Business ethics; is this an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence? These days it is difficult to tell. With all of the uproar in the government these days about states being bankrupt and labor unions needing bail outs, people have started to wonder where the ethics went in business.
A man who had been a trusted advisor for hundreds of people for many years has gone to prison because his entire business was built on an elaborate Ponzi scheme that, in the end, defrauded these people of their money. Who made money; the person who is now in prison. That is definitely not ethical. Does it seem to bother the man in prison? Not much; he still talks about the gullibility of the people that he tricked.
The Columbia Encyclopedia defines business ethics as: "the study and evaluation of decision making by businesses according to moral concepts and judgments."
I assume this subject is still taught at Columbia School of Business so why does anyone seem to learn it? Is it because there is such a dearth of morality in our business world today? Has greed destroyed our judgment? Is it so important to make a lot of money that it does not matter who we step on while we are climbing the ladder to the top?
Ethical issues are provided to be more complicated since we have a more global economy and global trade. Maybe this is part of the problem. Perhaps, people say, we would go back to our world of morality if we did not have to try to think and act across cross cultural lines. This should not make any difference to us. Our values should always be the same and ethics should always be at the top of our business list.
Sometimes we find ourselves working with another culture where certain races or religions are not well regarded. We deal with companies in other countries that denigrate women. We should not allow our dealings with other countries to interfere with our country's values. Good business ethics should be at the top of our list. Being interested in making money for the company should not compromise the ethics of its employers. Even if a company can be fined for breaking ethics, it sometimes does not influence the company and its employees to do what is right. Why is this? It is because that the company can afford to pay whatever fine is levied and then proceed to go on to make even more money until they are done again.
Business ethics has come to mean: do not break the law, do not attract a civil suit; do not mess up the company's image. In theory these three rules would guide the company employees down the straight and narrow. It does not work because you can not teach a person ethics. It is like morality. It is instinctive; right or wrong. Because profitability comes into play in any discussion of company business, ethics are often bent or completely broken.