Unit 45 Business Ethics

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The aim of this unit is to introduce learners to the concept of business ethics and to examine its relevance when considering business objectives and responsibilities.

Unit abstract

Most businesses today are concerned about the impact of their activities on the business environment. Ethical concerns and greater consumer awareness have resulted in many businesses promoting their social values to ensure competitive advantage. Business ethics embraces corporate social responsibility and ethics relating to accounting practices, marketing, human resource management, and production. In this unit learners will examine the theoretical roots to the background and growth of business ethics. They will look at the different types of ethical issues a business needs to consider and how the development of ethical values impacts on business behaviour. It is important for learners to appreciate how taking an ethical stance affects businesses both internally and externally, including the effects on stakeholders. Learners will explore the social implications of business ethics for a wide range of business activities that affect the organisation itself and the external environment. This will include the ethical stance behind topical issues such as whistle blowing, employment practices, advertising to children, environmental awareness and using new technologies such as genetic modification of food. Learners will also examine how an individual’s ethical stance impacts on the moral relationship between employer and employee, as well as considering the contractual responsibilities of both parties. This unit will give learners the opportunity to research how a business responds to ethical concerns and assess the extent to which its activities affect its behaviour, whilst ensuring business objectives are met.

Learning outcomes

1 Understand different ethical perspectives in business

  • Ethical perspectives: deontological and teleological ethical theory; developments from these early approaches e.g. utilitarianism and other consequential approaches; early contributions of Kant and Mill; absolute and relative ethics; Institute of Business Ethics
  • Operational activities: definitions of business ethics; ethical activities; values of businesses; professional ethics
  • Ethical issues: corporate governance; corporate social responsibility; environment; sustainability; human rights; corruption; trading fairly; legal and regulatory compliance; business practices; working conditions; individual ethical responsibilities

2 Understand business objectives from an ethical perspective

  • Objectives: corporate governance; corporate social responsibility; environment; sustainability; human rights; corruption; trading fairly; legal and regulatory compliance; business practices; communicating ethical code
  • Stakeholders: stakeholders (owners, employees, customers, suppliers, competitors, citizens); conflicts of interest between stakeholder groups e.g. shareholders versus environmentalists
  • Implications: adapting business behaviour; responding to ethical pressures; implementing ethical practices; influence of stakeholders and pressure groups; impact on competitiveness; reputation; public image; ethical trade; valueadded; complying with relevant legislation and codes of practice e.g. UK law, EU law; UN Declaration on Human Rights; UN Global Compact; economic activity e.g. location

3 Understand ethics in workplace relationships

  • Working relationships: contractual responsibilities; moral obligations in employer/employee relationships; whistleblowing; the psychological contract; good practice in equal opportunities employment; organisational integrity; working conditions; individual ethical responsibilities; individual ethical behavior

4 Be able to assess a current ethical issue in a business

  • Issues: corporate social responsibility; globalisation; cultural imperialism; ecology; environment; fair trade; corruption; animal testing; child labour; carbon footprint; sources of timber; outsourcing; personal attitudes; whistle blowing; contribution of business to the community; ethics in sales and marketing e.g. spamming, shills, product placement, green washing; ethics in intellectual property e.g. software piracy, counterfeiting, peer-to-peer file sharing
  • Implications: global e.g. environment; corporate e.g. legal and regulatory compliance, policies and practices; individual (employee, consumer)


For this unit learners must select an organisation and research its approach to ethical issues. They will require access to websites, newspaper articles and journals in order to conduct their research. Topical case studies will be needed to facilitate group work and discussions

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