Business Ethics and Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

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Business ethics are often discussed in corporations as a way to train employees and manage liability that comes from dishonest practices and even fraud. However, because ethics is subjective, it can be difficult to maintain a consistent standard of behavior as it relates to the code of conduct. Depending on the ethical paradigm employees subscribe to, business ethics can be interpreted various different ways. The following will address business ethics and the responsibility to respect human rights in the context of utilitarianism, fairness and justice, and rights and duties in order to provide a comprehensive understanding of business ethics and the various ways it can be applied. While business ethics can be standard, interpretation and application of the principles may vary, making it necessary to also enforce codes of conduct which govern actions and behaviors in order to maintain consistency.

There are various ways to determine the ethicality of actions and decisions. Ethics is an approach towards decision making in which one tries to think about the moral principles that underlie decisions (Meridian, 2010). When this approach is based in utilitarianism, the moral agent perceives that making the decision that will help the most people and hurt the fewest people is the most ethical decision. In business ethics however, this type of ethics approach can lead to fraud. Consider the scenario of a financial analyst who lies to a client about the success of an investment in order to increase its perceived value and help many others profit. Based on utilitarianism framing, more people are helped than hurt, so the decision is considered to be ethical. As a result of this potential way of thinking, businesses must be clear in their ethics code and also support it with a defined code of conduct in order to be clear about their standards and expectations.

Most businesses are focused on profitability as well as sustainability and corporate responsibility. One way to maintain sustainability is to be socially responsible in business practices (Gilbert, 2002). Fair trading practices fall under the ethical frame of fairness and justice because it seeks to provide small scale producers with a reasonable lifestyle and sustainable living (FMG, 2005). Small scale producers in poor countries can easily be taken advantage of, especially when management strays from core culture and ethics in international business (Michaelson, 2010). However, fair trading practices which are aligned with the ethical paradigm of fairness and justice support sustainable living and consistent supplier support. Global standards like the Global Economic Ethnic Manifesto helps to maintain an agreed upon “code of conduct” standard which countries can refer to (Hempkill, 2011). These standards help to maintain consistency across the world, despite the various cultural interpretations of ethics.

The ethics of rights and duties has a foundation in human rights, and seeks to use ethical standards to maintain a safe work environment and consistent wages for employees and suppliers. The United Nations is founded on the principle that human rights must be respected whether there are laws enforcing it or not (Cragg, 2012). This standard helps to maintain global consistency despite the diversity of ethical perspectives across countries. The rights and duties ethical frame also supports equal employment and an integration of employees of different races, sexes, and orientations (FMG, 1994). Focusing on social issues are important elements to business because they not only support justice and ethics, they also enhance sustainability and profitability in the long run. In fact, business ethics are central to a company’s ability to compete in the global marketplace and play an essential role in maintaining business processes (Blodgett, 2012).

In conclusion, business ethics can be applied in the frame of utilitarianism, fairness and justice, as well as rights and duties. While ethics as a whole can be subjective, human rights and fair trade practices have been outlined in order to provide a consistent code of conduct for businesses. It is especially important to provide a standard code of conduct to support an organization’s ethical standard in order to maintain consistency across the board because of various interpretations of ethical codes.


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