General Ethical Business Issues
Businesses deal with ethical issues on a regular basis. Many of these issues are specific to a particular industry. However most issues in business ethics will fall into one of several general categories:
- Integrity and trust: Integrity and trust is the most fundamental business ethics issue people deal with. Integrity in business is based on the idea of conducting business affairs with honesty and treating all customers fairly. A business committed to ethical business practices will over time develop a high level of trust between themselves and their customers. Trust is a key element of a successful business
- Making decisions: Businesses are faced with having to make ethical decisions on a regular basis. To be ethical the decision making process should revolve around protecting customer and employee rights and making sure all business operations are fair. The process of ethical decision making consists of recognizing an ethical issue, gathering facts, evaluating possible actions and deciding which course of action to take.
- Diversity: There are a number of diversity issues that businesses may have to deal with. An ethical business will recruit a diverse workforce and provide equal opportunities to its employees
- Compliance with laws and regulations: Ethical issues in this area include following environmental laws, government safety regulations and fiscal and monetary reporting statutes
Main Business Ethics Issues
Business ethics are far from new. As James O’Toole says about what Aristotle had to say about ethics in business:
“In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle concludes that the role of the leader is to create the environment in which all members of an organization have the opportunity to realize their own potential. He says that the ethical role of the leader is not to enhance his or her own power but to create the conditions under which followers can achieve their potential.”
In today’s business environment there are some more specific ethics issues that businesses across virtually every industry have to deal with. Major business ethics considerations facing companies today include:
- Accounting practice ethics: Consumers have developed great deal of distrust in the accounting practices of many businesses. Accountants and financial advisers should avoid skirting ethical boundaries when making financial reports to both the federal government and investors if they wish to develop more consumer trust. Consider for instance the case of Conrad Black and other directors regarding the “loss” of some $200 million dollars from Hollinger International.
- Harassment in the workplace: Sexual relationships at the workplace are an ethical issue. Maintaining professional relationships between employees is a challenge for many businesses regardless of the industry they are in
- Equal pay: Federal and state laws require employees in a company to receive equal pay for performing similar work regardless of gender, race, age, ethnicity, disability or religion. However this is a problem that still exists in many companies.
- Social networks: Ethical issues surrounding social networks include what employees can and can’t say on social networks, company policies regarding employees’ use of social sites during business hours and an employer’s right to monitor workers use of social networks
These are far from the only ethical issues that businesses must consider and often there will be conflicts between ethics ideals with no easy or obvious answer.