Individual, Collective and Social Responsibility of the Firm

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Abstract:

The main concern of this paper is the moral responsibility of the firm, as well as of the individuals in a firm, to uphold environmental protection. Much of the business ethics literature defines corporate social responsibility in terms of stakeholder relationships, and the emphasis is frequently on collective as opposed to individual responsibility. This paper has three objectives. The first is to clarify the nature of moral responsibility, and the distinction between legal and moral responsibility. The second objective is to steer academicians and others towards a new vision of the firm. We argue that a firm is not just a singular legal entity but also a collectivity of morally responsible individuals who are liable for immoral acts of the firm. By expanding the boundary of responsibility of action from an intangible collectivity – the firm, to all the individuals within it, this vision moves beyond the typical emphasis on the firm as being the only moral agent responsible for corporate actions. The paper emphasizes not simply the responsibility of top echelon managers, but of every employee across ranks. The third goal of this paper is to examine the circumstances where application of moral responsibility becomes crucial, for instance, in the context of protection of the natural environment by a firm and its employees.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8608.00180

Affiliations: 1: School of Business, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland, 2: University of Denver, Colorado, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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