Business Ethics: Enron Research Paper

Introduction

Background of Study

The purpose of this research paper is to discuss Enron case and ethical dilemmas related with business, such as, rise and collapse of Enron, the unethical practices of its executives, audit failure, moral obligation of the leaders and fraudulent operation.

At the same time, this research paper also focuses on the ethical dilemmas of other companies like Tyco, WorldCom, Kelong, ImClone, Global Crossing, and so on; however, these companies have made disastrous financial associations, but ethical matters are not limited to commercial organizations either.

Company Overview

The largest energy, services, and communications corporation “Enron” established in 1885 in the US from the merger of Houston Natural Gas with InterNorth and it had more than 20,000 employees; however, this company was familiar as the most innovative company of the US and international market (Moncarz et al. 19; Tesfatsion 5, and Johnson 8).

Enron offered different products and services, such as online marketplace services, Broadband services, energy and commodities services (electricity, biofuel and natural gas wholesaling), capital and risk management services, project development and management services, energy transportation and upstream services; however, the CEO liked to start new services, such as, it developed and operated power plants and moved the water sector.

As a result, this company had to maintain complicated organizational structure as a highly diversified company and it was the seventh largest company in the US in 2007; in addition, Enron structured into seven distinct business units, which initially controlled by Kenneth Lay, CFO Andrew Fastow, newly hired consultant Jeff Skilling and other board members (Johnson 2).

On the other hand, Moncarz et al. (21), Tesfatsion (5) and Johnson (2) stated that Enron had accused for many unethical practices, such as, this company avoided federal taxes, manipulated federal energy policy, and borrowed from subsidiaries though had no interest to pay back the loans.

Furthermore, Enron collapsed in 2001 because this company manipulated electricity prices and created California energy crisis, took bribe from foreign officials to secure contracts, switched account balances with intent to increase apparent income, manipulated cash flow statement and other financial reports to demonstrate strong position of the company (Moncarz et al. 21, Tesfatsion 5 and Johnson 2).

Objectives for the research

Many scholars of different fields have already researched on the Enron scandal and the bankruptcy of this Corporation, but the prime objective of the writer of this research paper is to focus on ethical dimensions of business, and the core ethical values to adopt as a personal ethical constitution to set principles and standards that establish acceptable conduct in business.

It will focus on a key ethical challenge in the global business environment, performance of earnings management, the impact of fraudulent financial report on global capital market, analogous panic in the corporate world for unethical practices of the executives of Enron, and discuss failure of corporate governance as well as corporate social responsibility to draw meaningful conclusions from this research.

Research Question

  • Theoretical framework of business ethics and the importance of ethical behavior for the company and
  • To what extent executives of Enron perpetrated corporate fraud by manipulating financial statement.

Relevant Literature Review

Origins of Business Ethics

Although the contemporary literature of business ethics has presented without any historical focus, Vogel (101) pointed out that the rising concern of modern business ethics has been rooted from the repeated public concern at the beginning of market economy which evidenced from the western society long past than 750 years as a conventional practice of that civilization.

The religion theology in the ancient era urged that the businessman must conduct their business without any sin; otherwise, they would get punishment from the God, although there is no indication regarding the moral standards of pursuit.

Catholic theologians emphasized the merchants for not to make unethical profit and to pay back their business loans in time, while Christ suggested his followers that the business activities must be observed from moral essence and ethical values and advised to follow him in their lifestyle inspiring to avoid inherently immoral.

At the same time, the Protestantism advised to be loyal to the employees and customers and added that the diligent employees are less likely to be convinced by the devil, businessperson, who conducts their commercial activities in an ethical way; God would bless them with enhanced wealth in the eternal life (Vogel 104).

In the cold ward era, the Marxist philosophers like Albert Hirschman and Michael Walzer raised question with the ethical standards of the corporations and argued that under the capitalist system where the business communities are eager to maximizing their profit by any means, it is not possible to conduct their business from in an ethical way.

Historically the dimensions of capitalism has aimed to maximize profit and to so the system does not bother to commence war and conquer independent countries and explore colonist attitude without looking to the humanity, how the civil society would expect ethical business practice from them (Phillips 5).

