Week 4: Business Ethics International

September 17, 2011by
In this lecture we cover the classic moral theory of virtue ethics and consider various issues that arise for businesses operating in a globalized, international marketplace, and consider how moral issues may be addressed in the absence of a single, coherent set of social and political institutions.

Virtue Ethics

Business Ethics International

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Transparency International

On the front lines of the current battle against international corruption in business and government is Peter Eigen, former director of the World Bank in Nairobi. In 1993 he founded an NGO called Transparency International, with the mission to fight against corruption in business and governments. Their Corruption Perceptions Index is used all over the world not only to identify need for political accountability, but by companies looking to gauge the risks of entering into new foreign markets and economies. Here is Eigen speaking at TEDxBerlin in 2010 on his vision for combating the life destroying abuses of power in the world today:

Business East & West

For another take on the dynamics of international business, here is Devdutt Pattanaik telling the stories that have shaped respective worldviews of cultures East and West. From basic misunderstanding to entirely different ways of doing business, Pattanaik explores some of the more practical elements of Kipling’s famous ballad:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.

Here is Stephen Covey’s description of the “character ethic” I mentioned in the lecture:

Good, Evil & Heroic Imagination

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, most famous for his Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, recently launched the Heroic Imagination Project, a nonprofit organization “designed to inspire heroism in ordinary people and teach them to make wise and effective decisions when heroic opportunities arise.” This project puts into action the theories developed in the final chapter of Zimbardo’s 2007 The Lucifer Effect, where he defines heroism as

“a contempt of danger, not from ignorance or inconsiderate levity, but from a noble devotion to some great cause, and a just confidence of being able to meet danger in the spirit of such a cause.” (p. 467)

The following talk fills in some of the background to Zimbardo’s creating the Heroic Imagination Project. Here he tells the story of his early research on the social dynamics surrounding good and evil human behavior, and then explains his work on the prisoner abuse case at Abu Ghraib. He then addresses the role moral heroism might play in shifting some of the power away from the systemic dimension of good and evil.

Practical Wisdom & Moral Heroism

Barry Schwartz, along with his Swathmore colleague Kenneth Sharpe, has developed a theory of moral heroism around the classical Aristotelian conception of phronesis, practical wisdom. Practicing this kind of wisdom, they claim, encourages people to be “system changers” or “canny outlaws” who fix broken systems represented in our various ineffective policies, procedures, and codes of conduct. What we need: to celebrate our moral heroes, in particular those exemplifying the virtue of practical wisdom.