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Should corporations have "moral responsibility"? Show more Show less

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 can’t be punished

If a corporation cannot be punished, then it doesn't make sense for it to define its morally acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.
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Context

The only reason we would want to have corporations adopt morals is to punish an organisation when it fails to live up to its moral responsibility. But corporations cannot be punished. Therefore, forcing them to adopt and implement moral standards is pointless.

The Argument

The entire debate on whether corporations should have morals serves to establish who should be held responsible when corporations behave in an ethically wrong manner. Through this lens, it makes no sense to suggest that corporations should have morals. If we accept that they should, then that would mean that corporations would be blamed for corporate malpractice. If they are to blame, then they must be punished. However, corporations can’t be punished. Any punishment is passed onto the consumers, employees and shareholders.[1] Individuals can be fined or put in prison, but corporations can’t be put in prison. If they are fined, the money comes from shareholders and customers. Therefore, it makes no sense to have corporations adopt morals because corporations cannot be punished for behaving in a way that contradicts their morals.

Counter arguments

Corporations can be punished. They can have licenses to operate revoked. They can be forced to pay compensation to victims. They can also suffer reputational damage which, while not a formal method of punishment, can be more dangerous for a company than any legal punishment.

Framing

If corporations had morals, they would have to be punished for behaving in a way that contradicts their moral standards. But corporations cannot be punished. Therefore, it is pointless for corporations to have morals.

Premises

[P1] The purpose of defining morals is to hold people and entities responsible for wrongdoing. [P2] Corporations cannot be held to account for wrongdoing because they cannot be punished. [P3] Therefore, there is no reason for a corporation to define its morals.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Corporations can be both held to account and punished.

Proponents

Further Reading

References

  1. https://knowledge.insead.edu/responsibility/the-moral-responsibility-of-firms-for-or-against-3243

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 14:12 UTC