Business ethics can be defined as “the application of ethical values to business behavior,” explains the Institute of Business Ethics. It is a comprehensive term, covering everything from human resources to financial strategies to accounting practices. To understand how to effectively implement good ethical practices within organizations, managers and employees can familiarize themselves with the types of ethical issues facing businesses today.
Understanding Ethical Issues in Business
Although the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now commonplace, it wasn’t always so, according to an article in the University of Pennsylvania’s online research and business analysis journal. Cultural shifts have largely contributed to this change. A study done by Cone Communications found that 91 percent of global consumers expect companies to operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues. Ninety percent also said they would boycott a company if they learned of irresponsible or deceptive business practices.
Besides these potential impacts, there are other valuable reasons for companies to follow good business ethics. They include the ability to attract talent and limiting financial liability within their institutions.
Current Ethical Issues in Business
The following are five issues currently facing businesses in the ethical realm.
Social networking sites are one of the most commonly used features of the internet. Although it is nearly impossible to curb their use, many issues can arise from employees having access to websites such as Facebook and Twitter. These may include potential breach of confidentiality, conflicts of interest, misuse of company time and resources, disclosure of private information and even damage of company reputation, says Corporate Compliance Insights. Companies can address their concerns by creating policies that outline appropriate social media use and expectations for how these sites can be used professionally to meet their objectives.
Surveillance and Privacy
With the rapid rise of surveillance technology, businesses face the challenge of balancing individual employee privacy with protecting the health of their companies. Employers require the use of this technology for several reasons, including recovering lost communications, limiting legal liabilities, protecting sensitive information and ensuring that their employees do not violate company policies. However, all this can come at the expense of relinquishing the privacy of individuals. Solutions to this problem may include encouraging participation from employees on such policies, putting these policies in writing and offering full disclosure on the methods and tools involved in surveillance technology use.
At one time, transparency meant simply “owning up to a mistake or righting a wrong,” explains Entrepreneur. While these practices continue to be important, the concept of transparency now covers so much more. It has grown to mean the practice of being forthright in all aspects — both positive and negative — of a company’s practices. To make their companies as transparent as possible, leaders can emphasize the practice in all facets of their operations including employee conduct, internal culture and corporate objectives.
Although many companies attempt to address issues of child labor, violations still persist. This is particularly true in large companies where leadership is far removed from manufacturing and other ground-level operations, reports Harvard Business Review. (Such companies include Apple, Samsung and other tech giants.) All too often businesses practice “willful ignorance,” only fixing issues when they arise instead of taking proactive approaches. To combat this problem, it is suggested that companies commit both privately and publicly to specific policies regarding child labor.
The crucial importance of large companies engaging in environmentally sustainable practices is now practically common knowledge. Companies need to balance their desire to earn profits with adopting processes of sustainable operations. Topics they must consider include pollution, hazardous wastes, chemical and nuclear spills and accidents, global warming contribution and deforestation, among others. In James Brusseau’s book The Business Ethics Workshop, he explains that companies seeking answers to this dilemma would do well to explore alternative energy generation, participate in cost-benefit analysis studies on environmental protection and express corporate responsibility to both their partners and the public.
Further Study of Business Ethics
Understanding ethical concerns is a key element of running a successful, trustworthy enterprise. Individuals seeking to gain further knowledge about balancing these complex issues can do so by earning their online business degree at Shorter University. Options include the online associate’s degree in business, online bachelor’s degree in business and online MBA. Shorter University offers small class sizes and experienced instructors, providing students with the support they need to forge ahead in their careers.