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Should corporations have "moral responsibility"? Show more Show less
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With BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, and Apple’s ‘batterygate’, there is no shortage of corporations behaving in a morally reprehensible way to cut costs or increase profits. Should corporations have morals? Are business ethics important? Is it a firm’s collective responsibility to behave in an ethical way?

No, corporations shouldn't have moral responsibility Show more Show less

Corporations are the sum of individual decisions. They don't know right from wrong and cannot be punished. Therefore, it makes far more sense to limit morals to the individual.
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Corporations depend on individual decisions

The direction and approach corporations take depends on individual decisions.

Context

The internal structure of companies means that many important decisions are based on individual agency.

The Argument

With individual agency playing such a prominent role in corporate decision-making, company morals become redundant. The company’s ethics become dependent on the moral virtues of the individual. Therefore, company morals are unnecessary. In the instance of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it was not BP that had the moral obligation to prevent the oil spill, it was the individual managers who implemented cost-cutting measures that compromised the safety of the pipeline.

Counter arguments

The corporation and the individuals are not the same things. A corporation can adopt a strategy and make decisions against the wishes of senior management or majority shareholders. Therefore, the corporation has its own agency and has the responsibility to adopt its own morals. Corporate decision making is also a messy process. It is not always easy to point to one definitive person that made an ethically dubious decision. Often someone may have planted an idea, someone else signed off on it, someone else implemented it, but no single person can take responsibility for corporate action.[1] In the absence of the individual decision-maker, the company must have its own morals to protect against unethical behaviour.

Proponents

Framing

Individuals have the moral responsibility to behave in a morally correct manner. This translates into their professional decision making on behalf of a company. If individuals are committed to behaving in a morally correct way, corporate morals become redundant.

Premises

[P1] Companies function through individual decision-makers. [P2] Individuals have morals. [P3] Therefore, company morals are redundant. [P4] Therefore, companies shouldn't have morals.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Companies don't always function through individual decision making.

References

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW2UwWGTVnE

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 14:04 UTC

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