One fundamental question that is mostly asked when referring to the moral cause in the contemporary society concerns the role of business in the society. There is a high level of growth of business in the contemporary world. This denotes a lot of competition among businesses.
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Even amidst competition and struggle for survival in the competitive business environment, firms are still bestowed with the responsibility of ensuring that they play a critical role in eliminating the challenges that face the society.
This does not only help firms in establishing bonds with the society and ensuring sustainability of the society, but it also helps firms to win customers who come from the communities in which the firms operate. In this paper, it is argued that the main objective of almost all firms in the competitive environment is to make more profits. This implies that moral duties, like corporate social responsibility, are secondary considerations.
This paper explores business ethics in the contemporary business environment. Of greater concern in the paper is the discussion about the probability of firms attaining balance between their objectives and corporate social responsibility.
Corporate social responsibility vs. morality and ethics in corporations
One of the moral responsibilities of firms in regard to normative ethics is to embrace stewardship. This implies taking care of the main supportive structures in the society. However, the ability of corporations to embrace sustainability of the supportive structures in the society is questionable (Ralston 2010).
In theory, morality and ethics guide the operation of all firms (Debeljak & Krkac 2008). However, the behaviour of firms is not influenced by ethics and morality in reality, but by the corporate environment in which firms operate.
According to Debeljak and Krkac (2008), the corporate environment is quite broad and defined by a number of attributes like the market system, the number of players in the market, the amount of competition in the market, and the awareness level of customers about business ethics, among many other attributes.
In its true sense, corporate social responsibility means that firms have to strike a balance between their operations and the impacts of these operations on consumers and the society in general. Whether this balance can be achieved is an issue that is debatable. Powell (2011) observed that corporate social responsibility is merely taken as a form of marketing by most firms. This erodes the objectivity of the whole exercise.
A true definition of corporate social responsibility has to be crafted if at all the moral and ethical stance of corporate social responsibility has to be attained. According to Ali (2010), corporations play a critical role in the sustenance of the society. Corporations that fail to consider the ethos of the society are bound to lose touch with the society.
According to Masaka (2008), the hardship in attaining the moral and ethical stance of corporate social responsibility emanates from the complexities in defining corporate social responsibility in the context of the contemporary society.
One of the complexities is that the nature and state of social problems vary from one society to the other. This means that there is a variation in the level of expectation from different societies regarding the roles that ought to be played by corporations in solving the social and other challenges that confront the societies.
Profit motive as an impediment to moral and ethical operation
Most economies in the world are embracing open market systems due to the significant influence of capitalism and the expansion of western firms in different economies across the globe. One feature of the capitalist mode of business is promotion of competition for resources and the control of the economy by a few individuals who have the power to control the systems of production in the society.
The other feature of capitalism entails the efforts by firms to increase profits without paying attention to the welfare of the people who help firms realize the profits. The increase in strikes and concerns about the welfare of employees across the world is an ethical indicator of lack of morality by corporations. It is important to note that the profit motive cannot be eliminated when talking about business (Koch 2010).
Koch (2010) continues to argue that there is a need to assess the rate at which businesses structure their operations and the effects of the operations on the society to a make a clear judgment about the issue of profit maximization and societal sustainability.
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While social corporate responsibility may be seen as a burden that is placed on business corporations, a view of business ethics from the moral theory perspective ascertains the need for all organizations in the society to pay respect to moral rights. In this sense, the moral right concept is looked at from a dual perspective.
The first perspective is that organizations are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the moral rights of all human beings are fulfilled. The second perspective is that human beings are the determinants of the success of business corporations. Consequently, businesses have to ensure that the rights of human beings are fulfilled to continue benefiting from the people (Masaka 2008).
According to the conception of moral thought of Kantian ethics, both moral actions and their consequences are critical in the assessment of moral considerations in businesses. Corporate social responsibility is considered moral because it is deemed to have positive consequences in the society (Masaka 2008).
However, it is questionable whether firms enhance corporate social responsibility out of their own initiative, or from the fact that it is the determinant of their success in the competitive markets. Corporate social responsibility is considered to lack moral value because most businesses claim to enhance CSR out of a sense of duty.
However, the level of initiative in CSR by the corporations is quite low since the sense of duty in the actions of firms is largely determined by external organizations (Dubbink & Smith 2011). These include organizations that enhance environmental activism and consumer awareness organizations.
This is justified by the level of breaches in the quality and standards of products, as well as the failure of firms to consider the desirable operational standards (Masaka 2008).
It is important for corporations to weigh between the economic costs of their operations and the benefits that accrue from these operations. However, the benefits do not only focus on what the corporations attain, but also on what the society attains.
This is one of the difficulties in the process of embracing business ethics as the goals of societal sustenance in most cases collide with the main objectives of firms given that CSR is largely considered to be a secondary objective that is externally driven. Again, this raises the concern about whether corporate social responsibility as currently enforced by firms can serve the utilitarian ends (Masaka 2008).
Corporations are left with the choice of incorporating moral principles in their operations. However, different motives make it hard for businesses to take up responsibility and incorporate moral principles in their business operations. Most of the motives are guided by the profit-oriented objectives (Dubbink & Smith 2011).
According to Halal (2000), profitability can only be balanced with responsibility when firms choose to embrace a collaborative working environment. This can see firms reach common grounds on the modalities of operation. This is contained in the ‘corporate community model’. There are a number of indicators that the model largely remains theoretical in nature.
The rationale behind this argument is that the embrace of capitalistic markets in the contemporary economic environment largely encourages unethical practices. Large firms collaborate with governments to sustain their profits at the expense of the welfare of their employees and the society (Griffiths 2009). Obligatory actions are highly minimized because of the interference of the regulatory framework.
The regulatory framework is considered to be the main basis upon which firms try to embrace business ethics (Roper 2005). The wish for companies to continue making profits against all odds denies corporations time to focus on the rights of their employees and their customers (Griffiths 2009).
Corporations are important entities in the society. They play a vital role in providing people with products and services. From the discussion above, it can be concluded that almost all corporations are guided by the profit motive.
This makes it hard for businesses to embrace morality and ethics in their operations. On the other hand, it may also be concluded that the expectations of the society are sometimes too high to the extent that the society forgets to put into consideration the fact that businesses work for profits.
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