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Autor: anton • March 3, 2011 • 4,047 Words (17 Pages) • 590 Views
Having informally observed an ongoing dialogue discussing social responsibility in business, it seems that the social responsibility at some point took a backseat to the prospect and mentality of higher profits at any cost (what's good for GM...). The transition I sense now is a movement toward incorporating social responsibility, which is to say incorporating an ethical code considering extrinsic matters and concerns, fluidly in business models. The revelation that business entities do not operate in a vacuum has led to an incorporation of externalities (e.g. community interests, environmental concerns, etc.) rather than the "bleeding hearts" that are probably most often associated with social responsibility in business. The first portion of this paper seeks to outline the emergence of social responsibility in the context of a continuum of developing business ethoses as well as personal responsibility, which is to say the responsibility of the people within the organization--because despite a cultural recognition of autonomy and separateness in relation to its people, common sense tell us that an organization and its people are inextricable.
Described by Trevor Sargent as "an uneasy combination of two historically separate disciplines" the marriage of ethics and business is recognized by some, including many laissez faire economist types (which is not to suggest that free market endorsement is invariably linked with the mutually exclusive compartmentalization of ethics and business) as an undermining of free society, as Milton Friedman put it (Reasononline).
Nicholas Eberstadt established in his paper that the modern corporate responsibility movement sprung from the Depression. Eberstadt pointed to the Depression as a wakeup call of sorts in public perception of just what a corporation's role is. Eberstadt cited Ralph Nader to articulate the view that business 'exists to serve'. Nader extends this line of thinking in calling for accountability of a business' "action or inaction" and by doing so lays a great deal of responsibility on businesses.
Eberstadt reveals a disruption in the continuum of development toward increased social responsibility by wars and the shift in public priorities that accompany them. The revelation that the corporate responsibility was stymied by decidedly more pressing concerns such as war is of great importance in understanding the psychology of such development. Maslow's oft-referenced hierarchy of needs illustrates the contingent nature of an individual human's needs, which applies to corporate responsibility twofold; as it is with individuals, if the lower need is unfulfilled, the higher need cannot be adequately addressed. Likewise, a business is unlikely to concern itself with anything abstract and/or non-immediate such as environmental protection or social welfare in the context of a society focused primarily on survival (i.e. a society at war). Further, the society, in such a preoccupied state, does not expect things like environmental protection efforts from its corporations, and rationally so as it has more pressing concerns.
In 1928--the precipice of the depression--the two hundred largest corporations owned 30 percent of the nations manufacturing assets, today they own almost 60 percent (Eberstadt, 6). With larger scope comes larger influence, which means increased responsibility as well, perhaps why big business has become increasingly expected to be socially responsible in its integration into society's and their cultures. Eberstadt suggests that as the corporation is institutionalized, it has social obligations to fulfill (6). As businesses become increasingly monolithic, visible and influential, it seems highly reasonable that society at large would place an increasing responsibility on the organizations. With corporations wealthier than some countries, Nader's call to accountability, of both action and inaction, may well be justified, which is to say nothing of a corporation's influence on the host country's culture. Indeed, for some developed countries, consumerism itself has become a staple the culture.
As expressed previously, it is common sense that a corporation--while in some ways legally independent of its employees and even owners--the people behind an organization, collectively and individually, are the organization. So what is the role of the individual within an organization? I spoke of compartmentalization earlier, as business practice and ethical consideration are often unnaturally separated--leaving a sizable gap. Just as business entities often compartmentalize their ethical responsibilities and their business practices (after all, it is "just business") too often the individuals comprising the business do the same. Trevor Sargent speaks of an extreme example of ethical compartmentalization in the Holocaust, specifically, Sargent references the German bureaucrats' effort to oversee the "organizational aspects" and the organizational aspects alone of the Holocaust. Likely, these bureaucrats went home at night as a typical person working to provide for their family; each individual was a very minor cog in a larger machine, one may not have been easily recognized from the perspective of the lower-level bureaucrat in the early stages of the Hitler's reign. Nevertheless, these cogs collectively ensured the ending of millions of lives in Hitler's larger death machine. Were the bureaucrats who ensured the operation of gas chambers and the logistics of prisoner transportation from one death camp to another morally responsible in any way?
While an extreme example, the case of the Holocaust brings forth an interesting point and that point being, what degree of accountability can be placed on the individual within an organization? Sargent spoke of individual responsibility in a larger sense than one confined only to the business realm, he inadvertently explained how normal people could willingly partake in evil and corruption when associated with a larger organization that encourages or demands it. Instances like the Holocaust stand as testament to the truth that people act as they do as much because of who they are as where they are. Just as all the Nazi's could not have been inherently evil, all the executives involved in the Enron scandal probably were not inherently inclined to act corruptly any more so than other executives. While the individual does have free choice (as exhibited by individuals leaving their position over principle) and some germans' disgust with the Nazi party, an organization must be organized and led in such a way as to promote the best ethics and behaviors from its employees if it is to become a benchmark of social responsibility and ethical behavior.
Sargent establishes integrity