Values and ethics in simple words mean principle or code of conduct that govern transactions; in this case business transaction. These ethics are meant to analyze problems that come up in day to day course of business operations. Apart from this it also applies to individuals who work in organisations, their conduct and to the organisations as a whole.
We live in an era of cut throat competition and competition breeds enmity. This enmity reflects in business operations, code of conduct. Business houses with deeper pockets crush small operators and markets are monopolised. In such a scenario certain standards are required to govern how organizations go about their business operations, these standards are called ethics.
Business ethics is a wider term that includes many other sub ethics that are relevant to the respective field. For example there is marketing ethics for marketing, ethics in HR for Human resource department and the like. Business ethics in itself is a part of applied ethics; the latter takes care of ethical questions in the technical, social, legal and business ethics.
Origin of Business Ethics
When we trace the origin of business ethics we start with a period where profit maximisation was seen as the only purpose of existence for a business. There was no consideration whatsoever for non-economic values, be it the people who worked with organisations or the society that allowed the business to flourish. It was only in late 1980’s and 1990’s that both intelligentsia and the academics as well as the corporate began to show interest in the same.
Nowadays almost all organisations lay due emphasis on their responsibilities towards the society and the nature and they call it by different names like corporate social responsibility, corporate governance or social responsibility charter. In India Maruti Suzuki, for example, owned the responsibility of maintain a large number of parks and ensuring greenery. Hindustan unilever, similarly started the e-shakti initiative for women in rural villages.
Globally also many corporations have bred philanthropists who have contributed compassion, love for poor and unprivileged. Bill gates of Microsoft and Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway are known for their philanthropic contributions across globe.
Many organisations, for example, IBM as part of their corporate social responsibility have taken up the initiative of going green, towards contributing to environmental protection. It is not that business did not function before the advent of business ethics; but there is a regulation of kinds now that ensures business and organisations contribute to the society and its well being.
Nowadays business ethics determines the fundamental purpose of existence of a company in many organisations. There is an ensuing battle between various groups, for example between those who consider profit or share holder wealth maximisation as the main aim of the company and those who consider value creation as main purpose of the organisation.
The former argue that if an organisations main objective is to increase the shareholders wealth, then considering the rights or interests of any other group is unethical. The latter, similarly argue that profit maximisation cannot be at the expense of the environment and other groups in the society that contribute to the well being of the business.
Nevertheless business ethics continues to a debatable topic. Many argue that lots of organisations use it to seek competitive advantage and creating a fair image in the eyes of consumers and other stakeholders. There are advantages also like transparency and accountability.
Importance of Ethics
Most of us would agree that it is ethics in practice that makes sense; just having it carefully drafted and redrafted in books may not serve the purpose. Of course all of us want businesses to be fair, clean and beneficial to the society. For that to happen, organizations need to abide by ethics or rule of law, engage themselves in fair practices and competition; all of which will benefit the consumer, the society and organization.
Primarily it is the individual, the consumer, the employee or the human social unit of the society who benefits from ethics. In addition ethics is important because of the following:
- Satisfying Basic Human Needs: Being fair, honest and ethical is one the basic human needs. Every employee desires to be such himself and to work for an organization that is fair and ethical in its practices.
- Creating Credibility: An organization that is believed to be driven by moral values is respected in the society even by those who may have no information about the working and the businesses or an organization. Infosys, for example is perceived as an organization for good corporate governance and social responsibility initiatives. This perception is held far and wide even by those who do not even know what business the organization is into.
- Uniting People and Leadership: An organization driven by values is revered by its employees also. They are the common thread that brings the employees and the decision makers on a common platform. This goes a long way in aligning behaviors within the organization towards achievement of one common goal or mission.
- Improving Decision Making: A man’s destiny is the sum total of all the decisions that he/she takes in course of his life. The same holds true for organizations. Decisions are driven by values. For example an organization that does not value competition will be fierce in its operations aiming to wipe out its competitors and establish a monopoly in the market.
- Long Term Gains: Organizations guided by ethics and values are profitable in the long run, though in the short run they may seem to lose money. Tata group, one of the largest business conglomerates in India was seen on the verge of decline at the beginning of 1990’s, which soon turned out to be otherwise. The same company’s Tata NANO car was predicted as a failure, and failed to do well but the same is picking up fast now.
- Securing the Society: Often ethics succeeds law in safeguarding the society. The law machinery is often found acting as a mute spectator, unable to save the society and the environment. Technology, for example is growing at such a fast pace that the by the time law comes up with a regulation we have a newer technology with new threats replacing the older one. Lawyers and public interest litigations may not help a great deal but ethics can.
Ethics tries to create a sense of right and wrong in the organizations and often when the law fails, it is the ethics that may stop organizations from harming the society or environment.