Ethics and morality are extremely essential in every business. This is foremost objective to build businesses upon well-established business ethics and principles. However, it has been well noted that businesses in the contemporary global economy face some central ethical challenges (Jones, Parker, and Bos, 2005). To understand the nature of the ethical challenges faced by businesses and how to deal with them, it is imperative to understand the meanings and significance of some ethical and moral concepts. Morality is the set of established norms and values that are considered and portrayed as good and right within a given socio-cultural context. On the other hand, ethics is defined as the critical and systematic reflection on qualities and characteristics that are seen and assessed as good, just and right. The word ethics, derived from the Greek word ‘ethos' meaning ‘character' and ‘custom,' is defined as the principles or standards of human conducts which are often called morals (Ethics, 2009). Moreover, it is the study of these principles and hence referred to as moral philosophy. This paper attempts to examine and clarify some of the key ethical challenges facing businesses in the contemporary global economy.
Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and the likes have philosophized various ethical theories that are applicable in explaining morality and ethics. Some of these theories such as utilitarianism, deontological ethics and virtue ethics seek to explain deeply the nature of philosophical inquiries (Jones et al., 2005).
Utilitarianism is a moral principle established by Jeremy Bentham in his hedonistic calculus that seeks to explore the concept of the moral consequences of an action. It asks an important question ‘which conduct allows us to achieve a good outcome?’ (Jones et al., 2005). The moral principle aims at defining the action that gives rise to the greatest happiness for the greater number and deems such action as ethical. According to Adedeji et al. (2007), utilitarianism holds that morality of an act consists in its utility in serving as a means to an end. It is an ethical view that observes the ultimate standard of right, wrong, and obligation as being dependent on the principle of balance of good over evil. In this principle, good and evil are used in non-moral terms that give the notion of measurability and quantitativeness. Bentham's utilitarianism is quantitative as clearly defined in his hedonistic calculus. Unlikely, in response to this, J.S. Mill came up with a qualitative aspect to utilitarianism and hence giving rise to three basic forms of utilitarianism namely: act, general, and rule utilitarianism (Adedeji et al. 2007).
Deontological ethics enunciated by Immanuel Kant calls into consideration the question of the Intentions. This ethical theory asks the question ‘what are the moral principles (law) that motivate and guide an action?’ As a matter of fact, deontological ethical stance assumes that the consequences of the act is not necessarily what makes it good but the duty and intentions of the act (Jones et al., 2005). Alexander and Moore, (2007) made it clear that deontological ethical stance, as well as some other philosophical concepts, has for a long time inspired medical ethics. This branch of ethics emphasizes that actions must be guided by adherence to clear principles such as respect for free will. Aristotle enunciated the virtue ethics that rests on the virtuous character. This ethical theory tends to an inquiry on the kind of person one should become and how one should live his life (Jones et al., 2005).
These ethical theories find particular relevance in the business world. Business ethics puts into consideration four basic models that include economic ethics, integrative ethics, dialogue ethics and communicative/discourse ethics.
Morality and Moral Virtues
Morality is often misconstrued. In fact, moral philosophers have for long argued on what moral principles are and are not. These arguments have given rise to several ethical concepts including hedonism, altruism, egoism, emotivism, utilitarianism, situation ethics, empiricism, rationalism, pragmatism, realism, idealism, logical positivism, individualism, Marxism, phenomenalism, existentialism and theism (Adedeji et al. 2007). Most of these philosophical theories and more attempts to assert that morality is a function of one’s conformity to certain laid down moral standards. However, Alford (2001) in studying whistleblowers and rescuers highlighted that their choiceless choice attitudes can best be explained by their imagination for consequences, sense of the historical moments, identification of the victim and reluctance to double. This explains that morality not only depends upon but is a set of virtues which are not always recognized as moral virtues. Alford (2001) further explained that morality is not just an issue of empathy nor is an adherence to a set of universally established moral principles or an ethic of care and concern rather it given the whistleblowers; morality can be explained as a unique kind of seriousness about themselves.
