Business Ethics

9 Ethics

Learning Objectives

  • Understand what ethics is and why we study it in business.
  • Discuss the key components of our current context and how they impact ethical decision-making in the business environment.

Business Ethics

These chapters help you understand why companies and organizations have come into conflict with Indigenous communities and give you best practices going forward in your business dealings with Indigenous people and communities.

The primary problem in business ethics today is that businesses and governments have not been able to reason through ethical dilemmas. This is not for lack of capacity, either: the critical decisions made by Canada’s leaders, who are deemed to be the most brilliant people in the room, consistently have Canadians questioning their actions and decisions. Political leaders and companies promise to run their organizations ethically and continue to embroil themselves in ethical controversies.

According to Lexico, the definition of “ethics” is “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.” “Ethics” is not doing what you have to (abiding by the law); it is what you should do.

Doing the right thing doesn't automatically bring success. But compromising ethics almost always leads to failure. Erika Andersen

Business ethics is “concerned primarily with the relationship of business goals and techniques to specific human needs. It studies the impact of acts on the good of the individual, the firm, the business community, and society” (Crane, Matten, Glozer, & Spence, 2019). Some of the following concepts may influence business ethics, but it is not necessarily an ethical practice to:

  • Obey the law
  • Follow one’s religion
  • Follow standard practice
  • Do what is best for one’s company
  • Try not to get fired

Current Context: Ethical Business Behaviour

There are three levels of analysis when we discuss the levels of ethical business behaviour. Business ethics involves you as an individual and the decisions you make; a team or group of people and their decision-making; and the organization, what they stand for, and their choices.

Let us first focus on the individual. When looking at the person, we need to consider their moral maturity, personal conscience, and conflicts of interest. We need to consider these factors to understand their decision-making and actions.

Secondly, in many business organizations, you work in teams or departments. When examining a team or department’s decision-making, we explore the pressures of conformity and membership. Businesses can run into trouble, leaving people feeling excluded or alone when these pressures are present in the workplace. Conformity in the workplace will stop people from speaking up and result in poor or even unethical decision-making. Joseph L. Badaracco states in his book Defining Moments that this is where we usually find middle managers in this area of conflict with their ethics. Here are some questions that middle managers can look for to see if their departments may be struggling with conformity and membership:

  1. Is the department rewarded or punished for their behaviours?
  2. What is the group norm of the team?

Lastly, when studying business management, an organization is viewed as a legal entity or person but not a moral person. Traditionally (but not always), the organization only does the legal minimum required to be considered ethical.

If companies want to do business with Indigenous peoples, they need to understand the complex systems that are part of Indigenous culture. Rich histories, cultures, and stores of resources can be found in the 600 plus Indigenous nations and over 2,000 reserves in Canada. After working through these chapters, you will comprehend why Indigenous communities sometimes appear not to want to engage in business with the colonized system. You will understand that Indigenous communities are eager to engage in projects that bring economic growth and sustainability to their people. To be successful in negotiating a positive outcome, Industry needs to move toward reconciliation, which means respecting other people and yourself and taking responsibility as an individual, an organization, and an employer or employee. We do not need to leave our values at the door when we go to work.

Please read this book’s part on History for information on how Indigenous people were treated in the past.

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Indigenous Perspectives on Business Ethics and Business Law in British Columbia Copyright © 2022 by Annette Sorensen and Scott van Dyk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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