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  • Series: Studies in TransAtlantic Business Ethics series x
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Edited by Antonio Tencati and Francesco Perrini

This authoritative book includes cutting-edge insights from leading European and North American scholars who reflect upon business ethics’ foundations, firms, markets and stakeholders in order to design more sustainable patterns of development for business and society. Together, the contributing authors advance critical, innovative and imaginative perspectives to rethink the mainstream models and address the sustainability challenge.
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Edited by Joanne B. Ciulla and Tobey K. Scharding

Perhaps the fundamental question in CSR is: What are the responsibilities of businesses and business leadership to society? Moreover, do the responsibilities of business change in times of social and political turmoil? The chapters in this book tackle several aspects of these questions with chapters on business and politics, the environment, technology, and immigration; along with broader questions about leadership, governance, and the very nature of CSR.
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Edited by Joanne B. Ciulla and Tobey K. Scharding

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Joanne B. Ciulla and Tobey K. Scharding

These are troubling times on both sides of the Atlantic. Immigration, Brexit, terrorism, the financial crisis, the election of Donald Trump, and the emergence of nationalism in the US and Europe have created ethical challenges for business leaders as well as most others. Populist political leaders have tapped into the feelings of voters who have been ignored by leaders, left behind during globalization, replaced at work by new technologies, and disheartened by social legislation in areas such as gay marriage and abortion. While some citizens in the US and Europe believed that the world was getting better, others silently watched in dismay. Meanwhile, we also see an increase in xenophobia, racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. The increasingly polarized political environment has made it difficult for leaders to reach a consensus about how to best tackle pressing questions about immigration, human rights, the environment, and the regulation of business and new technologies. This is a challenging environment, one where business leaders may sometimes be called upon to decide where they stand. In a speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “The reality is that government, for a long period of time, has for whatever set of reasons become less functional and isn’t working at the speed that it once was. And so it does fall, I think, not just on business but on all other areas of society to step up” (Sorkin, 2017). His comment raises a cluster of foundational questions about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the role of business in turbulent times: Who should be responsible for what in a society? What are the responsibilities of businesses and business leadership to society? Moreover, do the responsibilities of businesses increase when there are social and political problems? And finally, what does it mean for a business to “step up”?

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Donna Ladkin

Corporate social responsibility suggests that businesses should be doing more to enact their obligations within society, an idea encapsulated by Tim Cook’s assertion that it is time for business to ‘step up’ and take responsibilities that governments are no longer able to cope with efficiently. This chapter argues a contrary view: rather than stepping up, the most appropriate ethical response for business in our troubling times is to ‘step down’. It critiques the notion of stepping up itself and links it to three critical issues we currently face: the growing disparity in wealth, global climate change and the rise of populism. Rather than assuming the primary role afforded to business by capitalist-based economic models and contemporary neoliberal ideology, in order to act ethically a first move for business would be to take its place amidst a range of other voices with equal rights. Such a reorientation could result in businesses taking care to fulfil their basic civic responsibility of paying tax, assuming an obligation to do no harm to the communities in which they are situated and the environment from which they draw natural resources, and enacting organizational practices that would allow employees to enjoy a balanced lifestyle in which they have time for personal, family and community engagement.

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Dirk Matten and Jeremy Moon

The role of business in fostering the public good has been a contentious issue from the emergence of modern capitalism onwards. From early forms of philanthropy up to contemporary corporate social responsibility (CSR) business has faced and responded to societal expectations beyond its pure economic functions. The rise of global capitalism (often characterized as ‘neo liberal’) in the last four decades has coincided with a widespread proliferation of business practices that see the responsibility for the public good as an intrinsic part of private profit maximization.  The spread of global capitalism has thus been accompanied by the proliferation of business activities in favour of the public good, driven by corporate discretion and self-interest. In 2008, the authors termed such an assumption of social responsibility by business as ‘explicit CSR’ – as opposed to ‘implicit CSR’. The chapter critically examines the ‘implicit/explicit’ CSR dichotomy in the light of a decade of research on comparative CSR that has engaged with the proposed framework at various levels. We discuss three major research questions. We question the accuracy and usefulness of the proposed ‘implicit/explicit’ CSR dichotomy by looking at a number of empirical studies and conceptual suggestions that posit a much more unilinear character of neo-liberal forms of capitalism and the concomitant spread of explicit CSR. We also discuss empirical work that has looked at hybrid forms of implicit and explicit CSR to ask how implicit and explicit CSR interact. Finally, we raise questions as to the future of specific forms of CSR.

