Can Ethical Practices in the Workplace Conflict with Economic Goals?




Schaefer, William P

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Self-interest is a very strong emotion. It has undoubtedly affected the actions of human beings for thousands of years and it continues to do so in numerous ways and in specific contexts. This paper examines self-interest as it relates to ethical practices in the workplace. Through four chapters, I explore whether ethical practices can conflict with economic goals. I first address specific historical aspects of economic theory, particularly the economic thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and R. Edward Freeman. In the second chapter, the focus is on the notion of virtue as understood by Aristotle and Smith. Additionally, the concepts of sympathy and human motivation are introduced, both within the context of self-interest. Corporate social responsibility and organizational structure are also discussed. In the first two chapters, ethical business practices are examined primarily from an American perspective; in the third chapter, I consider how various methods of ethical standards and practices within global organizations are influenced by local, cultural values. A discussion of ethics programs and codes of ethics is presented within the context of multinational enterprises (MNEs). In the final chapter, the conversation about codes of ethics continues. In doing so, the teleological and deontological schools of ethical thought are presented. Ronald Coase is introduced in the fourth chapter with the intent of discovering why organizations (firms) develop and survive in an environment where employee self-interest flourishes and a market exists. Finally, I conclude that in specific situations, ethical practices can indeed conflict with the economic goals of an organization.



Ethics, Sympathy, Culture, Economics, Self-interest, Virtue