This paper examines whether ethics can drive good firm behavior even if no business case exists (i.e., good firm behavior will not improve financial performance). Using a version of the well-known Apple-Foxconn scenario as a test case, we first argue that the answer is no. Ethics cannot drive good firm behavior if no business case exists. This position relies upon agency theory grounded in Kantian and utilitarian ethics. We then pivot and explore arguments in favor of ethics driving good firm behavior even when no business case exists by considering moral permissibility, focusing on utilitarian, Kantian, and virtue ethics. Lastly, we examine a midway position, which rests upon the concept of moral motivation and the principle of ‘ought implies can.’ After laying out the different responses to the main research question, we propose paths for future research. Finally, we reformulate the main question to focus on the barriers that prevent firms from using their resources to behave ethically.
Tobey K. Scharding
Tobey K. Scharding is Assistant Professor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School–Newark and New Brunswick. She specializes in ethical decision-making (especially in the Kantian tradition), finance ethics, ethics of risk, and ethics of new...
Rutgers Business School
Wayne Eastman is a Professor in the Supply Chain Management Department of Rutgers Business School-Newark and Newark Brunswick. Before joining Rutgers, he practiced law as a prosecutor of white collar crime, Wall Street litigator, and National Labor Relations Board...
Joanne B. Ciulla
Joanne B. Ciulla is Professor and Director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School, Professor Emerita of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, and had academic appointments at La Salle University, Harvard Business...
Danielle E. Warren
Danielle E. Warren is Professor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School – Newark & New Brunswick. Her research focuses upon constructive and destructive deviance, collective corruption and workplace attributes that lead to ethical organizational...
Modern Slavery in the Diamond Jewelry Business: How Can Science Combat It?
by Snejina Michailova, Christina Stringer, Alexia Husted
Modern slavery exists in developed and developing countries and in both labor-intensive and high-end sectors. While the business literature has paid attention...
Can We Adequately Assess Corporate Reputation?
by Jonathan Bundy, David L. Deephouse, Naomi A. Gardberg, William Newburry
Can we adequately assess corporate reputation? The “No” side argues that reputation is contextually dependent and lacks a consensus definition. The “Yes” side...