Velentzas and Broni (797) explored that Karl Marx first appealed for ethical behavior in favor workers and organized labor movement that progressed the situation of working class by demonstrating the accelerating force against capitalist exploitation.

Marx was able to realize the sought of the worker’s hearts and minds and urged for just wage from high moral ground with social justice by abolishing private property through social ownership, which ultimately rang the death ring of capitalism (Velentzas and Broni 797).

Gingerich (3) surprisingly raised question how the modern corporate theoreticians are advocating for bettering society with one’s individually acquired wealth while the capitalism has provided cent percent liberty by exploiting the society through profit making mechanism.

The morality and ethical standard under the corporate culture is a ‘teasing irony’ in the name of corporate governance and business ethics they just want to hide their abuse of social and human capital without paying any attention to the social progress (Gingerich 3).

The raising awareness of the people had been continuously pressured on the state system and the capitalism has shaped itself as a “benevolent capitalism” by adding the concept of corporate social responsibility and business ethics, although none of them is compulsory legal bindings for the business firms, but a voluntary approach.

At the same time, the corporations spend a minimal part of their profit for social and environmental issues, but they propagate it as an advertising issue and make the state authority convinced to get tax rebate from their overall income (Williams 10).

In the wave of competitive economic interests, the business firs are always eager to uphold their shareholder’s interest rather than degrading the social and environmental factors where the approach of CSR and business ethics have facilitated the opportunity to demonstrate clean image of them to the society.

Ethical Leadership and Business Ethics

Varner and Varner (5) pointed out that the leadership in the business is analogous to the political and military leadership, the business firms are organized under the Company Act of a country for the benefit of its shareholders where CEO as a business leader and his compulsory duty to ensure the interests of the shareholders without attention to any other things.

By law, CEO has no obligation of the society or does not have any social commitment, but his professional success depends on the discretion of the board of directors of the company depending on the performance – how good he served the company.

As a result, being the business leader while the CEO looks to the personal glory and brilliance, he may not bother to perform any unethical activities for his company; but if he possesses a minimum ethical standard and has well understanding with business ethics, the CEO would act with the moral standard of his own (Varner and Varner 5).

During the ethical crisis of this century in the corporate world, the leadership has failed to demonstrate right path to prevent corporate collapse, as a result, the state legislative have pressured to amend Company Act and urged for ethical leadership that would be capable to struggle with unethical operation and challenge the unholy alliance of the directors and executives.

Under the present Company Act, the business leaders like CEO has no power to decide when to drive for ethical battle, when to dispense justice and mercy and when to compromise, but all the power remains to the board that consists with the shareholder of that business.

The CEOs are bound to follow the decision of the board where the practices of business ethics by the business leaders stand as a great bogus verse (Wempe 7).

Dimensions of Business Ethics

Velentzas and Broni (795) pointed out that the business ethics is a coordination of moral principles practiced in the corporate world, as a scientific approach it amalgamates legal theories with political presumptions from the philosophical and historical perspectives of business.

They further addressed that business ethics is a very flexible approach in the business community with many different dimensions that provide the course of action for tolerable standards of organizational behavior and assists to formulate strategy for routine operations (Velentzas and Broni 795).

Following are the various dimensions of business ethics that practiced in the different field of corporate operation.

General Business Ethics

Heath (534) strongly argued that the business ethics is a concept that directly contrary to the philosophy of business, the prime objective of a company is to maximizing the profit of its shareholders, if it is only the main concern then it is logical to consider unethical for that company to take into account of interests and rights others.

As a general business ethics companies always be concerned with the enhancement of shareholders return while corporate social responsibility and business ethics works like an umbrella term that generates new debates among the stakeholders of business communities and the society regarding their ethical rights and duties to and from the society (Heath 534).

Ethics of Finance

Cetina and Preda (143) mentioned that the primarily the finance is the social science regulation that shares its boundary with behavioral science linking with economics at the top and sociology at the ground as well as accounting and management all areas of this field.

Under the discipline of Finance, the companies conduct debt and equity financing, share and dividend policy, investment analysis, valuation, ratio analysis, portfolio analysis and so on, where earning management is the most significant tool that the companies exploit for corporate fraud.

