Examining the Ethics involved in Selling a Product


The advertising ethics has been a topic of conversation for many years now. Everyone tosses the term ethical advertising practices such that they have some clear understanding of what it means, but in fact, the terms rarely do have meaning except in the negative sense, when an action is described as unethical. Frazer defines the role of educators for advertising ethics that the most correct role seems to lie in careful attention to advertising in its social and economic roles and its institutional character. He mentions examples such as the ethics of persuasion, involvement of all fractions of society in advertising, violence in advertising directed towards children, violation of government regulations in ads amongst others, which are extremely relevant in the field of advertising these days. [1] 

Srivastava et al [2] touch upon the concept of surrogate advertising where companies advertise their products in a disguised manner sometimes unlawfully. For e.g. the advertising of liquor brands with the surrogate of packaged mineral water or soda, is a typical example of companies' unethical advertising practices. They also mention the example of cola wars, where the ethical integrity of the company is put to test as they negatively advertise against its competitor rather than showing their own product in the right sense. They also mention the false claims made by companies in their ads such as the network coverage of telecom giants, although these claims are far from reality. So, they conclude by saying that in the pursuit of creativity, companies sometimes compromise on their ethics while advertising their products.

Political Ethics

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One needs to free himself from the following four interrelated constraints of Modernity:

That in order for ethical claims to qualify as knowledge, they must have the same form as those of theoretical science

That universality is necessary for objectivity

That universality is a substitute for objectivity

That the ethical is essentially legislative

Rasmussen et al [3] refute all four constraints of modernity. They differentiate between theoretical and ethical knowledge such that theoretical knowledge is concerned with that which does not change from instance to instance. On the other hand, Ethical Knowledge is more practical in nature, its object being to guide an individual's conduct. Because circumstances vary and individuals are unique, principles within the realm of ethics issue in what is contingent and particular. They define the "right action" as a function of both the applicable universals and insight into the particular situation through acts of recognition, evaluation and judgment. They say that one is trying to find a solution to "liberalism's problem", which is the central issue of political philosophy, and this is what distinguishes politics from ethics. It is concluded that ethics is not essentially legislative, hence, universal rules does not and should not cover every case.

Schaefer tries to provoke the restoration of the primacy of politics to ethics considering the thinking that political theory is a branch of moral philosophy. Kant had distinguished between the moral politician and the political moralist, whereas Laslett viewed political philosophy as an extension of philosophical ethics.  [4] 

Ethics in Finance

Orthodox financial economists view ethics in the context of rational wealth maximization. According to Dobson [5] , "this idea is both illogical and ambiguous. It is illogical because it may actually sanction unethical behavior if such behavior can be shown to lead to material gain, and it is ambiguous because throughout the history of moral philosophy, ethics has generally been viewed as a behavioral motivation and not as a constraint." Dobson suggests that wealth maximization should not be viewed as the only possible behavioral motivation, rather accumulation of internal goods such as respect and integrity should be the ultimate goal.

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Ethical behavior is difficult to measure and analyze. Ethics cannot be quantified. It is highly judgmental and based on assumptions. Bolt-Lee et al [6] give the classic examples of ethical as well as unethical behavior from seen in the US. This paper summarizes the results from the study conducted by the American author Shane Premeaux on the ethical behavior of managers, before and after the management of Enron was prosecuted for their unethical practices. Obviously, post the prosecution, the US managers in general became more aware towards their practices and more ethical in their activities. Also, corporate ethics programs became a common thing in US companies, partly because organizations involved in ethical violations cases were eligible to have their federal charges decreased to a larger extent in such a case.

Ethics in HR

"Business ethics is an unavoidable tension". HR managers must continuously balance the needs and aspirations of the organization and its stockholders. Vickers [7] focuses on the role of HR managers in the current highly competitive environment. Despite the tension between competing interests, today's HR leaders should create a corporate culture that supports ethical business practices. He emphasizes the presence of conflict of interest playing a key role in developing corporate cultures. He cites the classic conflict between customers and businesses for lower prices and more profits respectively. Also, many examples of ethical and unethical practices in the US industry have been mentioned in the paper. The author charts out a typical HR manager's role in developing an ethics friendly corporate culture within the organization:

He must ensure that ethics is a top organizational priority.

He must ensure that the leadership selection and development processes include an ethics component.

He must ensure that the right programs and policies are in place in this new era of stricter set of sentencing guidelines.

He must stay abreast of ethical issues.

The role of HR managers has changed drastically over the past few years. Increasingly, the emphasis has been shifting on making HR practitioners, "players" rather than strategic business partners within organizations. A player sides with the top management of the organization thereby compromising his integrity towards the other stakeholders of the organization. Mackavey examines the recent trends in HR and discusses how to modify the HR practices to cultivate habits of moral affections and conduct in organizations. [8] He emphasizes on the inbuilt issues of ethical dilemma present within the role and duties of a HR manager. He concludes by saying that to behave ethically in HR roles, the need is to demonstrate integrity in the ways one manages his relationships with all stakeholders in the organization. Also, trust by senior management is very important and one needs to use discretion when dealing with employee issues and actions.

