Business ethics is a relatively new field of study in philosophy. It examines the ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise within a business environment. Business ethics was born through scandal and seems to regenerate itself with each succeeding wave of scandal. For most of the 20th century, the only concern for major corporations was maximizing profit. Interests in business ethics noticeably accelerated during the 1980s and 1990s within major corporations. In today’s world, corporations have to worry about much more than just producing a profit. Major corporations now have to act within a global standard of ethics. Business ethics is very subjective since there is a fine line on what is deemed ethical or unethical. Ethical standards are constantly evolving, which means corporations must constantly change their business strategies to remain within the standard. Major corporations like Walt Disney may seem ethical in its appearance but may actually act unethically in its business practices. Therefore to see if a corporation is acting ethically, one must look at its global initiative report. Judging ethics is not a simple task since it has no clear-cut definition. However philosophers like Levinas, Kant and Deleuze have developed theories that set ethical guidelines for business ethics.
Major corporations make important decisions on a daily basis, with some decisions even affecting the greater community. Based on today’s standards set by governments and NGOs, corporations must make their business decisions with some sense of morality. Morals can be very subjective since one person may have a different set of morals from the next. To lessen subjectivity in moral-decision making, one may look at the works of the philosophers John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant. John Stuart Mill thinks in terms as a consequentialist. Mill takes a utilitarian approach towards moral-decision making. He believes that a decision is right if it maximizes benefits and minimizes consequences. Utilitarians consider the good of themselves as well as the good of others too. A specific standard such as the cost-benefit analysis may be used for moral-decisions making. If the pleasure and satisfaction is high for the greater good with little to no displeasure then it is deemed a moral decision. The principle of utilitarianism is often called the “greatest happiness principle” because it brings great pleasure to the majority while limiting displeasure. However, one cannot base moral-decision making on this principle alone since what is pleasurable is often disputed in major corporations. Thus the ideas of Immanuel Kant come into play. Immanuel Kant believes in deontology, a non-consequentialist approach. He believes that moral issues cannot be judged solely on consequences. Instead of basing moral decision subjectively, moral decisions must be based autonomously. One must create his or her moral laws to base moral decisions off of. Kant believes that for something to be a moral law it must pass the “universalization test”. For example, someone is considering breaking a promise. A broken promise cannot be universalized because if all promises were broken, the idea of a promise would not exist. Essentially Kant believes that freedom and autonomy are a must in moral decision-making. Therefore decision making in a corporation must go though one if not both tests for it to be deemed moral.
Agency comes hand in hand with moral-decision making. Agency theory is widely discussed in business ethics and is essential to follow in an ethical corporation. Agents make decisions and take action for themselves or on the behalf of others. In a corporate setting there are many people and factors that come into decisions making. Thus came the idea of corporate moral agency. In the 1970s, Peter French argued that corporations are moral agents in much the same way that individual human