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What are Ethics?

Derived from the Greek word “Ethos” which means “way of living”, ethics are an integral part of an individual’s value system. It is how an individual leads his or her life in accordance to what is accepted by society in general. According to J L Mackie, “A moral or ethical statement may assert that some particular action is right or wrong; or that some actions of certain kinds are so; it may offer a distinction between good and bad characters or dispositions; or it may propound some principle from which more detailed judgements of these sorts might be inferred "

In a business world where we are often faced with what is known as an “ethical dilemma”, it becomes important to be able to clearly differentiate between good and bad, effectively and fast. For this very purpose, we have learnt from others experiences, through cases and movies the Ethics of Business which for better understanding have been divided under the following heads:

• Personal Ethical Values

• Role as an Economic Agent

• Responsibilities as an Organisational Leader

• Cooperative Capitalism

I have made an endeavour to summarise my learning in Business Ethics under these very heads. As an example from a real life organisation I have chosen the TATA group as my case example.

Personal Ethical Values

A person’s personal set of values are what build his or her ethics in living. Each and every person has been brought up with a basic sense of right and wrong. This forms the Ethical value system that an individual buys into. This includes all the duties and responsibilities that he or she must fulfil, and all the commitments that must be kept.

The real problem arises when in an organisation; there is a conflict between the actions of the company and the personal ethics of an employee. In the “Analysts dilemma”, we are given the example of an Investment banker who must maintain confidentiality about the information passed on to him by a friend even though it may greatly hamper the performance of the organisation and his own career. It is under these circumstances that the individual is faced with a dilemma as to whether he should be faithful to the organisation and in the process save his own job or to his friend.

Companies often implore their employees to be ethical. There is little room for an ethical conflict when the company itself is known for being ethical in al its dealing. The TATA code of conduct also emphasises on the importance of personal ethics by saying, “Every employee of a Tata company, which shall include whole-time directors and the chief executive, shall deal on behalf of the company with professionalism, honesty, integrity as well as high moral and ethical standards. Such conduct shall be fair and transparent and be perceived to be as such by third parties.”

(Source: TATA website)

The movie “The Insider” also brings to light the personal ethics of its characters when the brave journalist’s (Al Pacino) personal ethical system makes him stand up against his own network to bring the Russell Crowe’s story out into the public eye.

It is common in a workplace to have ones ethics put to test. Simple everyday decisions like whether or not to use the office internet connection for personal work or whether or not to take office stationery home are a matter of ethical conduct

Role as Economic Agents

Undoubtedly it is the business’ responsibility to maximise shareholder’s value and utilise the funds given to them by these shareholders in the most optimum and efficient way possible.

However the question really is “How far is an organisation willing to go for profits alone?” Is it right for a huge company to give up on its ethical system just to make profits and maximise shareholders’ wealth?

Coca Cola’s radical idea to price its cans in the Vending Machines differently depending on the temperature and time of the day was met with great resistance because the soft drink giant was looked upon as unethical for “exploiting” its customers just to gain profits by taking advantage of a thirsty man on a hot day.

The TATA group also recognises its responsibilities to the shareholder in its honour code вЂ" “A Tata Company shall be committed to enhance shareholder value and comply with all regulations and laws that govern shareholders’ rights.” However one can be rest assured that companies



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