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Facing the Ethics Management Paradox

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It opens the door for suspicion and distrust because calculations and systemic conditions can easily be manipulated. When the fox preaches, guard your geese.

It is fascinating to see how trust, value-driven leadership and democratic stakeholding have become part of Western management theory. My point is that we must be aware of its paradoxical characteristics. The more economic democracy can be sustained by a rational and economic discourse, the more it risks crowding out the spiritual and moral commitment, which is a necessary condition for sustaining genuine entrepreneurship and stakeholding. Thus we must put forward not only the question of how to make business ethics operational, but also the question of how to make it genuinely ethical.

Luk Bouckaert's position on The Ethics Management Paradox deserves approval, comment, and elaboration. To put it succinctly: I share his analysis, and his diagnosis in part, but I am dubious of the remedy he proposes. This implies that, for my part, I will have to be explicit about the suitability of alternative remedies.

I share Luk's analysis. Not only the Green Paper of the European Commission, but the whole field of business ethics as a discipline and a practice, has evolved, at least in Europe, from the classroom to the executive suite, and from cases to codes. The process started with guided moral discussions of business cases in the relatively safe environment of the faculties of philosophy and business administration. Gradually, steps into the real world of business became inevitable. Questions, along with vocabulary, changed from “Which is morally the most defensible decision to take under the given circumstances?” to “Which tools are available to increase alertness and competence with regard to corporate social responsibility on the work floor?” Codes of conduct, key performance indicators, and systems of monitoring, auditing and reporting turned business ethics into a toolkit for keeping upright the “Triple P” of People, Planet and Profit. Business ethics entered its operational phase.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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