These days organizations are expected to be socially responsible and engage in ethical decision-making. The paper aims to explore the main moral issues companies encounter and examine how they can be resolved. The study is based on the analysis and summarization of the existing literature covering business dilemmas, as well as different aspects of organizational ethics. The author also uses the case of Apple Inc. as an example of a company that abides by certain moral standards and expectations. While making decisions organizations have to consider multiple stakeholders, such as customers, employees, and the environment. There are also benefits of engaging in programs aimed at enhancing the communities well-being. Therefore, companies aspiring to achieve better public recognition should acknowledge these factors during their operations.
Organizations and Ethical Decision-Making
These days organizations purposes and responsibilities are not seen merely through the framework of legal and financial liabilities. Along with the expectations regarding providing quality goods and services, they are viewed accountable for maintaining workplace diversity, supporting environmental protection, and contributing to the public good. In other words, there are specific standards of social responsibility they have to abide by (Duckworth, 2016). Fulfilling these duties entails facing ethical dilemmas at different levels of a company’s operations, but the successful resolution of these issues can positively contribute to its public image.
First of all, it is essential to understand the basic principles of ethical decision-making. Its key element is proper framing, which implies establishing that the problem is ethical even if other responsibilities are involved (Schwartz, 2017). This demands moral awareness, which requires understanding how the decision-makers actions influence individuals, organizations, or the environment (Schwartz, 2017). Therefore, careful consideration of possible outcomes is demanded to choose the most optimal decision for all the parties involved. For companies, these stakeholders include customers, the environment, employees, and communities.
Marketing Strategies and Production Processes
All economic transactions are based on supply and demand, making customers purchasing power, their needs, expectations, and satisfaction levels the main predictors of an organization’s performance. Therefore, companies focus should be on providing their clients with products that are safe to use and comply with their description. It is not merely a question of economic benefit: state laws protect customers rights to safety, to being heard, and being informed (Weiss, 2014). However, while legally regulated, business operations should also be considered from an ethical perspective. These areas include advertising, product safety, and ecological responsibility.
Many discussions surround the issue of advertising. Companies are legally obliged to give accurate information regarding the product or service they provide (Weiss, 2014). However, they often employ various misleading tactics during their marketing operations which, while not being necessarily punishable, are still rather questionable. For instance, nowadays, with the increase of health-conscious consumers, many companies add “sugar-free” labels to their packaging hiding sugar under lesser-known names (such as dextrose, fructose, maltose). In other cases, clarification is written in a small font that is hard for most consumers to read. While from a legal perspective, it may be considered customers responsibility to educate themselves or be more careful; it is an ethical obligation of an organization to give accurate, easily accessible, and understandable information about the product. Moreover, deceiving clients is unlikely to be an efficient long-term strategy since it undermines trust.
Another ethical issue is connected to advertising such products as fast food, cigarettes, and alcohol, which are associated with many diseases, including obesity, diabetes, addictions, and lung cancer. Many concerns have been expressed regarding certain marketing strategies that glorify unhealthy behaviors, such as consuming high-calories foods or drinking alcoholic beverages (Weiss, 2014). Such advertising can be particularly dangerous if directed to teenagers who tend to be more vulnerable to external influence (Weiss, 2014). Parents raise particular concerns regarding pop-up ads online (Weiss, 2014). The companies should understand that if they advertise potentially harmful products to youngsters, they are not merely dealing with a way to increase sales. From a long-term perspective, it makes them responsible for growing figures in child obesity and alcohol consumption among adolescents.
Some products may also have certain defects posing a danger to consumers. It is a legal issue, though surrounded by discussions related to the extent companies should be held responsible for the harm caused by their goods (Weiss, 2014). However, it is also a moral obligation of a trader to make sure their customers are safe. Therefore, having learned about a potentially harmful defect, they should recall their products (Weiss, 2014). For instance, in 2019, Apple recalled some of its 15 MacBook Pro laptops due to a battery fire risk (Gibbs, 2019). Such actions not only help to ensure that the clients are safe and no lawsuits would follow, but it is also an ethical decision that supports the company’s reputation.
Organizations should also be accountable for the impact they have on the environment. It is estimated that significant damage to ecology is done through irresponsible production processes (Weiss, 2014). Damage caused by human activity, including greenhouse emissions and uncontrollable use of limited resources, contributes to increases in heart and respiratory diseases and is also linked to climate change and water scarcity (Weiss, 2014). Thus, protecting nature concerns individual lives and societies as a whole. Therefore, companies (which have more resources to harm and more resources to help) should also be aware of their environmental impact. As environmental awareness increases, many businesses start to employ green marketing strategies (such as eco-friendly packaging) using it as a competitive edge (Mahmoud, 2018). However, it should not be merely a way of attracting clients – their actions must align with the principles of sustainability.
