Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2019)

Robert C. Hughes
University of Pennsylvania
Alan Strudler
University of Pennsylvania
For the past half century, there has been a large controversy within academic business ethics, in legal scholarship, and in the larger public about the role that corporations should have in addressing social injustices. Do corporations have a moral obligation to conduct business in a way that reduces poverty, racial inequality, other unjust economic and social inequalities, and unjust threats to the environment? Or should for-profit corporations focus on making money and leave solutions of these social problems to governments, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals? There are related but distinct controversies about corporations’ moral duties of transactional and relational justice. One important question is whether financial agreements or employment contracts can be wrongfully exploitative despite being fully consensual and beneficial to all parties. This question is distinct from the question whether corporations have a duty to promote distributive justice. Transactional unfairness is arguably possible in society with a just economic system, and fair transactions are presumably possible in a society with an unjust distribution. There are also important questions about the extent of firms’ moral obligation to avoid pollution, to refrain from discrimination, to treat employees fairly, and to respect the democratic process. These moral obligations may require more than obeying the relevant law.
Keywords business ethics  corporations  corporate agency  corporate responsibility  justice  professional ethics  transactional justice
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