Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Oxymoron of "Business Ethics"

Ethics are a moral analysis of an action. Ethics asks the question "is [an action] morally right to do, or morally wrong?"

By the very definition, you can immediately tell that ethics are subjective, as individuals subscribe to a wide variety of moral codes.

Corporations, businesses, however, having no conscience have no capacity for determining moral right or moral wrong.  At a corporation, all actions are judged on economic merit.  "Will [this action] increase or decrease the likelihood of a lawsuit?"  "Will [this action] increase or decrease customer sales?"

There is nothing about "ethical" that applies to these decisions. 

Sometimes a company will incorporate into its business model a seemingly ethical stance.  "Fair Trade" and "Green" are common go-to terms designed to appeal to certain moral codes of individuals, but they are merely part of the corporations' economic sentience, and answer to the governing judgements.

Irony enters when a corporation attempts to teach its employees to protect its bottom line under the moniker of ethics (moral right and moral wrong).  At best, it rightly confuses the employees who can never figure out why something that is not wrong by their individual moral code should be labeled "unethical".  At worst, "business ethics" training should open the company up to lawsuits of religious discrimination for attempting to replace the workers' individual guiding moral codes with one based on corporate economics.

In all eventualities, it sets for the employees an unjustifiable standard of covering ethically questionable behavior with euphemistic stylings that intentionally conceal obscure issues of rightful concern.

Corporations should abandon the semantics of ethics and replace them with a policy of forthright communication informing employees that actions are judged by the businesses bottom line.  Such an action however, while truly ethical to most people, would doubtless violate the principles of economic fitness and is so spurned in favor of the current practices of doublespeak.

An ethical conundrum? Or just business?

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