The altruistic moral theory attempts to capture the ethical model. Altruism, enunciated by Auguste Comte, simply means an exercise of self and life devoted to the good of others and most especially to the good of the society. Altruism is against self-centeredness or egoism. Perhaps an ethical theory can be developed by taken into consideration the life and actions of people who are thought to be ethical. Here, it would be necessary to consider the kind of world for such ethical folks inhabit that can shape their actions. Morality is obviously not just the moral action itself but the drive and virtues that constitute the action. Arendt (1964) arguments are in agreement well with Alford (2001) in pointing out that Adolf Eichmann’s moral failure was primarily because of his thoughtlessness. According to Arendt (1964), the key to morality is talking and thinking and obviously, Adolf Eichmann lacked in both and therefore, he failed morally being a subject to Adolf Hitler. Obviously, the morality and ethics in business is not in any way different. Although organizations must strive to adhere to their already set aside moral standards, yet it is imperative that morality is born out of one's conviction and drive and not just on some written down principles.
Ethics in Businesses
Virtually every organization has some codes of conducts that guide its daily operations. These codes of conducts state ethical and unethical practices and what employees as well as managers are supposed to do in various circumstances. Clegg, Kornberger, and Rhodes, (2007) made it clear that the ethics practiced by an organization is formed through various stages of continued debates over moral choices. Ibarra-Colado et al. (2006) indicated that ethics is highly subjective to the manager. In other words, the manager's ethical conduct determines the ethical behavior of the firm. Moreover, it pointed out that ethics is highly related to an individual's freedom to make determinations about what needs to do and who to be as well as the context of the organization in which the choices are governed. This is highly correlated with Foucault's ethics. According to Foucault, ethics is a conscious practice of freedom through which people develop a notion of self that can be deemed ethical (Ibarra-Colado et al., 2006).
Organizational ethics obviously calls for greater accountability on the part of the managers, corporation and everyone concerned (Eggers, 2013). However, overstretching of this accountability could result to ethical violence. Subsequently, it refers to an accountability to force the accountable self to account for something that he may not easily justify and thereby doing violence to the accountable self (Eggers, 2013; Martin, 2009). Obviously, morality and ethics in an organization does not only concern the business manager but also involves the employees and corporation at large. Hence, organizations all over the world face a number of ethical problems such as the issue of the use of new information technologies as means of surveillance, modern consumption practices, the practice of whistleblowing, the question of managerial responsibility and so forth.
Ethical Issues Posed by Information Technology
The information age brought with it a lot of goodness but at the same time, it arouses several ethical issues. The handling, collection and distribution of information in many corporations put the ethics behind such practices in question (Eggers, 2013). Mason (n.d) points out four ethical issues posed by the information technologies with the acronym PAPA. These include Privacy, Accuracy, Property and Accessibility. The issue of privacy is a major ethical issue faced in the information age (Eggers, 2013). In considering the subject of privacy, it is important to ask what information about a person or an association should be revealed and under what conditions should such information be given out.
The privacy is mostly threatened by two forces which include the growth of information technology together with its improved ability for surveillance, communication, computation, storage and retrieval and secondly, the increased value of information in decision making (Mason, n.d). Policy makers in organizations and parastatals find information especially handy to make various kinds of decisions. As a matter of fact, most firms and organizations are willing to go beyond allowable miles to collect information.
Mason (n.d) cited a case study of surveillance and privacy infringement in the United States, an event that took place in Florida. The Florida legislature thought that the state's building codes might be too strict and that taxpayers were burdened for paying for buildings. They did not really make use of and in view of this one of the studies that were commissioned involved surveillance at the Tallahassee Community College in which monitors were strategically located at least once a week in each bathroom. The monitor examines how the toilets, sinks, mirrors and other facilities in the building were used and subsequently, the data obtained were entered into a database for further analysis. Of course, this surveillance was stopped due to the complaint of privacy infringement but the data would mean a lot as per the recent proposal to develop a central federal databank that would consist of files from most of the U.S government agencies.
