Business Ethics - Like Nailing Jell-O to the Wall

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Business Ethics

"Like Nailing Jell-O to the Wall"

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What are ethics?

A simple definition for "ethics" is those standards or morals a person sets for himself or herself regarding what is good and bad and right and wrong. If something is "ethical", it does not necessarily mean that it is legal, and vice-versa. This is partially because ethics are "subjective" – that is, each person's ethics are unique to that individual. For example, Sally, who works at Becker's, may give a carton of milk to a young mother with a baby who has no money for food. Though Sally believes this action is ethical, it is not legal. Another employee may not see Sally's action as ethical.

Where do ethics come from?

The most common factors that form a person's individual ethics are:

  • Family Influences. People tend to develop beliefs about ethics and morals from their parents, brothers, and sisters based on observing their behaviour, and punishment for doing things that the family perceives as "unethical".
  • Peer Influences. Classmates and others in a person's social network can shape ethics. Peer pressure, for example, can help determine how much a person is willing to engage in questionable activities like shoplifting, lying, etc.
  • Past Experiences. Often, the consequences of previous behaviour condition a person to feel comfortable with certain ethical standards. For instance, if a sales person lies to a customer to make a sale and then is reprimanded by the manager, he or she would likely perceive lying as undesirable behaviour and unethical. On the other hand, if the person makes the sale, and is rewarded by the manager, lying may become perceived as a desirable and ethical behaviour.
  • Religious Affiliation. Generally, a person's religious affiliation (if one exists), will shape what that person perceives as right and wrong.
  • Situational Factors. People adjust their ethics to suit certain circumstances. For instance, Sally in the example above, would probably have changed her behaviour if the customer had been a well-dressed parent who drove up in a BMW.
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Business ethics

Business managers face ethical dilemmas (ethical questions) almost every day. Ethical dilemmas occur when a manager is faced with two or more conflicting ethical issues, and has to make a choice.

  1. Business to Employee. A business has a responsibility to act ethically towards its employees. Most importantly, employers must hire and fire people in ethical ways. Wages and working conditions are a second ethical issue. Businesses must ensure that employees are paid a fair wage, and that working conditions are reasonable. For instance, paying a worker $1 per day is considered unethical. The same could be said of having an employee work in a room filled with toxic fumes that would cause illness. Privacy is the final ethical issue with respect to employees. This includes random drug testing; and listening to employee telephone calls.
  1. Employee to Business. Employees have ethical responsibilities towards their employers. Some of importances include taking a part-time job with a competitor; leaking company secrets; wasting company time; and theft from the employer.
  1. Business to External Environment. Because businesses exist within a community from which they take resources, some ethicists believe that businesses have ethical responsibilities to the community. This obligation to protect and enhance the society is called Social Responsibility. This also includes responsibilities to the customers from which they earn profits. The main areas of Social Responsibility are:
  • Ecology and environmental quality - preventing and cleaning pollution, noise control, recycling, preserving land.
  • Consumerism - truth in advertising, warranties, control of harmful products.
  • Community needs - helping charities, aid with health care and urban renewal.
  • Governmental relations - elimination of bribery of officials and lobbying, following laws.
  • Minorities and disadvantaged persons - providing training and opportunities for these groups.
  • Labour relations - permitting unions, negotiating fairly, providing fair working conditions and compensation.
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Arguments Against Business Ethics

  • Ultimately, businesses exist to make a profit for their owners and shareholders. In most cases, ethical behaviour adds expenses to the business, reducing profits. Profits are a good thing – they ensure that people have jobs. The smaller the profits, the fewer income tax dollars are paid, which would hurt government programs.
  • The government takes care of ensuring that businesses do things in an ethical way. No other forms of business ethics are required.

Arguments for business ethics

  • Business, like government, is a system that affects not only its managers and employees, but all members of the community. Many business decisions affect the lives of people in important ways. If businesses operate in unethical ways, this can contribute to people getting sick (as a result of pollution or defective products); or consumers could get taken advantage of (through false advertising).
  • The Harvard Business Review suggests that well over three-quarters of businesses are trying to build ethics into their organizations. Many business managers believe that, though more costly in the short run, ethical behaviour is profitable in the long run as customers and government regulators will appreciate it. This will ultimately result in higher profits.
  • Businesses earn huge profits from members of the community – they owe it to the communities to put something back through donating to charities. For example, the major banks earn $2 - $3 billion dollars a year each. A small portion of that should go back to the communities from which it came.

Ethical Frameworks

An ethical framework is a system that a person can use to help make a decision when faced with a moral dilemma. Here, two frameworks will be described: deontology, and utilitarianism.

  • Deontology is the belief that there are some things that a person should do ("right"), and others a person should not do ("wrong"). People should do the right things (such as being honest), and refrain from doing the wrong things (such as stealing), regardless of what the consequences are. This can cause problems, if doing the right thing has a negative consequence. For example, if you are honest about the whereabouts of someone being sought by the police and wrongly accused of crime, the consequence is that an innocent person will be arrested. Another problem with deontology is that no clear method exists classify behaviours and actions as absolutely right and absolutely wrong. Deontological arguments are based on adhering to sets of rules.
  • Utilitarianism suggests that you choose the behaviour or action that will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It does not matter if the actual behaviour is "right" or "wrong", the result is key. Utilitarian arguments are based on meeting a specific goal, and not on following rules.

