A critical analysis of ethics management practices

Authored by: Mollie Painter-Morland

The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415821261
eBook ISBN: 9780203566848
Adobe ISBN: 9781136746246


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In this chapter, we will be critically evaluating certain best practice elements of what is referred to as ‘ethics management’ in corporate environments. It will become clear that, paradoxically, ‘ethics management’ is often pursued without much consideration for its ethico-political effects. Part of the reason for this may be that ‘ethics management’, as a subsection of ‘business ethics’, is focused on meso-level (organizational) and micro-level (individual) ethical interventions. As such, much of the ‘ethics management’ literature shirks engagement with broader macro-economic concerns, and often avoids addressing the political dimensions of organizational life in any kind of depth. The absence of an engagement with the broader political economy has led many critical management scholars to view the entire pursuit of ‘business ethics’ with suspicion (Jones et al., 2005). Those political aspects that create the legal risks for the organization, such as equal opportunity and diversity policies, labour relations and whistleblowing, are often managed by means of policies and procedures within a broader compliance framework. As such, issues of power and identity are ‘managed’ in order to establish organizational control over the behaviours and perceptions of employees and other stakeholders. When this is done for the purposes of safeguarding the interests of the corporation, rather than as a result of a concern for safeguarding certain values or protecting certain rights, critical questions must be asked. The ‘means to an end’ orientation implicit in these practices could in fact make well-intentioned practitioners blind to the limitations of ethics management programmes in terms of making a real difference in terms of responsible and sustainable business practices.

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