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?
Yes, corporations should have moral responsibilityShow moreShow less
Corporations are conversible agents. Their message can be different from that of the individuals that make up the corporation. They also erode individuality. Therefore, corporations must have defined morals to fill the ethical space left by the individual.
When an individual is a small cog in a machine, they do not feel the moral weight of their actions.
When Joanne Pettitt aggregated testimonies from those that participated in the Holocaust under the Nazi regime, she found a common trend. Many of those interviewed depicted a mentality of being a ‘cog in a machine’.
If these people had been asked to kill 6 million Jewish people, they would have likely been unable to undertake the task. It would have jarred with their sense of morality. However, when their small action—of transporting Zyclon B gas, putting Jews on trains, or compiling lists of those to be rounded up—contributes to a larger machine, even though the outcomes are the same, the individual is more willing to commit unspeakable atrocities.
This is because corporations erode the individual. They foster a culture of group think or detachment. Therefore, an absence of moral agency develops. If corporations do not fill that gap, nobody else will and evil will proliferate.
The inherent structure of large corporations and the reduction of large tasks into very small parts performed by individuals erodes the margin of individual moral agency. If corporations don’t undertake the role of becoming moral agents, there will be no moral forces within corporations.