In the Finance ethics, it is desired to integrate legal bindings for appropriate reasoning rather than the ethical literature of moral science and philosophy with the aim to prevent corporate disputes (Cetina and Preda 143).

The classical economists identified the financial ethics of the business communities all over the world is – ‘all for ourselves and nothing for other people’, such financial ethics lead them to occur financial crisis; the neoclassic economists opposed that ethical dimension arguing that the objective of economics to maximizing the financial growth of a country through accelerating consumption.

In the people of a country from poverty or recessionary ground, the productions of the corporations may not be sold in the market and the companies would have thrown into the risk of overproduction; thus, the financial ethics deeply concerned with purchasing power of the people (Velentzas and Broni 799).

Ethics of Human Resource Management

The area of the ethics of human resource management (HRM) under business ethics pointed to the corporate functions connecting its employer – worker relationship, their conflicting interests, workers collective bargaining platform, rights and duties of both parties, discrimination based on race, color and gender, job satisfaction along with the compliance employment law and so on.

The HRM practice in the corporate world conducts training program for their employees, which aimed to develop the loyal employees to the organization rather than the society or nation, ethics in the organizational culture compare and contrast a variety of ethical theories, ethical decision-making process with recommended solutions by the organization without any social responsibility (Gusdorf 16).

Ethics of Sales and Marketing

Barry (97) argued that from the ethical point of views marketing is the scheme of a company to manipulate the actual information of a product or service and trick to drive gracious values and behavior to the company with the aim to add high degree of acceptance and regards from the society without any ethical borderline.

Marketing ethics is a strongest subset of the business ethics that robustly influence the media ethics due to continuous use of media the concurrent business practice don’t bother to any political philosophy, but involved into the action to increase sales and maximize profit without any attention consumers and as a whole to the society (Barry 97).

Ethics of Production

Philips (44) added that ethics of production of business urged to conduct the production process in a process which may not harms the environment and human life, but the dilemmas in this area is that most of the productions are crossing the limit of danger and harms tolerability and increasing risk for the humankind.

With the increasing harms to the people the concurrent production ethics of the corporation has failed to prevent imperfect, addictive, and essentially dangerous products and services like tobacco, alcohol, weapons, vehicles, chemicals, genetically modified food, radiation of mobile phone by degrading the natural resources without any regards to the society.

Ethics of Intellectual Property

Kinsella (7) pointed out that the ethics of intellectual property has abolished the easy access to the world of knowledge by turning knowledge and skills into individually owned property like tangible goods degrading greater rights of the society to share idea knowledge and skills.

The objectives of law and legal framework is not the assist the few people to maximizing their wealth in the name of inventor, but the main objectives of law is to ensure justice for social progress and welfare of the communities of that territory where the law established, but IP law has deviated from the core values of legal theory.

Ethics and Technology

The Information Technology has provided an extensive opportunity for the betterment of the humankind by sharing information and experience, but the ethical dilemmas has generated tremendous complexities in this area pointing to the privacy violation, workplace monitoring, pornography development, where the multinational corporations are linked for marking dangerous drugs and even arms.

International Business Ethics

The theories of globalization has generating huge ethical dilemmas in context of operation of business in the national boundary and international arena, the multinationals at their home countries are much more aware about the environmental issues and transferring the harmful industries in the less developed countries without paying any attention to the local people.

Dilemmas of Business Ethics

From the perspectives of employees, employers, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, the practice of business ethics is a conflicting issue to coordinate welfare of all parties; the theories of welfare economics urged that without depriving any class the other could not gain enough profits.

Thus, the question raised to which party of the conflicting group would be benefited by the good grace of business ethics, which one would be deprived; with the present voluntary practice of business, ethics could not ensure or guide any directing solution without legal bindings to harmonization and reconciliation for the conflicting interests.

The classical philosophy of business ethics that empowered unethical growth of business profit has no more appeal to the modern society, while the philosophy of soft democratic socialism has gained tremendous support from the mass people.

