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Corruption and Business Ethics  

Steven G. Koven and Abby Perez

Corruption remains a way of life for many cultures and subcultures, an ethos that is often consistent with the goal of corporate profit maximization. Corruption may yield benefits at the personal or individual firm level, but at the societal level corruption is detrimental to aggregate growth, individual effort, and faith in institutions. Corruption, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. Corruption exists on a continuum that can range from rampant to minimal. Rampant corruption exists when entire organizations willingly and knowingly promote actions that are injurious to workers, consumers, or society as a whole. Egregious examples include knowingly producing and selling harmful products or ignoring conditions that impair the health and safety of workers. At the other extreme, minimal corruption can include petty violations such as stealing a small amount of office supplies for personal use. Moral, ethical, and legal guides have evolved over time in efforts to ameliorate the most obvious and egregious forms of corruption. These guides are supported by perspectives of philosophy such as utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, intuition, and ethical relativism. Each of these perspectives represent an important and qualitatively different lens in which to assess ethical behavior. While some philosophical viewpoints emphasize the categorical nature of right or wrong action, others emphasize context, net benefits of actions, or individual virtue reflected in individual actions, and perspectives that are systematically reviewed. Philosophical influences are viewed as highly relevant to an understanding of modern-day corruption. Business ethics is also influenced by various competitive and complementary models that compete for influence. While the market model of business ethics has long endured, alternative perspectives of business ethics such as the stakeholder model of corporate social responsibility and the sustainability model have recently arisen in popular discourse and are explored. These alternative models seek to replace or supplement the market model and advocate for a greater recognition of environmental responsibilities as well as responsibilities to a broad array of stakeholders in society such as workers and consumers. Alternative models move beyond the narrow perspective of profit maximization and consider ethical implications of business decisions in terms of their effects on others in society as well as future generations. Various philosophical perspectives of ethics are examined, as well as how these perspectives can be applied to attain a more complete understanding of the concept of corruption.