If you had never had read a book on business ethics published in the United States, you might assume that the first thing they would discuss would be American codes of Conduct or at the very least our informal codes of conduct. The fact is they don’t discuss it at all, and I think they should.
Our teaching of business ethics would be more effective if we didn’t imply that all moral beliefs are basically relative to time and place – and spend so much time implying that the moral minimum is all that is necessary. Most human beings believe in higher values and have a strong sense of morality.
If we start with a baseline of common American morality, our teaching will be more effective.
American do have some common beliefs about morality. Our informal codes are things like you shouldn’t overcharge or be rude to customer or damage the environment. I believe using some polling data you could with a little research generate a generalized American sense of morality.
That would be a nice start but there are two more codes common in this nation. Many Americans belong to one religion or another. Current data says that — 43% of the Americans polled identify themselves as Protestants and 20% identify themselves as Catholic. These religions have highly developed moral codes.
If you wanted to talk about Protestant codes of conduct you could use the one advocated by the Lutheran Church. The Lutheran World Federation publishes these basic premises:
Dignity and justice
Each and every person is created in God’s image, is gifted with talents and capacities, and has dignity, irrespective of social status, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, or other differences.
Compassion and commitment
Inspired by God’s love for humanity, we seek to show care and compassion toward people who are suffering—the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized, and minority populations and faiths, who experience discrimination, violence, and hardship in different contexts.
Respect for diversity
Differences among us express the richness of God’s creation.
As a global communion of churches we value and seek to understand our differences in culture, history, and context.
We also cherish the way in which these have shaped our theological understandings, our perspectives on moral and ethical questions, and our practice of ministry, mission, and service.
Inclusion and participation
We are committed to being inclusive and enabling the full and equitable participation of women, men, people of all ages and people with disabilities.
Our commitment to inclusion encompasses church life and society, and the decision-making processes, activities, and programs of the LWF itself.
We understand that power dynamics, cultural norms, access to resources, and other factors create barriers to participation and we work to overcome these.
Transparency and accountability
We are a responsible steward of the resources and responsibilities that God has entrusted to us.
We are committed to transparency in our aims, processes, decisions, and use of resources. We strive to being accountable to the people we serve, including our member churches, partners, and donors.
If you wanted to start with a code of ethics this would be a good one.
Now, the Catholic Church has a huge set of teachings on business ethics clearly implied from their voluminous teaching on social issues. From time to time Popes issue encyclicals on social issues. They are not small documents and the first dates to 1891 and the most current one was published in 2015.
To summarize very, very briefly, there are four core elements:
- The Dignity of the Human Person
- The Common Good
- Subsidiarity (there is a lot on this)
So we have informal poll driven moral rules, that we can derive from general behavior and beliefs. We have a culture with a code of ethics associated with Protestantism and we have Catholic Social Doctrine.
None of these are hiding but you seldom (never) see them in business ethics text books.
Maybe it is time that changed and we start discussing some basic rules of morality before we get into our examples and case studies?
If we are going to talk about business ethics, let’s start with rules of ethical behavior.
—- The Lutheran World Federation’s web site contains a good deal more information – and is generally a good read.
—- The Faith Initiative Home Page has voluminous amounts of data on Catholic Social Teaching and I heartily recommend it.