Over the past few decades, ethicists have authored thousands of books and articles on business ethics and have proposed a variety of normative moral principles and values. In parallel, ethics programs in business schools, universities (Friedman, 1970; Lewis, 1985; Behrman, 1988; Anquetil, 2011) and in companies (Derichebourg, 2018; Malakoff Humanis, 2019; Groupe Renault, 2019 ) have also advanced business ethics. At the state level, important laws have been passed and regulations have been developed to advance business ethics (e.g. Ethics Committee Law, 2002; Sapin Law 2, 2016; Proposed Law No. 4884 for responsible business ethics, 2022). Consequently, we see significant advances in theory and practice over the past 50 years (Brenkert, 2019).
The emergence of numerous business scandals (e.g. Farmbox Meats in 2013; Nestlé in 2015; Walmart in 2015) has brought to light many unethical decisions by the leaders of well-known large corporations (Kellerman, 2004 ). Therefore, we must note that ethical scandals continue not only in small and medium-sized enterprises, but also in internationally known and respected companies. Just think of Volkswagen, Siemens, BAE, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Wells Fargo to begin a non-exhaustive list of important companies that went astray ethically, not to mention the financial collapse of 2008 (Brenkert , 2019). How could this have happened? These findings have raised concerns about the emergence of these unethical behaviors in organizations (Trevino et al., 2000). The emergence of the study of ethical behavior has also made it possible to identify many explanations at the individual level for these moral failings in management (Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe 2008).
But one question remains: Are ethical slippages the result of isolated actions of companies or rather the result of specific business contexts that generate such behaviors? This demonstrates the need to develop a new explanatory framework. According to the latest compilations, research topics in business ethics seem to be shifting from the study of the acts and decisions of individuals or groups of individuals to an understanding of structures. It is in the latter that ethical issues arise (Liu et al., 2019). It appears that business ethics is now more interested in the context such as international development or the social responsibility obligations that companies must face.
Today's managers must make daily decisions, some of which are more difficult than others (Mintzberg, 1984; Bird, 2002). This type of decision with moral ramifications originates in ambiguous and complex situations. It is therefore not surprising to understand that the exploration of this concept and of the ethical decision-making process does not only depend on the actors but also on the context in which this decision is made. Giving meaning and values to managerial decisions and actions is an essential part of ethical reflection, but the latter is framed within the characteristics of this context. The importance of context is central to ethical reflection (O’Fallon and Butterfield, 2005). If the importance of the context is essential to understand the processes of decisions or actions in business ethics, establishing all the characteristics of the latter remains very difficult (O’Fallon and Butterfield, 2005). Determining to what extent it is possible to obtain knowledge about the context in order to fully understand its role and the conditions of its influence on the moral plane is a long and tedious process. But it is this epistemic question that we would like to address for this third meeting in business ethics.
Business ethics is part of a philosophy that studies man and his context (Hunyadi, 2012). The latter generates meaning and value for each individual. Thus, taking an interest in the context also means trying to understand the actions of individuals (Faes, 2014). We can identify three forms that can be studied both on the epistemological level but above all on the ethical level applied to management (Timmons, 1996): 1) the circumstantial context – context which depends both on the facts about a person and on the facts the surrounding environment; 2) normative context – context that relates to the standards and norms of a group or community and 3) structural contextualism – it relates to the justifications for certain beliefs that, in a context, do not need justification . Thus, managers are individuals in a management context and must face these challenges both managerially and ethically. These various contexts are resources for thinking about how to conduct their business, but also places – real and symbolic – where managers create their own ethical identity (Hunyadi, 2012).
Our next meeting aims to explore the
study of the contextual factors of ethical problems by considering certain particular aspects of particular contemporary situations. As we have seen, the disciplinary fields applied to the concept of ethics are broad and cover all of the management sciences. Here are some themes with which you are invited to present your work that relates to our subject:
- Ethical management in the time of COVID
- The ethical context of organizational changes
- The context of ESG (Environmental Social and Governance (ex CSR)
- The context of diversity management
- The context of corruption in management<
- The context and ethics in particular professions
- The context of whistleblowers
- Context and ethics in management research
- Ethics in relations between organizations (territory, industrial sector)
- Ethics and AI (ethical impacts of NICT and human decisions)
This list is by no means intended to be exhaustive. Our only goal is to open the field to the complexity and diversity of the realities of ethics applied to the business worlds with the specific angle of the human in a management context. Finally, we will propose a special issue to the journal Communication et Management (FNEGE 4) of articles (for those who wish). Hoping that we have aroused your interest, we invite you to the next research days on ethics applied to management situations organized jointly by ESG UQAM (Montreal) and ESSCA Ecole de Management from May 3 to 5, 2023.
Looking forward to seeing you in Montreal!
Anquetil, A. (2008). Qu’est-ce que l’éthique des affaires? Les éditions Vrin.
Behrman, J. N. (1988). Essays on Ethics in Business and the Professions. Prentice Hall.
Brenkert, G. G. (2019). Mind the gap! The challenges and limits of (Global) business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 155(4), 917-930.
Friedman, M. (1970) The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. In Corporate ethics and corporate governance (pp. 173-178). 2007. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
Faes, H. (2014). Sens et valeur du contexte en éthique. Revue d’éthique et de théologie morale, 3(280), 11-33.
Hunyadi, M. (2012). L'Homme en contexte. Les éditions du Cerf.
Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad leadership: What it is, how it happens, why it matters. Harvard Business Press.
Lewis, P. V. (1985). Defining ‘business ethics’: Like nailing jello to a wall. Journal of Business ethics, 4(5), 377-383.
Liu, Y., Mai, F., & MacDonald, C. (2019). A big-data approach to understanding the thematic landscape of the field of business ethics, 1982–2016. Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 127-150.
Mintzberg, H. (1984). Le manager au quotidien: les dix rôles du cadre. Les Éditions D’Organisation.
O’Fallon, M. J., & Butterfield, K. D. (2005). A Review of The Empirical Ethical Decision-Making Literature: 1996 to 2003. Journal of Business Ethics, 59(4), 375-413.
Tenbrunsel, A., & Smith‐Crowe, K. (2008). Ethical decision making: Where we’ve been and where we’re going. The Academy of Management Annals, 2 (1), 545–607.
Timmons, M. (1996). Outline of a Contextualist Moral Epistemology. In Moral Knowledge? New Readings in Moral Epistemology, edited by W. Sinnott-Armstrong and M. Timmons, pp.239–325. Oxford University Press.
Trevino, L. K., Hartman, L. P., & Brown, M. (2000). Moral person and moral manager: How executives develop a reputation for ethical leadership. California Management Review, 42(4), 128-142.
The organizing team