Creating Respectful Workplaces
Apart from responsibilities towards customers and the environment, companies have moral obligations to their potential and current employees. They are expected to provide equal opportunities for all applicants and create safe and respectful workplaces for their employees, supporting and enhancing diversity. It is essential to eliminate any differences in status between demographic subgroups (Guillaume et al., 2017). A person’s position in a company should be only influenced by their merit and contribution.
These objectives can be achieved by developing effective diversity management strategies including recruiting practices aimed at attracting candidates from different backgrounds. However, merely employing people of diverse genders, races, and sexual orientations without creating an appropriate corporate culture is unlikely to be beneficial both for the company and its new staff members. Therefore, many organizations now provide diversity training to raise awareness regarding widespread biases and foster tolerance and better communication (Shaban, 2016). Managers must help their employees to understand and accept their differences (Shaban, 2016). As Guillaume et al. point out, positive attitudes towards diversity and “task and team-related competencies and motivation” are essential for creating respectful and productive workplaces (2017, p. 296).
Leadership also plays a crucial role – managers should avoid expressing any biases and personally contribute to cultivating tolerance and equality (Guillaume et al., 2017). Many global companies also have training programs aimed at different minorities, helping them improve their skills and qualifications. This can ensure that people of a background that made it difficult for them to receive education and training similar to others are provided with an opportunity for professional development.
These days the majority of successful companies foster and develop diversity. Creating inclusive teams fulfills their moral responsibilities towards their communities and is also suggested to improve their performance by attracting more talent (Lambert, 2016). One of the leading companies in the world of technology, Apple Inc., also puts a great value on diversity linking it to better innovation (Apple, 2018a). Its recent hiring statistics show that human resources managers try to attract more people from different minority groups (Apple, 2018b). They also claim to have achieved equal pay for similar roles and performances in every country they operate in (Apple, 2018a). Such strategies help to ensure that the company attracts a positive public image by taking care of one of its main stakeholders – employees.
Corporate Volunteer Programs
Benefits to Companies
Another way to provide for better life satisfaction and engagement of workers is through organizing corporate volunteer programs. Such initiatives are aimed at creating a coordinated approach to providing employees with opportunities to contribute to the public good. Some activities they can be involved in include “after-school reading programs, working in homeless shelters, constructing low-income housing, cleaning up community parks” (Longenecker et al., 2012, p. 10).
There are several practical reasons why companies may cultivate such practices. Research shows that employees participation in volunteering contributes to increases in media exposure, brand recognition, and customer loyalty (Longenecker et al., 2012). Moreover, working for the same cause can help employees to bond together widening networking possibilities (Longenecker et al., 2012). Research also shows that such programs increase employee engagement, consequently leading to better performance (Caligiuri et al., 2013). Also, performing different roles while volunteering can help them to improve their organizational or emotional skills.
Benefits to Employees
In addition, there are significant ethical implications of organizational volunteering. As Duckworth (2016) emphasizes, it is critical to remember that employees are also community members. Therefore, working for its benefit can increase employees happiness and life satisfaction, providing them with opportunities to do something meaningful for society. Also, as community members, employees have their own experiences, which make them capable of or interested in improving certain aspects of social life. Moreover, allowing employees to suggest and develop their ideas can help to increase the social responsibility of an organization as a whole (Duckworth, 2016). Therefore, it will enable companies to use their resources to contribute to the public good.
Corporate Volunteering Organization
However, to derive these benefits, it is important to ensure that corporate volunteering programs are organized well. Caligiuri et al. suggest that to obtain long-term benefits for companies, NGOs, and individual employees, companies should “select volunteers for their technical skills (and put them in assignments where they can use them), to provide them with an opportunity to further develop their skills, and to assign them to NGOs that have the tangible resources to sustain the volunteers’ projects after the volunteers leave so the “sense of purpose” among the volunteers is high” (2013, p. 856). Knowing that their contribution will be meaningful in the long run, even if they would not be able to continue working for that cause, can significantly improve volunteers motivation.
Thus, while performing their legal and economic operations, organizations also have to consider multiple ethical dilemmas. They should identify the main stakeholders and how they would be affected by the chosen course of action. In many cases, companies negligence or intention to deceive can harm their clients, employees, or the environment. However, they also have a lot to offer: unique resources they can use to improve individual lives or contribute to the public good. Successful companies these days understand their responsibilities, try to adjust their decision-making process to be more ethical, and take actions to give back to the community.
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