Marxism, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility

Journal of Business Ethics 84 (4):565 - 576 (2009)
Abstract
Originally delivered at a conference of Marxist philosophers in China, this article examines some links, and some tensions, between business ethics and the traditional concerns of Marxism. After discussing the emergence of business ethics as an academic discipline, it explores and attempts to answer two Marxist objections that might be brought against the enterprise of business ethics. The first is that business ethics is impossible because capitalism itself tends to produce greedy, overreaching, and unethical business behavior. The second is that business ethics is irrelevant because focusing on the moral or immoral conduct of individual firms or businesspeople distracts one’s attention from the systemic vices of capitalism. I argue, to the contrary, that, far from being impossible, business requires and indeed presupposes ethics and that for those who share Marx’s hope for a better society, nothing could be more relevant than engaging the debate over corporate social responsibility. In line with this, the article concludes by sketching some considerations favoring corporations’ adopting a broader view of their social and moral responsibilities, one that encompasses more than the pursuit of profit.
Keywords business ethics (as academic subject)  corporate social responsibility  fiduciary responsibility  Friedman  Milton  Marxism  prisoner’s dilemma  profit maximization
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