Capaldi (81) further added that the most prevailed method for ethical business practice could be found on the political economy of Marxism that underlies with the distributive alignment of the properties and profit and abolition of private property, but the soft democratic socialism philosophy would like to get a coordination keeping private ownership alive.

Direction for the corporations to spend a significant part of their profit as their corporate social responsibility along with a regulatory authority could resolve the ethical dilemma of business by amending the existing company act with the aim to ensure ethical operation of the private business.

The ethical dilemmas of Business ethics are strongly interrelated with the political economy and resolve this crisis it is required to enormous economic analysis, legal barriers to protect corporate fraud that collapse the economy, the analytical outcomes must be integrated with the legal framework from political and historical perspectives; otherwise the practice of business ethic would keep in dark.

Example of Unethical Behavior of the Companies

Brizekct (17) stated that the milk powder manufacturers has increased use of the cloned cows to produce skimmed milk powder with approval of “Food and Drug Administration,” but scientists have already identified that milk from cloned cow has serious risk for public health as genetic contamination or commercialization of biotechnology adoption can create major health dilemmas.

In addition, Chinese market leading milk producer “Sanlu Group” had reduced the quantity of pure milk powder and add a larger percentage of deadly poisonous compound “melamine” which caused death of six people and more than three children become sick; however, the performance of this company was below the minimum moral standards and destroyed the entire industry (Song 5).

Sanlu had undertaken many charitable programs and social welfare programs as part of their CSR practice, but the prime goal of this company was profit maximization; therefore, billions of milk buyers throughout the world was bound to stop purchase its products and China Court upheld the death penalty of the perpetrators, who were directly involved with melamine scandal (Song 6).

In addition, Sanlu is not only liable for unethical behavior, but there are numerous companies those incurs with such practice, for instance, Fonterra of New Zealand couldn’t bypass their concern with lack of ethics as they mixed harmful hormones “contamination of esteem hormone” which turned little girls with grown big breasts; consequently, female children faced different social and mental hazard.

Nestle was liable for exploitation of predatory strategy to sale baby foods in the less developed countries, McDonald used plastic materials for packaging of its various food items, and McDonalds have cut down a large number of forests for Soya plantation, and food ingredients of fast food industry may cause serious diseases like cancer, obesity, and diabetics.

On the other hand, these fast food companies create social and environmental crisis like provide low salary to the employees, involves with unethical advertising policy, discriminate customer groups (more focus on the in-city people), no existence of trade union in some case, create monopoly business environment in some extent, use polystyrene for foamed packaging, and so on.

History never excuses the world’s leading multinational company “Coca-Cola” for its notorious role in the World War II while this company aligned with Nazi party and operated forty-three bottling plants with six hundred distributor channels; additionally, the Arab world boycotts this company for secret agreement with Jewish, and anti-Islamic propaganda create serious racial crisis in the middle east particularly in KSA.

Microsoft blocked these controversial blogs (which contains words democracy, freedom, human rights, Falun Gong, etc) to users, Yahoo’s ethical issues are considerable while it provided specific information without permission of court, and Google has launched self censoring program and violated privacy policy with data protection acts; however, these companies have also taken many social campaign as their CSR practices.

In 1970, Ford has introduced brand “Ford Pinto” in the US and the management was totally ignored the 1966 legislation on gasoline tank and designed a weak tank (it caught by fire so easily) and many accidents resulted for the tank burst caused death of the passengers; therefore, the engineers of Ford had not concentrated on the safety issues.

At the same time, British Petroleum, Shell, and Exxon Mobile controlled the oil industry of European countries with corporate commitment and social responsibility to maximize revenue as well as brand value; however, these companies have involved with unethical practices regarding the intensification of the anti corporate activism on ecological and human rights.

Methodology

Research Design

The researcher of this study has designed the paper considering case study approach of Robert Yin because this approach is ideal when in-depth assessment is necessary about a particular subject; in addition, this approach would give the opportunity to retain the holistic and significant features of real-life events, for example, organizational and executive procedures (Yin 5).

At the same time, this approach has not imposed any obligation on the researcher to follow any exact method, and gave freedom to use own discretion to investigate on a single example of a class of phenomena (Yin 7); moreover, this approach is effective while topic demands descriptive analysis.

