Ethics and morality in business practice


Social Responsibility Journal

ISSN: 1747-1117

Article publication date: 7 March 2008



Debeljak, J. and Krkac, K. (2008), "Ethics and morality in business practice", Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1/2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Ethics and morality in business practice

Article Type: Editorial From: Social Responsibility Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1/2.

Ethics and morality in business practice

Ethics is about finding an answer to what a good person is and how to be(come) one. Therefore it applies to any area of human social life, i.e. forms of life. Regardless, ethics has been repeatedly and carelessly ignored in one of those areas in particular ethics in business, which that is the area we tackle in the Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal sitting in front of you, business and organisations. The papers gathered discuss the consequences of such practice, trying to promote a way and relevance of seeing business and morality together.

The title of this Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal is “Ethics and morality in business practice”. Our contributors discuss the theme broadly, demonstrating how present and widespread it is in this field. The great interest in publishing an article in this Special Issue has produced a double issue, which also shows how many academics realise and are trying to inform society about the problems. The research published within these issues testifies that ethics and business do not, or should not, create an oxymoron as is considered by “Friedman-style” economic reasoning.

Ignoring ethics in business practice bears negative consequences for business, manifested in general negligence, such as pollution, environmental changes, problems in HRS, the business relations scale in general, and eventually the maintenance and sustainability of general prosperity and business itself. The purpose of this Special Issue is to facilitate understanding of where ethical and moral limits should actually be underlined, as this question seems to represent the most difficulty. Perhaps because the answer is plain they are within each and every one of us, and are nurtured by each and every one of us, as that is where morality comes from. We can try to avoid taking responsibility, as we by our fragile human nature frequently tend to do, but that only makes things worse for no-one else but ourselves. So, “When shall I start acting upon the realised importance of morality?” is perhaps a more convenient question.

This Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal, due to directions on topics chosen by us as Guest Editors and because of accepted papers, covers at least four topics as we see it:

  • the first and rather practical topic is CSR and management issues;

  • the second is the always fresh issue à propos corruption;

  • the third covers teaching, communicating and evaluating CSR; and

  • the last covers theoretical and fundamental troubles concerning questions on CSR principles and crucial CSR concepts in terms of their analysis.

This difference between the topics is somewhat blurred, as all the papers in CSR to some extent follow the standard model of papers in social sciences, and quite often such an approach is mixed with the philosophical analysis popular among experts in practical philosophy and applied ethics, and in addition, cases are frequently presented in order to show the problem and the solution in practice.

In respect of the number of the papers reviewed to be published, the editors have tried to accomplish a certain degree of balance among previously listed topics of the journal’s contents. Nevertheless, the fourth topic, the re-description of some indispensable notions of CSR, seems to be of greatest concern in the present volume. In such circumstances and especially on an occasion such as this, i.e. as Guest Editors, we should say that this suggests a certain way of development of the area of CSR in practice by ethical officers in firms, by academics, by NGOs, and many other stakeholders.

À propos of this, we have tried to combine papers into a whole which could provide readers with an idea about how to move from practice to theory in a way that would eventually make practice speak for itself (to paraphrase the words of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein). Practice itself isn’t justified or unjustified, as there cannot be justification stronger than the practice itself, and this is so because every practice is a proper part of steady and fairly complicated form of life, i.e. particular practices, actions, procedures, routines and world-view as a whole (to paraphrase the same philosopher once again).

So, the first section is concentrated around the topic of management. In the words of one the contributors, J. Simmons, whose paper focuses “on operationalising corporate social responsibility in the context of employee governance. Its purpose is to critically evaluate the ethics of ‘mainstream’ human resource management (HRM) and to propose an alternative stakeholder systems model of HRM”. The practice of value-formation in corporations in the context of management is studied in the second paper by M. Mattila. A similar topic is developed by M.A. Musa, S.E. Ismail, and S. Othman in their paper “Corporate governance and innovative leaders”. So, this first part, to continue with application of some philosophical concepts, shows how form of life can be changed on the level of management. Somewhat more loosely connected to the topic of the chapter is the paper by E.A. Lange and T.J. Fenwick, “Moral commitments to community: mapping social responsibility and its ambiguities among small business owners”, and the paper by M. Koričan and I. Jelavić, “CSR, women and SMEs the Croatian perspective”.

