholders on the whole. Personally I think that no single course of action could actually be deemed as truly ethical or truly unethical because from different cultures and at different environment, the course of action could sway from one extreme to the other. Many a times, people tended to make their judgment based on their individual perspective even before they attempt to find out the story on a whole.

Western companies trying to bring their ethical theories and concept of Corporate Social Responsibilities into China and immediately expecting the Chinese to embrace them, was similar to the concept of injecting antibodies into human. Those ideology and concepts definitely would not be absorbed immediately. It will take some time to repel and adopt and finally absorb into the system. Taking a peek back on my case study, I believed that I selected the course of action based on my understanding of the culture as well as achieving happiness for most of the stakeholders. If I was to be given a chance to turn back time and I had to make the decision again, I believed I would have made the same decision...

RECOMMENDATION

This case study was reviewed using the existing Western ethical theories and Confucianism. China could actually adopt a concept named “China Business Ethics”, which was brought up by Dr Ip (Ip, 2009). With some adoption from Confucianism practice and some from the Western theories, probably this CBE might be the more suitable ethic theory to be applied in China context.

Other than just looking into the ethical theory to be applicable in the China market, would it be more viable to study into how influential is cultural quotient affecting the difference in the ethical theories differences between the East and the West? Probably this could be another area which the next study of ethical theories could actually be looked into greater details.

Print Email Download Reference This Send to Kindle Reddit This

Share This Essay

To share this essay on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ just click on the buttons below:

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal:

Request the removal of this essay.


More from UK Essays