Data Sources

Yin (57) argued that secondary data sources are more reliable to identify the problem easily, reach specific goals; however, the following figure shows the categorization of published secondary sources.

The classification of published secondary sources

Figure 1: The classification of published secondary sources

Source: Self generated from Yin (20)

In order reach the objective of the research and answer the research questions, the author of this research paper focus on published books, scholarly journal articles on business ethics and CSR case studies, reports on Enron corporate fraud available on the internet and other print publication.

Limitations of the project

The author of this research paper has faced following problems to complete this paper –

  • Only few days deadline to plan, organize and conduct research influenced the researcher to complete this paper considering secondary data;
  • On the other hand, the researcher had not adequate budget to collect both secondary data and primary data from respondents;
  • In addition, there are many secondary sources accessible on the internet, such as, e-books and journals; however, it was difficult to find out more authentic sources while some reports were confusing and full of unnecessary information;
  • The topic of this research paper was not unique, which makes it difficult to explore new outcomes from this study;

Scopes of the study

  • The researcher has the opportunity to analyze post-Enron situation and give example of recent cases, such as, business ethics of British Petroleum and Lehman Brother’s chief executive;
  • the endeavor of the researcher to remove the gap or loophole of the outcomes of previous research;
  • The writer has the opportunity to discuss the impact to draw high remuneration of the executives on the listed companies and corporate world;
  • On the other hand, the author has scope to give proper guidance to reduce corporate fraud, change ethical behavior, and develop effective management controlling system.

Discussion and findings

Key to Enron’s Success and Failure

CEO Kenneth Lay and consultant Jeff Skilling wield power ruthlessly, for instance, they removed many employees, challenged management decisions, eliminated corporate rivals, and intimidated subordinates; however, the managers and other employees were afraid to show their natural performance due to threat of removal and they confused about the operating system (Johnson 2).

On the other hand, the CEO and other board directors wanted to be world-class rich and gave privilege to the family members and some selected employees, for example, CEO gave to his wife $2.0 million to decorate new home, borrowed about $75.0 million to repay stock, and owned over 20 properties worth more than $30.0 million (Johnson 3).

At the same time, the top management or leaders of Enron forced vest their retirement plans in Enron stock to protect sell their shares and they maintained relationship with the outsiders without considering their fiduciary duties as Enron treated its friends royally, for example, it used political donations to achieve preferential treatment from administration and government bodies.

There were many other issues those influenced to decrease share price in stock market like top executives have drawn high remuneration and received about $55.0 million retention bonuses, CEO Kenneth had campaign for the Bush and other parliament members to enable Enron to nominate friendly candidates for the Security Exchange Commission and FERC (Moncarz et al. 21and Johnson 3).

However, the purpose of above-mentioned strategy of the executives was to set federal energy policy as their own way (Li 5; Moncarz et al. 2; Li 8, and Johnson 3). The CEO of this company several time fired accounts (who go against his personal interest and downgraded Enron stock) and consultant Skilling misbehaved with one of the questioned the company’s performance (Li 5; Moncarz et al. 2; Tesfatsion 8, and Johnson 3).

However, the following figure shows the regulatory failure to notice of Enron.

Regulatory Oversight of Enron

Figure 2: Regulatory Oversight of Enron

Source: Tesfatsion (32)

Manipulation of Enron’s Financial Statement

Moncarz et al. (21), Li (2), and Johnson (3) pointed out that Enron’s business model included diversified product line; therefore, it was easy for this company to show high profit of some segment to increase share price in stock market and gained confidence of the shareholders to invest more for the future.

However, top management of this company had taken the advantage of accounting limitations to demonstrate outstanding performance in the financial report; moreover, off-balance sheet accounting actions were legal, but they manipulated information to protect their interests and to deceive the public, for instance, net profit of this company rose about $9.0 billion to $100.0 billion by 1995 to 2000.

Enron collapsed or bankrupted in 2001 because the increase rate of profit was not an actual figure, and the share price of this company had decreased dramatically from $99.0 to less than $1/share in 2001, caused shareholders to lose almost $11.0 billion; so, Enron revised its financial statements for five years and identified $586.0 million instead of $91 billion profits (Li 1).

