The Market Power blog noticed something that also tweaked my interest, in an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Today's M.B.A. students are not as ethically challenged as recent
reports make them out to be, according to the findings of a study being
released today at a global conference of business educators and
leaders. In fact, 81 percent of those responding to a recent survey
believe businesses should work to improve society, and 78 percent of
them want "corporate social responsibility" integrated throughout their
The survey results will be presented during a three-day
conference, "Business as an Agent of World Benefit," at Case Western
Reserve University, in Cleveland. The conference, which began on
Monday, has drawn 440 management educators and business leaders, as
well as about 1,000 online participants.
I know this issue has been debated in circles, but I still have real heartburn defining business ethics as "corporate social responsibility." In my mind, and as reinforced by cases like Adelphia and Enron, the number one overriding ethical responsibility of corporate managers is their fiduciary responsibility to the company's owners. Second is their responsibility to comply with the law (though sometimes the law is so muddled and contradictory that may be difficult). Third is the obligation to be honest in dealings with employees, suppliers, and customers and to honor the commitments that the company has made to all three.
In this context, asking a manager to divert the company's resources away from honoring these commitments or providing a return on the shareholder's investment, instead focusing them on some other nebulous entity called "society," is wholly unethical.