Business Ethics in Multinational Companies: Problematizing Write-up

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I am an employee of a large multinational oil and gas company that has 88 locations with over 100,000 employees all over the world. Oil and gas industry faces numerous ethical challenges, some of which are industry-specific, and some of which are generic (Raufflet, Cruz, & Bres, 2014). However, as a consequence of the cultural diversity of the company, the establishment of a globally acceptable organizational ethics becomes a challenge that has already resulted in conflicts in the past. The issue is now being examined, and the present paper explains the problematizing process of the workplace-based issue and demonstrates how the final problem statement was developed.

Problematizing Processes

The process of problematizing was developing gradually, but there were several key milestones (described below as insights) that defined noticeable changes in the problem definition and approach to it. Initially, the problem was defined as the challenge of ethical decision-making in the context of the multinational company where the organizational ethics proves to inform decisions rather poorly in certain cultural contexts. The initial focus was on the managers since they are typically expected to make decisions and, therefore, have the necessary experience and are also interested in the research. As the literature review revealed answers to certain questions, which were considered and discussed, the problem definition was developing as shown below.

Literature Review

The literature review provided confirmations and extended the initial views and ideas on the subject. In particular, it has become established that ethical conduct is of great importance for companies: it allows an organization to correspond to the expectations of the stakeholders and improve its reputation (Zutshi, Creed, Sohal, & Wood 2012); it can be used to improve employee commitment and integrity (Raufflet et al., 2014), and it may also increase the legitimacy of the management and employees’ morale (Thite, 2013; Verhezen, 2010).

Apart from that, literature review answered to certain key questions, the most important of which consisted in the probability of the existence of an international ethics code. It can be concluded that international ethics codes are being developed, and the examples include human rights and corporate social responsibility (CSR) phenomenon (Melé & Sánchez-Runde, 2013; Zutshi et al., 2012).

The latter is meant specifically for businesses, which makes it more applicable to the workplace problem, and while there is still no CSR global practice, the international versions begin to produce best practices and even norms and standards for multinational companies, especially in the field of social and environmental responsibility (Raufflet et al., 2014, p. 3). The specifics of international ethics practices consist in their flexibility, which, however, needs to allow the preservation of certain core principles. The idea of a flexible code with certain unchanging core principles corresponds to the view of ethics that unites idealism and relativism, thus combining the advantages of both approaches and neutralizing their disadvantages (Melé & Sánchez-Runde, 2013; Verhezen, 2010).

The literature on the topic also provided much evidence to the importance of the role of the managers, especially top managers (Verhezen, 2010). Managers are expected to balance personal values and organizational ethics in their decision-making, especially in controversial cases, and business ethics studies attempt to find the predictors of correct choices (Ananthram & Chan, 2016). In this respect, the literature places emphasis on the decision-making abilities (Verhezen, 2010), tools that managers use (Craft, 2012), and even their personal qualities and actions (Ananthram & Chan, 2016; Crossan, Mazutis, & Seijts, 2013; Verhezen, 2010). However, the adoption of an ethics code is only possible when the organizational culture integrates it, which implies that the employees in non-managerial positions are also of importance for ethics code development and implementation (Thite, 2013).


The literature review provided information for consideration, which formed the basis for several significant insights on the topic. For example, even before the research, it was apparent that idealism is rather inappropriate for a multinational company, especially since the acknowledgment, accommodation, and appropriate employment of the diverse workforce is one of the goals of our organization.

As stated by Verhezen (2010), it is most uncommon and illogical for a multinational company to insist on neglecting employees’ diversity, which is why initially relativism was viewed as the primary framework for the problem. However, the literature review revealed that CSR can be regarded as an example of a very flexible code with a few core principles (the primary of which consists in responsible practice) (Raufflet et al., 2014). As a result, the middle variant between idealism and relativism was adopted for the problematizing process.

Apart from that, it was discovered that the adoption of CSR is relatively common among multinational oil and gas companies (Raufflet et al., 2014). My company does employ a kind of CSR, but since CSR is a relatively vague term, it is apparent that the definition of my organization might be insufficiently adjusted to our practice, which could have caused the conflicts in the past. Also, the study of the decision-making process indicated the importance of related frameworks and tools that are capable of informing this process (Craft, 2012; Verhezen, 2010).

Given the fact that the ethical codes and guidelines of the organization are among the key tools that should inform managerial practice, is was concluded that instead of searching for the ways of adapting to a likely imperfect tool, managers should attempt to adapt it to their practice, enabling it to inform decisions and avoid conflicts. This insight shifted the focus of the problem definition radically. Finally, an insight into the importance of the employees’ views was gained from the literature that referred to the significance of the integration of ethics throughout the company. These key insights informed the final problem definition for this research.

Problems Redefinition and Reframing

The initial problem definition was shifted rather radically together with the expected outcomes and means of the research. In general, the workplace-based problem was redefined as the need for reviewing the current organizational ethics as well as its local variant (or, in the terms of Verhezen (2010), cultural interpretation). The significance of managerial experience cannot be denied, but given the pan-organizational nature of ethics, employees’ insights are also regarded as a source of knowledge that can inform the research.

As a result, the tools of the research have been updated to include the employees’ discussion on the matter as well as the interviews with the key managers. The aim of the discussions and interviews consists in considering the applicability and viability of the current code and guidelines, their alignment with the organizational guidelines, the analysis of their structure (that is, the core aspects and the cultural interpretation one), the identification of the issues, and the search for their elimination. As a result, this issue may be regarded as an opportunity for reviewing and adjusting the imperfect and, possibly, obsolete guidelines to the current practice, which should allow us to achieve the final aim of the improvement of the code’s ability to inform organizational decision-making.


The present paper demonstrates the problematizing process that used literature review and related insights to refine the focus of research, which resulted in the redefinition of the problem itself as well as the tools that are meant for its resolution. With the theoretical framework already defined, the final critical action report will be more specific and focused on the workplace-based problem to a greater extent.


Ananthram, S. & Chan, C. (2016). Religiosity, spirituality and ethical decision-making: Perspectives from executives in Indian multinational enterprises. Asia Pacific Journal Of Management, 28, 1-38. Web.

Craft, J. (2012). A Review of the Empirical Ethical Decision-Making Literature: 2004–2011. Journal of Business Ethics, 117(2), 221-259. Web.

Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., & Seijts, G. (2013). In Search of Virtue: The Role of Virtues, Values and Character Strengths in Ethical Decision Making. Journal of Business Ethics, 113(4), 567-581. Web.

Melé, D. & Sánchez-Runde, C. (2013). Cultural Diversity and Universal Ethics in a Global World. Journal of Business Ethics, 116(4), 681-687. Web.

Raufflet, E., Cruz, L., & Bres, L. (2014). An assessment of corporate social responsibility practices in the mining and oil and gas industries. Journal Of Cleaner Production, 84, 256-270. Web.

Thite, M. (2013). Ethics and human resource management and development in a global context: case study of an Indian multinational. Human Resource Development International, 16(1), 106-115. Web.

Verhezen, P. (2010). Giving Voice in a Culture of Silence. From a Culture of Compliance to a Culture of Integrity. Journal of Business Ethics, 96(2), 187-206. Web.

Zutshi, A., Creed, A., Sohal, A., & Wood, G. (2012). Consideration of selflessness and self‐interest in outsourcing decisions. European Business Review, 24(3), 287-303. Web.

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