Ethics in marketing

Murphy [9] discusses aspects of business ethics and the social responsibility of businesses. The main theme of the article focuses on the merits and demerits that have resulted from the evolution of business and marketing ethics. A number of topics are addressed including stakeholder theory and ethical business practices and the ethical implications of marketing in organizations. Marketing is going through a transition these days. In the developing markets, "Bottom of the Pyramid" marketing efforts are gaining momentum among the organizations whereas in developed markets such as US, the topic of obesity is gaining interest among marketers. The marketing ethics scholars need to keep a close watch on these recent developments.

Marketing inherently involves marketing products for children and youth and thus gives rise to the ethical questions of creation of needs and marketing of non-nutritional products. Youth and children can be more easily manipulated by marketers. Mules [10] defines ethical marketing as safe product and fit for intended use, no conflict of interest, no deceptive and misleading advertising and maintaining research integrity by avoiding misrepresentation or non-omission. He focuses on the ethics of marketing sports drinks to a youth market in his paper. WHO believes that obesity among children and youth is the result of high degree of targeted marketing of nutrient-poor food and beverages.

Environmental Ethics

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This stream of ethics is probably the most talked about and has the largest macroeconomic impact on the world today. The ideas of environmental philosophy and environmental ethics are very important in relation to the idea of sustainable development. Tyburski [11] refers to the influences that inspired early orientation towards protecting the natural environment and the stages of the development of ecological philosophy. The central features of Polish eco-philosophical thought are presented together by Tyburski in his paper. Despite various individual viewpoints, all the representatives of environmental ethics are convinced to broaden the ethical value and to subject human activity in environmental philosophy to a moral evaluation. Moreover, all of them agree on the role of ethics in the environmental education of society, and the need to build systems of eco-values aimed to relieve the world of its environmental problems. Everyone desires to diagnose the causes of the ecological degradation that the modern world is experiencing and to construct such a development policy that would balance the needs of humans and the needs of the environment. This is what the idea of sustainable development is all about.

Almost all of us are aware of the serious and urgent environmental issues the world is facing these days. Dwyer [12] through his paper tries to bring bioethics and environmental ethics closer together. He proposes a mode of valuation that combines a measurement of population health, an estimate of environmental sustainability and an assumption about environmental ethics. This provides an estimate of the sustainable life expectancy of a population. This could be a measure of how well a society promotes health within the sustainable environmental limits. This could be used to serve as a source of information to formulate programs, policies, and technologies. 

Ethics in research

Ethics in research is of utmost importance in today's world. These days, companies have been increasingly testing various products. Researchers also want to find out the answers to various questions of human personality and nature. The protection of respondents is of utmost priority in such a research. The products tested on them should not be harmful in any way, shape or form. Moreover, the identity of the respondents should be completely concealed and should not be used as an individual case in the research.

Sound research is needed to better understand and reduce the incidences of suicide. Lakeman et al [13] try "to describe the views that membersof health research ethics committee hold regarding ethical problems and ethical practice in research involving people who are, or who have been, suicidal." Ethical research involving suicidal people requires both procedures to protect participants, and consideration of ethics as an ongoing negotiated process. 

Pascual-Leone et al [14] review the ethical use of deception in psychological research. They say that ethical guidelines by research policies must eventually be formulated into concrete terms when introducing deception into a research design. Specific directives for using deception are important for new research projects and also for reviewers who are being asked to evaluate the ethical standing of proposed research.

Professional Ethics

We are soon going to enter the corporate world and professional ethics is going to play a major role in future. Competition especially in the services area is a topic of great interest in the field of professional ethics. Elena et al [15] present some necessary principles and personal considerations on the accounting profession in Europe. It currently faces many problems, fierce competition from existing market accounting services, as a consequence of the existence of numerous liberal professions that the state governments differentiate between them.

Regulatory bodies and accreditation societies play a major role in the field of professional ethics. Lewis et al [16] analysed the six psychology ethical codes of practice currently operating in Australia. This study raised some issues that may require consideration or revision in a new national code but recommends adopting the APS Code of Ethics (2007) along with its accompanying guidelines as a national standard.

Sports Ethics

May it be the issue of match fixing by Pakistani cricket players or the allocation and auctioning of IPL teams, sports ethics sports has always been a hot topic. According to Hosta [17] , "the inability to make a distinction between the internal and the external values of a game leads to a misinterpretation of the ethos of a game as practice, and the ethos of the institution, which governs the practice. The moral autonomy of sport is trapped in the structure of the game, and is inadmissible per se, or has to be understood within the context of the distinction between the ethics of sport and sport ethics."

Another important aspect of sports ethics is the issue of misuse of performance enhancement drugs by players. It is very important to raise more general awareness on some of the significant ethical implications of sports medicine practices. The field of genetics in sports is in its infancy stage and raises ethical concerns. McNamee et al [18] highlight the ethical problems associated with the confidentiality and consent in genetic testing as opposed to more orthodox methods of testing sports medicine. They also conclude that genetic testing in sport is not strictly limited to the protection of the athlete against harm rather should be viewed in a very skeptical light by sports medicine professionals. 

Ethics in retail 

Clark [19] presents the results of a survey about the corporate ethics in the US retail industry. The most common ethics lapses are those where managers abuse workers and where workers abuse the organizations. Retail industry has been going through turmoil over the past many years on these issues. Abuse of women and children in India has been a much talked about topic, especially in India.

Retail banking is another aspect of this topic. Jeanmart successfully attempts to lay out a plan of action for retail banking in Europe, especially post the recession. He raises the issue of banking ethics and values as well as the broader aspects of regulatory and supervisory reforms of the European banking sector.