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This is an introductory account of business ethics, for those who think we ought to act ethically, and who believe that it is possible to work towards a world that is like this.
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  • 1. The big questions in business ethics Glenn Martin September 2016
  • 2. Is ethics important in business? Some answers you might have heard…. No. Business is business. It’s tough; it’s competitive. The object is to succeed, to win, and make money. You do what you have to. You should comply with the law, but that’s the limit of your obligations. Yes, it is, but if your competitors are breaking the rules, you have to be prepared to break the rules too.
  • 3. What do we mean by ethics? We missed a step – what is ethics? Some answers Ethics refers to the rules that societies have established about the behaviour of people (and organisations) towards one another. It’s about right and wrong, good and bad. Ethics refers to the values, rules, standards or principles that guide our decisions about what we ought to do.
  • 4. If “business is business”, what is business ethics? Business ethics simply means the practice of ethics in the business arena. If someone says “business is business”, they mean that they do not intend to be ethical. Accordingly, if someone says “business is business”, it is best not to trust them. And if someone says the most important thing is “the bottom line”, it is best not to do business with them, because they will look after their own interests exclusively at all times, even at the expense of yours.
  • 5. A definition of ethics Albert Schweitzer defined ethics this way: Ethics is the name we give to our concern for good behaviour. We feel an obligation to consider, not only our own personal well-being, but also that of others, society as a whole and the natural world. (1952) Albert Schweitzer
  • 6. What values arise from ethics? If the essence of ethics is concern for the well-being of others, what values would we expect to see in a person (or business) that was behaving ethically? Suggestions: Sincerity and integrity Fairness and respect towards others Acceptance of rules Care and compassion Peacefulness and harmony Loyalty and support for others Courage You can probably think of more….
  • 7. Why do people behave unethically? Behaving ethically may seem like a good idea, but many people and businesses behave unethically. Why? Here are some key reasons: Survivalist orientation – greed, need to crush perceived threats Power orientation – enjoyment of dominating others Conformity and membership – the need to belong and be accepted overrides the willingness to stand up for ethics Conceit, vanity, self-importance – make a person willing to sacrifice honesty, balance and concern for others
  • 8. Ethics and beliefs If a person or business is interested in operating ethically, it seems that beliefs must be examined. What does a person who is greedy, and determined to crush or cheat others, believe? Suggestion: the world is dangerous and uncaring, and goods are scarce. What does a person who gets pleasure out of dominating others believe? Suggestion: This is the main pleasure I can obtain from the world. The person who only ever conforms and complies? To do otherwise is fearful. The conceited or self-important person? My self-worth is tied up in my conceits. Accordingly, to be ethical requires us to challenge all of these beliefs.
  • 9. The call of ethics Remember Albert Schweitzer’s definition of ethics: “…. We feel an obligation to consider, not only our own personal well-being, but also that of others”. One way of “living ethically” is to learn the rules and expectations of our society or our organisation, and comply with them. However, situations can occur that ask us for more, and then we have to make a choice to stand up for ethics. To live this way, we have to believe that it is always worthwhile to act ethically, regardless of circumstances, and that our actions have meaning and purpose.
  • 10. Ethics and possibility If acting ethically suddenly seems too hard, it is good to remember this: People who say that business is tough only serve to make the world more like that. The question to ask is: how can we make the world different? Ethical people help to make an ethical world. An ethical world is attractive. To live ethically is to have regard for the well-being of everyone, and the natural world. Accordingly, in this world, you enjoy the loving regard of others. The biggest test for ethics is whether we think this vision is possible, and worth pursuing.
  • 11. Ethics and possibility: how? To live, work and lead ethically, you have to behave differently to what might be the norm. You have to speak up when necessary and say clearly what is good and what is not good. You have to show in your behaviour what ethics means – in kindness, in selflessness, in adherence to fairness and justice, in building harmonious workplaces, in promoting joy and creativity. You have to work together with others to combat unethical practices. Finally, the best way to combat evil is to make energetic progress in the good. - I Ching, Hexagram 43
  • 12. Glenn Martin’s websites: www.ethicsandvalues.com.au www.glennmartin.com.au Email: glenn@glennmartin.com.au
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