Discussion Questions

  1. Some business ethicists argue that "acting" ethical in order to increase profits in the long run is unethical – that businesses should be ethical because they want to contribute to the community. How do you feel about that statement?
  1. Why do you think the title of this article is "Business Ethics - Like Nailing Jell-O to a Wall"?
  1. Do you agree that the government should regulate aspects of a business to ensure they operate ethically? If so, what sorts of things should be regulated?
  1. "No corporation is truly ethical unless it has banished all forms of external motivation for employees." What do you think this statement means?
  1. Reconsider the story discussed earlier about Sally the convenience store owner who gave a carton of milk to the poor mother. What would a deontologist say about Sally's action? What would a utilitarian say?
  1. Do you prefer deontology or utilitarianism? Why?

Business Ethics

Case Worksheet

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Name: ____________________________ Case Name: _____________________________

Role: _____________________________

Instructions

  1. Two members of your group must choose to play managers, two play ethicists. Each group will receive a case envelope.
  2. Everyone in the group must reads the case articles sheets in your envelope.
  3. Each person answers the questions on this sheet (to be handed in at the time you present).
  4. Your group will have class time to prepare a presentation (maximum 10 minutes long). The instructions are shown below. Make sure that you read your peer evaluation sheet so you know what is expected of you. The presentation should include:
  • An introduction in which the background of the case is described to the class.
  • A role play in which all members of the group participate, and argue their sides using an ethical framework.
  • A conclusion, where you reflect upon the role play, and discuss the ethical issues involved and how they could be resolved in "real life".

Questions: 1. Describe the ethical dilemma you will be faced with. What are the main issues? What facts do you have?

2. Will you use a deontological argument, or a utilitarian argument in your presentation? Why?

3. Describe what information you plan to communicate in your argument to the other side.

4. How do you think the other side will respond to your argument?

5. With your group, write up an outline to describe your role play. Explain which members will be doing the introduction, which will be doing the conclusion, and what information you plan to communicate.

Business Ethics

Self Reflection Worksheet

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Your Name: ____________________________ Case Name: _____________________________

Members of your group: ___________________________________________________________

To be completed after you have presented your role play.

Think about the level of effort each member put forth toward your presentation. You have 10 marks to divide up among your group. If you feel all members put in equal amounts of effort, allocate 2.5 marks to each of the four members. If you give all 10 marks to one person, everyone else would have 0.

Name

Mark/10

Total

10

In the space below, write a personal reflection on this activity. In it, describe your personal feelings about the case and related issues that you presented. Comment on how effectively you feel you argued your part, and what you would do differently if you were to repeat the exercise.

Business Ethics

Peer Evaluation Sheet

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Your Name: ____________________________ Case Name: _____________________________

Names of presenters: _____________________________________________________________

Item

Consider These Things

Mark (circle one)

Clarity of Presentation

  • Appropriateness of language
  • Preparedness of group
  • All members participated

12345

Role Play

  • Clear introduction
  • Good interaction among members
  • Realistic positions

12345

Arguments

  • Sound, realistic, and clear arguments made
  • Use of ethical frameworks (deontology, utilitarianism)

12345

Conclusion

  • Conclusion made sense given the case
  • Reasonable possibilities for solutions offered

12345

Group Mark

Add up all the numbers you circled to determine the mark.

/20

Business Ethics

Peer Evaluation Sheet

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Your Name: ____________________________ Case Name: _____________________________

Names of presenters: _____________________________________________________________

Item

Consider These Things

Mark (circle one)

Clarity of Presentation

  • Appropriateness of language
  • Preparedness of group
  • All members participated

12345

Role Play

  • Clear introduction
  • Good interaction among members
  • Realistic positions

12345

Arguments

  • Sound, realistic, and clear arguments made
  • Use of ethical frameworks (deontology, utilitarianism)

12345

Conclusion

  • Conclusion made sense given the case
  • Reasonable possibilities for solutions offered

12345

Group Mark

Add up all the numbers you circled to determine the mark.

/20

Business Ethics

Lesson Plan and Teacher Instructions

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Objectives

By the end of the activity, students will:

Knowledge:

  • understand and define the concept of business ethics
  • identify current ethical issues in business

Skills

  • apply various ethical frameworks in order to solve ethical dilemmas
  • create and perform a role play that demonstrates an understanding of ethics and of contemporary ethic issues that relate to business

Attitudes:

  • appreciate societal and personal needs for business ethics in modern commerce

Materials Needed

  • One copy of "Business Ethics – Like Nailing Jello to the Wall" per person.
  • Six Business Ethics case envelopes each containing: 4 copies of a common case study; 2 copies each of confidential notes for managers and confidential notes for ethicists. Each envelope contains a separate topic:
  • Employee Monitoring
  • Harmful Product #1 (Milk and Agricultural Hormones)
  • Harmful Product #2 (Tobacco in Developing Countries)
  • Child Labour
  • Customer Privacy
  • Kids and Classrooms.
  • One Case Worksheet per person.
  • One Self-Reflection Worksheet per person.
  • Five Peer Evaluation Sheets per person.

Development Strategy

  1. First Class: Distribute "Business Ethics – Like Nailing Jello to the Wall". Go through key concepts with students. The delivery should be informal, and students should have the opportunity to contribute, creating a discussion atmosphere. Students will respond to the discussion questions in class.

The teacher will explain the forthcoming assignment to students, and form groups. The packages will be distributed to students; they are expected to complete the required reading for homework.

  1. Second Class: Students will have time to work on formulating their role plays within their groups. The teacher will be present to assist with difficulties, and ensure students critically evaluate their positions.
  2. Third Class: Students will present their role plays. Specific instructions and expectations appear on the attached student handouts. Peer evaluation will take place. Students will complete the Self-Reflection Worksheet as homework.

Business Ethics

Harmful Product #2

L. Pinto, Teaching Business Ethics