Home > Blog > Business Ethics, a Question of Coherence(s) – Jan. 2024
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Business Ethics, a Question of Coherence(s) – Jan. 2024

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Ethics, we often talk or hear about it, but what exactly does this mean?

According to Britannica, ethics is the discipline concerned with what is morally right and wrongapplied to any system or theory of moral values or principles”. At first glance, this seems clear, but then why does ethics provoke so much debate and misunderstanding?

The real difficulty is to get everyone to agree on the application of this definition in different contexts. These moral values and principles are neither universally defined nor fixed in time and space. What was considered ethical yesterday may no longer be ethical today. Similarly, what is ethical today may no longer be tomorrow. In addition, ethical standards vary from region to region due to different cultural contexts. For example, the prohibition of child labour has not always been a universal principle. Even today, not all societies share the same ethical view on this issue.

From ethical consumption to business ethics

Ethics has become an essential topic due to a growing awareness of the consequences of our choices and behaviours as consumers. This means taking into account the externalities, such as the environmental and social impacts, of any activity. Business ethics implies a commitment to maximize the positive impact on society while achieving sustainable profits. Therefore, it is at the heart of the practices and governance of companies.

However, business ethics brings subjective and dynamic elements into a traditionally rational and predictable setting. A practice deemed ethical in one region may be unacceptable in another. Individual perspectives further complicate this, as everyone has a unique moral compass. This complexity renders business ethics open to various interpretations, making its application challenging.

Aligning principles, values and actions

The challenge of ethics is therefore not to meet all expectations, but to create a coherence of principles and behaviours. For a company, this involves harmonizing its values with those of its stakeholders (horizontal alignment), as well as ensuring its actions at all levels reflect these values (vertical alignment). Complete alignment in both dimensions fosters profound and lasting commitment. However, partial alignment risks stakeholder disengagement and criticism for “greenwashing” or “ethical-washing.”

Ultimately, the essence of relevant business ethics lies in consistently demonstrating alignment with the values and principles of its ecosystem.

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