Most importantly, Merrill Lynch was responsible to supervise the accounting procedures of its clients like Enron; however, four executives of Merrill Lynch helped Enron to perpetrate fraud because they had not followed the code of ethics of Merrill and knowingly avoided its accountability to check the deal closely (Li 1, and Moncarz et al. 23).

Merrill Lynch was ignorant and failed to comply with these codes of operation, as they did not analyze the ultimate outcomes of the deal while Enron completed its fraud by using fraudulent entities; however, the management of Merrill claimed that they acted as a bona fide purchaser of barges (Li 1, and Moncarz et al. 23).

Merrill Lynch’s duty was to look at the accounting procedures of the Enron, but it intentionally benefited within short-time by deceiving the stakeholders of its own and that of Enron’s; moreover, Merrill Lynch did not consider its stakeholders’ interests; however, it agreed to pay a sum of $80 million disgorgements, penalties and interest to the SEC to settle the case.

Enron had tried to recover its position before bankrupt such as, traders lost trust in Enron though it sold shares, disclosed $1.2 billion entry to assets as it had strong financial streams, forecast of energy prices and so on; however, more than 4,500 employees lost their job, and creditor faced $60.0 million losses (Li 2, and Moncarz et al. 23).

Recommendations & Conclusion

Recommendations

Conducting the investigation with the case study of Enron, this research paper would deliver the following recommendations –

  • From the chapter two “literature review,” it has identified that multinational companies use the concept of business ethics and corporate social responsibility only to maximize the profit instead of real sense of CSR and these companies do not take any corrective actions instantly. In this context, national and international regulatory bodies should introduce effective code and conduct to set up standards of their behavior;
  • Blommestein (200) stated that Enron’s financial manipulation to maximize profit is not only one ethical problem that brought bankrupt situation for the company, but neglect fiduciary duties by the board of directors and conflict of self interest crate more crisis; as a result, it should require structural changes in the business landscape
  • Chapter four “Findings and Discussion” find out that the there are more opportunities for the corporate world to commence earnings management or financial manipulation within the new regulatory framework, particularly, most of the legislation and policies have the created only for the capitalist to escape from liability and no way to rescue the people.Even the SOA 2002 and the Company Act 2006 of the UK had suggested providing accurate financial reports and integral part of corporate social responsibility report regarding companies, but these acts had not provided any indication what will happen if a large company fails to publish its accurate financial statement; as a result, this research paper suggests more stick security legislation to develop the practice of business ethics;
  • In addition, development of strong leadership and corporate culture can play vital role to increase shareholder and stakeholders’ trust;
  • The companies should obey listing rules properly to disclose accurate financial reports to avoid unexpected situation;
  • Finally, Companies should recruit independent non-executive directors to stop unfair activities and set appropriate remuneration policy

Conclusion

From the discussion, it can be argued that corporate fraud of Enron Corporation had influenced the policy maker to change legal provisions in some extent because the people lost their confidence and trust on the multinational companies, which was created many problems in stock market.

This research paper pointed out the view of many scholars regarding unethical practices of Enron, loopholes of regulatory bodies, and the impact of such corporate fraud on aggregate economy and financial framework.

However, the researcher of this paper identified that Enron was one of the most important factors to create global financial crisis in 2002; at the same time, it gave lesson on the importance of business ethics for the future economy, significance of effective management control system and the implementation of legal framework to save the company from financial distress.

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Cetina, Karin Knorr and Preda, Alex. The Sociology of Financial Markets. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

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Gusdorf, Myrna. 2010. Ethics in Human Resource Management. PDF file. 10 October 2012. <http://www.shrm.org/education/hreducation/documents/gusdorf_ethics%20in%20human%20resource%20management_im_final.pdf >.

Heath, Joseph. “Business Ethics without Stakeholders.” Business Ethics Quarterly. 16.3 (2006): 533–557. Web. <http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/BEwithout.pdf>.

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Kinsella, Stephan. 2001. Against Intellectual Property. PDF file. 10 October 2012. <http://mises.org/journals/jls/15_2/15_2_1.pdf >.

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