Business Ethics and Sustainability

In the introductory unit we considered the definitions of ethics, morality, principles and values.  We examined these concepts and found that individuals can be held morally responsible for actions they commit knowingly and freely.  We also noted that we make judgements about the type of justice that should be afforded to these individuals who undertake actions that cause harm to others or adversely affect their wellbeing.  However when we attempt to apply these concepts to organisations, we inevitably encounter numerous problems that appear to make the application of morality to business activity extremely difficult.

That business action has impact or consequences is undeniable. One need only examine cases such as the recent importation of contaminated berries infecting Australian consumers with Hepatitis A, Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal India in the 1980s when a parts of a battery factory exploded sending toxic fumes into the air, settling in and around the town of Bhopal causing in excess of 8000 deaths. Other examples such as the Nestle infant milk scandal, the melamine powder in milk products by a Chinese company part owned by New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra in 2008, the financial harm caused to millions by the toxic loan scandals that pre-empted the global financial crisis, etc, etc. Clearly harm has been caused and unethical practices and poor decision making undertaken by management. But who is responsible?

Do we hold the individual who made the decision responsible, the group, project team or committee who made the oversaw a project or a decision, the CEO and the Executive group, the Board of Directors or the actual Organisations, in whose name the individuals and groups acted?Once we have determined who is responsible what sort of justice is appropriate? Whilst retributive and compensatory justice can be exacted upon an individual- how can both be applied to an organisation? Should an individual acting on the organisation’s behalf be solely held accountable?

This unit will examine the difficult and controversial topic of the moral responsibility of organisations. It will examine the concept of personhood and agency and the conditions under which an organisation can be held morally responsible for its actions………………………………………………………………………..

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