Surveillance is however not completely unethical especially when it is channeled to a positive end. The term surveillance refers to the monitoring or recording of information, natural phenomena or conversations from a distance (Surveillance, 2009). It often secretive and usually applies to government investigation and military operations, but it also applies to organizations. The information recorded by organizations are often used for marketing purpose, but when information is collected and conveyed without the proper consent of a person, it raises an ethical eyebrow. Moreover, surveillance and privacy infringement have become a big issue in corporations since the advent of the internet. Information and data and individuals and even organizations can be collected and conveyed without the consent of the party concerned. Usually, the information so traded with are private to the person concerned and too often than not an individual may give his consent for organization A to have a part of his information but may not want organization B to have access to the same information. Data merging is another unethical issue arising in the information age. For instance, the United State Congress’ Privacy Protection Commission chaired by David F. Linowes indicated that there are more than 8000 different record systems in the federal government’s files that contain data capable of identifying each citizen individually. Further, each citizen has up to 17 files in the federal administrations and agencies; these files form the basis of revealing draft resisters with Social Security data. Of course, there are a few benefits that can be attributed to this loss in privacy but simultaneously, the benefits are not equal to the cost of loss in freedom it causes (Macnish, n.d.).
Ethical consideration of employee surveillance
Perhaps employee monitoring has become a norm in the workplace and employees give various reasons why they ought to monitor activities of their employees. While most of these reasons might seem justifiable because Bassick, McNamara, and Sullivan, (2007) argued that the information gathered by employers can also be used for other purposes and investigations not related to the stated motivations. It is difficult to right off employee surveillance as wrong unless we view them through the lenses of philosophical and ethical theories. Various ethical theories as pointed above emphasize the alienable rights of every individual. According to Bassick et al. (2007), employee surveillance is unethical because it fails to consider the rights of the employees. From the utilitarian ethical stance, ethical action can be defined as one that best protects and serves for happiness and respect to a greater number of people, which include those affected. Going by this philosophical theory, employee surveillance is unethical. This is because companies leverage state of the art technologies such as email monitoring, website screening, GPS tracking and so forth to eliminate the right of the employees. Of course, most employers tell employees when they will be monitored, but they do not disclose the extent of the surveillance and the information that would be gathered in the process.
Analyzing employee surveillance from the deontological ethical stance might prove at first that it is ethical. Deontological theory considers the intention of an action rather than the action itself. However, most of the time, the information gathered via the surveillance process is misused and too often than not, the information the initial intention is positive, but the information could later be used against the employee. This also makes employee surveillance unethical on considering the deontological ethical theory. Obviously, surveillance is actually an infringement of privacy. All thanks to the internet but at the same time it does more harm than good as well seen in employee surveillance (Bassick et al., 2007).
According to Macnish (n.d), no matter the form of surveillance one may consider, one of the core arguments for it is that it poses a threat to privacy. The right to privacy is correlated to the right of anonymity or the right to be left alone. However, philosophers argue that the right to privacy overlaps with a cluster of other rights such as property rights and rights of the person. A person’s right to privacy is only violated when one of these particular rights is violated, and therefore, there is no distinct right to privacy. Philosophers differ in their views about what actions are deemed ethical and those that are not ethical. However, from the deontological view point, surveillance will always be deemed unacceptable when it violates certain rights of individuals such as the right to privacy (Macnish, n.d).
Deciding on which ethical stance to adopt as it relates to surveillance and privacy is a complex, paradoxical process. It is therefore necessary to consider philosophical theories such as deontological theory in framing any moral decision in a firm.
Conclusively, Thrift (2001) was right when it states that the love and commitment to a business is what makes it worthwhile not the finance. Such level of commitment and romance would breed strong corporate culture not only on the employers but also on the employees. Moreover, the new business age brought by the internet calls for a greater discipline and skills on the managers (Thrift, 2002). The managers should become the change agent. He must cultivate the skills and disciplines to take the firm a notch higher. In other words, the success and failure of the firm rest solely on the manager. Moreover, accountability is very necessary here, but it has to be kept optimum in order to avoid ethical violence. A firm faces a number of ethical challenges especially with the advent of modern technologies but it is the basic duty of the firm to control these variables in such a way in an ethical way for a greater good. Obviously, the corporate social responsibility of a firm demands that it considers the good of its employees and the people at large, thus, surveillance and some other ethical issues should be viewed from deontological and utilitarian lenses in order to ensure that a firm remains ethical. Interestingly, a handful of firms today have proved ethical in their operations and use of information obtained via modern technologies.
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