Given the scope of various ethical scandals in a wide range of organizations over the last several decades, research on organizational ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown significantly. Scholars have sought to better understand factors related to ethical awareness, judgment, and action through descriptive, normative, and analytical approaches. Organizations have established extensive policies and practices to enable employees to address the ethical dilemmas that they experience, drawing upon theories of duty, rights, utility, virtue, and care to facilitate compliance and, ultimately, produce aspirational ethics. In recent years, scholars have argued that organizational ethics is not only an individual-level phenomenon but also one influenced by organizational practices and societal expectations. As a result, debates regarding the role of businesses in society have also proliferated under the umbrella term of CSR, with attention paid to business initiatives such as philanthropy, volunteerism, cause-related marketing, and, most recently, strategic CSR. To better understand the opportunities and challenges of CSR, advocates and critics have turned to theories of shareholder value, stakeholder theory, corporate social performance, and corporate citizenship. In doing so, they have reintroduced an age-old question regarding the rights and responsibilities of business in society.
John Baldwin, Iraklis Ioannidis, and Robert Huegel
The global world brings people increasingly into contact with those from other cultures, or else they read about them in the media, leading them to make comparative judgments about their behavior. Sometimes people make these judgments at a national or international level as nations, multinational organizations, and social action organizations seek to discuss human rights across cultures. Contemporary Western ethics find their origins in discussions of ethics and morality by Immanuel Kant (deontological ethics) and Aristotle (teleological ethics). These and other ethical approaches are certainly relevant to communication scholars and practitioners in general, but those working across cultures face particular ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, interculturalists often do not discuss ethics, or if they do, they discuss them in a brief and superficial way, which might give way to their own ethical stance to color their understanding of others. Those who discuss ethics face a major tension between seeking a single ethical approach that applies to all cultures (i.e., ethical absolutism) and letting each culture determine its own ethical direction (i.e., cultural relativism, one form of the broader notion of ethical relativism). Various authors have proposed deriving a stance from what ethical stances seem to be universal, much as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights seems to do. Others propose peace or humanitarian ethics that would leave most cultural elements alone in other cultures, but speak when actions, policies, or social situations work against the human dignity of individuals. Jürgen Habermas, on the other hand, proposes that people seek ideal speech situations, where people can have open dialogue without restraints, such as power differentials. Finally, as a way out of the ethical maze, others have proposed a dialogic or communicative approach that is not relative, but with which people involved in ethical decisions enter discussions with each other, often considering a wide array of contextual factors that might affect ethical outcomes.