Monday, 25 January 2016

A History of Business Ethics

The history of “business ethics” depends on how one defines it. Although the term is used in several senses and varies somewhat for different countries, its current use originated in the United States and became widespread in the 1970s. The history of business ethics in the United States can be viewed as the intersection of three intertwined strands. Each of these in turn can be divided into at least two related branches.

The first strand, which I shall call the ethics-in-business strand, is the long tradition of applying ethical norms to business, just as it has been applied to other areas of social and personal life. This strand can be divided further into the secular and the religious branches. 

The second strand is the development of an academic field, which has been called business ethics.
It also has two main branches, one being the philosophical business-ethics branch, which is normative and critical, and the other the social-scientific branch, which is primarily descriptive and empirical.

The third strand is the adoption of ethics or at least the trappings of ethics in businesses. This again subdivides into the integration of ethics into business and business practices on the one hand and the commitment to corporate social responsibility on the other.

Business ethics was introduced into Europe and Japan in the 1980s although the term did not translate easily, and the development in each country varied from that in the United States because of socio-political-economic differences. It then spread in a variety of ways to other parts of the world, each time with a different local emphasis and history. On the world-wide level it became associated with the UN Global Compact, initiated by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an address to The World Economic Forum on January 31, 1999, and officially launched in July, 2000.

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