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Zsolt Boda

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) paradigm and mainstream business ethics traditionally focused on legitimizing the ethics case and then providing insights on the “how” question: how to build ethical institutions, how to manage stakeholders, make responsible decisions and so on. This is, of course, very much needed. However, besides other functions and roles, business ethics should also be a critical enterprise, that is, it should not become apologetic to mainstream business in order to live up to the challenges of today’s ecological crisis. This implies a critical reflection on current management practices as well as questioning the basic assumptions and theoretical constructions of management studies, including the CSR paradigm and business ethics. By undertaking a critical approach, the chapter focuses on the problem of moral motivations: why be ethical. The chapter argues that the ‘why’ should precede the ‘how’ question and that the institutional context of today’s global business makes ethical motivations increasingly difficult to prevail over the profit motives. This implies that the limits of business ethics should also be acknowledged: addressing some fundamental social and environmental problems associated with mainstream business may need effective legal, institutional and political solutions beyond the ethical approach. Leadership in business ethics should mean contributing to a new business paradigm in which the rules of the game are not in sharp contradiction with basic moral requirements and which provides support for the sustainability transformation humankind must undertake.

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Laura J. Spence and Steen Vallentin

This chapter focuses on the internal, organizational dynamics of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate ethics. Instead of approaching the-becoming-responsible of business as a linear process that involves different stages of development, we argue that responsibilization needs to be seen as a contested political process that involves complex power dynamics and conflicts between different interests and rationalities in the organization. The main contribution of the chapter is conceptual. We apply Foucault’s notion of governmentality (along with his concept of power) and show how it can provide important insights into the internal workings of CSR and challenge taken-for-granted notions of how businesses are supposed to become responsible. The analytical themes that sustain the analysis are governmentality, power, subjectivity and translation. The main contribution of the chapter is to show how these four themes, viewed individually and in conjunction through a Foucauldian lens, allow for a more nuanced theoretical understanding of what makes or breaks responsibility in modern business. We use the case of BP and the Deepwater Horizon incident to illustrate our theoretical points.

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Wim Dubbink

It is hard for modern society to keep the organization within the bounds of (legal) justice. Actions attributed to the organization often have consequences that cause injustice. Business ethicists suggest that society should call upon morality as an additional disciplinary mechanism. These suggestions meet with philosophical resistance. It is argued that organizations cannot have moral agency. We show that the debate has not fully taken into account the ‘broken identity of modern morality’, discussed by historians of ethics. The problems critics point at are inherent in the modern conception of morality as such; they do not origin in the attempt to turn organizations into moral agents. This conclusion tilts the conception of the problem. We save the core of the business ethicists’ attempts by arguing that human beings can conceptualize organizations as entities having the capacity for ‘voluntary induced restraint’. In order to think of this possibility, organizations must be entities subject to two authorities, one of which is a commitment to justice. The only way to implement a commitment to justice in the organization is through the moral personhood of its representatives. That is why the organization must stimulate and encourage the moral personhood of its representatives through its institutional framework. Having the capacity for voluntary induced restraint means (i.e., should mean) exactly that. This chapter has its own take on the discussion on organizations as entities to be disciplined through non-legal, that is, voluntary mechanisms. It highlights the need to rethink the nature of the organization: it should not be conceptualized as a mere tool. If concrete manifestations of the organization act as mere tools that is exactly what makes their presence in modern society illegitimate. It also highlights the strong and inherent relation between the citizens having reason to be assured that the organization can be disciplined through voluntary induced restraint and the requirement to make sure that the institutional framework strengthens moral personhood of organizational representatives.

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Daryl Koehn

Today the behavior of political and business leaders is often viewed with suspicion, if not dismay. The #MeToo movement and the periodic groundswell to impeach President Trump reveal a popular impulse to hold famous figures and those in power responsible for their speech and deeds. However, defining what exactly we mean by responsibility is not easy. Its precise meaning, the ways in which it differs from accountability and liability, and its deep connections to self-reflection and to various virtues are all aspects that deserve attention. While intriguing, these large topics lie beyond the scope of this short chapter. The author focuses in this chapter on a narrower aspect of what the public has historically taken to be involved in responsible leadership – namely, the making of ethically sound apologies. A good apology is a speech act in which the apologizer seeks to rebuild trust by taking responsibility for a past deed committed either by the apologizer (personal), by the apologizer’s institution (corporate), or by the apologizer’s country (collective). The author argues that theorists and citizens alike have failed to pay sufficient attention to differences among apologies. One of the significant dangers associated with demanding responsibility from others is the possibility that the accusers make one or more serious category mistakes, demanding a type of responsibility that is not appropriate.