Codes of Business Ethics
Just as various modes of doing business exist, so are there varying modes of business ethics. Underlying all of them are certain consistencies of opportunities and respect; however, all of these codes vary due to the scope of the business being conducted. Therefore, a code of ethics that works well for a small business operating in a single state might not work on a federal level or a code pertaining to a business operating within the United States’ borders might not apply as effectively to a business that functions on an international level. This essay will examine three different “best practices” documents related to business ethics.
From the Business Sector
Lars G. Harrison’s sample code of business ethics provides an excellent starting place from which businesses can create their own ethical contract for management personnel. It is a simple document, which clearly outlines the codes to which management personnel are expected to adhere. It universalizes the expected behavior and acknowledges the humanity of all individuals engaged in business transactions both for the company and with the company.
It emphasizes, in fact, the need to maintain personal relationships in terms of doing business, bringing business transactions to a personal level. In addition, the writer–and presumably the signer–of the document would be expressing the desire to treat others as they would be treated, even if it is not expressed as such.
As it stands, this document meets the needs of most businesses operating at any level; however, adapting it to meet the needs of a larger, international corporation could be done without substantially changing its elegant message. On a practical level, this document would also ensure the company of having a legal position on ethical behavior and would permit the termination of an individual’s contract should ethical conduct be breached.
From the United States Government
The United States Government has set forth an excellent code of ethics in its Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. These laws prohibit discriminating against employees or potential employees based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (par. 1). This body of acts also addresses equal pay, age discrimination, discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities” and many other items contained under these larger umbrella terms. These laws attempt to define the humanity of the employees that they protect, in order to give employers guidelines for decision-making that they might not otherwise have.
These laws, however, only provide the employer with broad categories of employees and employment behaviors to meet or to avoid. For this reason, there appears to be a suggestion of treating people as means to an end, rather than treating them as individuals. Regardless, they provide a large company with the guidelines upon which they can build an ethical code, which could later be refined using documents such as Harrison’s, noted above.
The Anti-Bribery and Books & Records Provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is a complex series of statutes that covers all acts of fraud that may occur during international business transactions. These statutes explain the responsibilities of businesses that transact such businesses in terms of both prevention and reporting, among other acts. What makes this document an exemplary one, in my opinion, is the protection that it offers to individuals who report corrupt practices, when acting in cooperation with the government (§ 78m. par. b(3)A). Not only does this document serve to describe ethical business practices in terms of treating people as individuals, rather than as means to an end, it also permits those who would report unethical behavior to behave in an ethical fashion by reporting these acts.
Business ethics might vary due to the nature of the business being conducted, based on the size of the business and the kinds of transactions that are being made. However, a deontological approach is still possible in all of these situations, as long as the business management takes the time to address the ethical concerns, not just the legal concerns, that accompany doing business. These three documents provide broad guidelines that might be adapted to meet the needs of individual companies and international corporations alike.
Harrison, Lars G. “Harrison on Leadership: Code of Business Ethics.” 1996. 24 July 2007. <http://www.altika.com/leadership/ethics.htm>.
United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws: Overview.”
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Unite States Department of Justice. “Anti-Bribery and Books & Records Provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” 2004. 24 July 2007. <http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/docs/statue.html>.