Business Ethics: managing for stakeholders 2020/2021
Course overview The dominant story about business¬—the one we teach in business schools, and most managers believe in—is characterized by three common assumptions: • Business is about the money (the Shareholder Value Maximization ideology); • Human beings are simple, self-interested Utility maximizers (the Economic Man assumption); and • Business ethics is an oxymoron (the Separation Fallacy). The focus of this elective is to show that all these three assumptions are flawed, both conceptually and practically (Freeman et al. 2010; Stout 2012). In contrast, a “Responsible Capitalism” approach (Freeman et al. 2010) is rejecting all the above assumptions and is based on the stakeholder theory approach, characterized by the three following ideas: • Business is about a sense of purpose; • Human beings are complex, and they care about other things beyond money (e.g. fairness and the self-interest of others); and • There is no business decision that has no (at least, implicit) ethical dimension. Main topics The course introduces the main concepts of business ethics and their relevance for corporate strategy and individual decision-making. It provides a methodology for the identification, analysis and resolution of ethical dilemmas in business-related decisions (Kidder, 1995). Business Ethics–and in particular Stakeholder Theory (Freeman, 1984; Freeman et al., 2010; Wicks et al., 2010) offers a critical view on the purpose of business, traditionally seen as “to maximize shareholder value” (Friedman, 1970). Students will discuss critical approaches coming from strategy, economic theory and corporate law (Stout, 2012). They will also be invited to reflect on the role of business schools to educate future managers and entrepreneurs (Smith & Van Wassenhove, 2010). Students will discuss the main Normative ethical theories (deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics), which are prescriptive theories indicating us what is the action that we ought to do, and explore their meaning for today’s strategic management (Donaldson & Werhane, 2002). Then, they will examine the role of Descriptive ethical theories, which are empirically based explanations of human behavior - what human beings really do (Crane & Matten, 2010; Banaji et al., 2003). The following are some of the questions that will be addressed during the course: • What is the purpose of the firm? Shareholder or Stakeholder value creation? • What are a “right versus wrong” and “right versus right” ethical dilemma? • How can we apply the main normative ethical theories - deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics - to analyze managerial decisions? • What are individual and situational factors that influence decision-making processes within organizations? • What are the dangers of cultural relativism (Rachels, 2002)? Participation to the course is highly recommended, since the pedagogical approach will be based on a balance between theory and practice (including live-experiments, team-work, dilemma resolution, case-studies and class discussions). For this reason, a class not larger than 40 participants is recommended. Students are expected to contribute to the overall learning through their active participation in all class activities, preparing to each class by reading the required articles and case-studies assigned every week. Moreover, students will present in the last class of the course (25% of the final grade) their group project “Ethics in movies”, where they will apply the ethical theories learned during the course to analyze a difficult decision from a list of movies proposed by the instructor (or selected TV series). Participants who are not attending the course will have to contact the instructor to receive special instructions on how to prepare for the final, written exam. Learning objectives At the end of the course, students will be able to: 1. Display a systematic understanding of the three main normative ethical theories (Deontology, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics) 2. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the purpose of business, reflecting the different approaches (Shareholder Value Maximization and Stakeholder theory) 3. Apply a range of appropriate ethical theories to analyze business decisions 4. Give evidence of an in-depth ethical analysis of one specific business decision by completion of the Group project “Ethics in Movies” 5. Identify and analyze the ethical issues that arise in other courses.