The second part is composed of just two papers, which are compatible in principle since both discuss an issue of corruption, the first regarding corporations (by B. Tran), and the second regarding corruption as a general ethical issue (by H. Kreikebaum). B. Tran, in his paper “Corporate ethics: an end to the rhetorical interpretations of an endemic corruption”, suggests that “implementing organizational guidelines is one appropriate and objective method in addressing corporate corruption and to confirm corporate compliance”. On the other hand, H. Kreikebaum, in his paper “Corruption as moral issue” states that “a compliance approach can only serve as a necessary first step to counteract fraud and corruption, and that to obtain a good corporate citizen status a company should also develop an open dialogue with all stakeholders (integrity management approach)”.

The third part shows something rather different regarding not just these changes, but also that these forms of life must be introduced together into society, namely to its new members. So, drilling, teaching, or acquiring practices seem all to be important. Papers gathered here address many relevant topics. F. Alegria Carreira, M. do Amparo Guedes and M. da Conceição Aleixo pose the question of the possibility of teaching business ethics; Kristin Demetrious connects it to new activism; and E. Ariwa and S. Olaya formulate many queries regarding digitalization and CSR through a quite interesting case.

Finally, the fourth part discusses some fundamental CSR concepts. This also calls for some clarification. The Austrian philosopher already mentioned wrote that during the drill of morality ethics itself should be presented as a kind of mysterious thing, and only later it can be explicated, and that on the other hand something must be presented as fundamental during teaching and acquiring. So, one thing is to drill certain practice (i.e. form of life, way of action and living) into the members of a certain group or society, and quite another is to explicate it, to present it perspicuously for various practical purposes. Although these appear to be two different things, they are not. Practice alone contains rules, notions and ideas within itself, so while certain action is de facto practised these rules are implicit within it and manifest themselves during the process. On the other hand, due to the new circumstances, need for change of practice or a similar explication is required as a kind of practical synopsis or overview. If so, then these implicit rules can be explicated, mystery (at least partially) can be revealed, but once again, only for practical purposes. After all, we learn practice by doing something (not to tell lies, not to steal, to be honest, to be fair, etc.), not by learning rules before or separately from training.

So, that is our reason for creating the fourth part, which addresses issues starting with principles of corporate citizenship (D. Birch), contemporary administrative techniques (A. Coltro), to many particular concepts such as accountability (M. Green et al.), sanity (Gupta and Gupta), affirmative action, rights, sustainability, and others.

Furthermore, we should mention that some principal issues are discussed in various contexts in some of the papers in the fourth part, namely:

  • in the context of a certain corporation (Maria de Fatima Oliveira, “Fighting a smoky fire: an analysis of Phillip Morris’s CEO speeches according to image restoration strategies”; “On the morning of December 3, 1984, a holding tank with 43 tonnes of stored MIC from the Union Carbide factory, overheated and released a toxic MIC gas mixture, which, being heavier than air, rolled along the ground through the surrounding streets”. This ecological and corporate disaster is the topic of the paper by Loong Wong, “Revisiting rights and responsibility: the case of Bhopal”);

  • in the context of national economy (paper by Gupta and Gupta, “Corporate social responsibility in India: towards a sane society?”); and

  • in the religious and cultural context (paper by Riham Rizk, “Back to basics: an Islamic perspective on business and work ethics”).

By summarising these somewhat disconnected ideas in all of the chapters, it is possible to argue that these topics are of the utmost importance to CSR and business ethics since they call attention to the vital responsibilities of business and its stakeholders, especially regarding:

  • proper functioning of management and of some “improper” functioning, i.e. corruption (first and second parts);

  • the role of learning about ethical values (among businessmen, PR, students, professors, and activists; third part); and

  • the importance of fundamental conceptual investigations exposed as practical in various cases which reveal them at the same time to be purely abstract as well as everyday obstacles (fourth part).

This last part also can be divided into those papers that give rise to some fundamental issue in the light of a particular case, and those that discuss a conceptual issue in the first place and try to apply it to economic realities.

In the light of all of the ideas mentioned of the relationship between practice and theory, and vice versa, we are thankful to Professor David Crowther, who gave us the opportunity to present this Special Issue of Social Responsibility Journal to readers of different interests and positions in the corporate, business, and academic worlds not just as a sum of excellent investigations, but also as significant ideas of what is relevant in social responsibility in different fields of business, societies, and cultures nowadays.

Jelena Debeljak, Kristijan Krkac

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