Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Business Ethics: Hot Topics

The Annual Meeting of the Society for Business Ethics 2008 is under way. Here is an overview of topics addressed in the presentations attended by Chris McDonald, who wrote:

Day 3
The first paper I heard was "Hustling Heritage: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Business of Culture," by Kevin Gibson. The talk was basically about the conflict that sometimes happens between preservation of important cultural/heritage resources (e.g., Ayers Rock in Australia) on one hand and development (in particular, tourism) on the other.

The second paper was "Corporate Social Responsibility: Understanding the Historical and Modern Construct for Future Results," by Larry Ruddell. His focus was on the aspect of CSR that implies a duty to help the poor; he contrasted what we might call the old-school view of philanthropy with more modern understandings.

Day 2
The first talk I heard was "Walking the Talk Matters to Boundary Spanners," by Richard Mays Owen. Owen reported on a study he did about the relation between perceived ethical leadership and the attainment of short-term goals by employees. Very roughly, what Owen found is that, in a sales environment, attainment of short-term (30-day) sales quotas was positively correlated with salespersons' perception that they worked within an workplace with values-based ethical culture (but not positively correlated with compliance-based ethical cultures).

Next, I heard "Ethics and Compliance Initiatives: A Holistic View for Deployment," by Bob Krug, who talked (based on experience) about the complexities of and desiderata for implementing a corporate ethics/compliance program.I

n the first talk of the second session, my friend Denis Arnold presented on "Occupational Safety and Coercion." The key element of Denis's talk was a claim about the morally required level of occupational risk-disclosure. Denis argued against a "reasonable person" standard, and in favour of what he called a Kantian conception, according to which an employer should reveal whatever information she herself would want if she were the employee.

Next was "Four Possible Factors in Unethical Marketing to Minors," by Whiton Paine. Pain (himself a former marketing consultant) argued that much of what is wrong with marketing to kids is rooted in what he called "ethical insensitivity" (which he says comes from a combination of stupidity, ignorance, greed, and hubris).

Finally, I heard "Stakeholder Theory and Direct Child Marketing," by Russell Fail. Fail talked about various gaps in the empirical research about (and in particular research about ethical perceptions about) marketing to children. One particularly interesting point: he noted that while there is controversy over using expert input from child psychologists to help market to children, there seems to be a lack of information about what child psychologists themselves think of their peers providing such expert input.

The last session of the morning featured 2 presentations about Facebook. First was "Facebook, Lady Godiva, and Privacy Zones," by Kirsten Martin. Martin spoke about Facebook's controversial "Beacon" system (a system that takes information about certain on-line activities and posts it to your Facebook newsfeed, for all your friends to see). She used the Beacon case as a way to illustrate different aspects of privacy (e.g., the difference between collecting & controlling information, and the difference between access to, and use of, information). (p.s. here's a link to a BusinessWeek story about this story: "Facebook CEO Admits Missteps."

Finally, I heard "Generation Facebook and the Facebook Phenomenon: An Argument For a Heightened Duty of Care," by Tara Radin. She argued that Facebook results in exchange of excessive information and deterioration of face-to-face communication, along with facilitating stalking. Her boldest claim is that Facebook might be tortiously liable for the individual & social harms that she says result from Facebook.

Day 1
"Vocation and Integrity: Prospects for a Virtue Ethics Approach to Business," by David McPherson. McPherson argued that prospects of virtue ethics as a framework for thinking about business ethics depends upon a prior shift from thinking about jobs as mere sources of employment to thinking about jobs as 'callings.' (I asked a naive/skeptical question about just how many of us could be fortunate enough to have jobs that we were able to think of as a 'calling.' David's reasonable answer was that a fairly wide range of jobs can be thought of as callings in the broad sense of having moral importance, at least in that they contribute to the economy and to the survival & flourishing of the families those jobs support.)

"Characterological Ethics: On the Genus of Virtue and Why It Matters in Organizational Behavior," by Miguel Alzola. Miguel argued that the sort of empirical/experimental evidence that there are no such things as virtues (understood as durable dispositions to act in certain ways) has no force against a more appropriately 'non-reductive' analysis of virtue. Virtues (if I've understood Miguel correctly) simply can't be reduced to the sorts of short-term behaviours that are amenable to experimental investigation.

Chris has more to tell. Read it at his excellent blog, here.

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