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A businessperson may be a slave to many masters: while wanting to impress shareholders and build a financially successful company, he or she may also care deeply about avoiding exploitation, ensuring fairness, and building an ethically sound organization. Making ethical business decisions can be very difficult, as many ethical issues are complex and have no simple answer. Moreover, different people have different ethical beliefs, meaning that making ethical business decisions can be a highly personalized process. Regardless of personal ethical code, there are some basic steps that can help make ethical business decisions, including creating a clear ethical standpoint for the business, examining the outcomes of all possible options, and asking for advice from trusted ethical sources.
Creating an ethics-based mission statement for a business, or even for an individual worker, can be an important step to making ethical business decisions. A person must know where he or she stands in regard to ethical issues, and creating a list of core values can help firmly cement that list in all business decisions. For instance, to some, engaging in environmentally safe practices might be a primary core value. For others, ensuring a workplace free of discrimination might be equally important. Creating an actual written list can serve as a reminder of these important values when faced with a difficult business decision.
To make ethical business decisions, it is important to examine each possible solution for ethical strengths and weaknesses. Some ideas to consider during this process might include whether a solution violates laws or regulations, whether it impinges on any person or group's rights, whether the solution will conflict with core values, and whether it benefits few or many people. Though each ethical decision will involve different particulars, creating a general framework of questions that can be used in any situation may help a businessperson develop a strategy to deal with these issues in the future.
One test of whether a business decision is ethical is whether the decision-maker feels comfortable explaining his or her decision to a trusted ethical source. This might be his or her mother, a spiritual leader, a businessperson known for his impeccable sense of ethics, or even a professor. It does not necessarily require the decision-maker to literally ask for advice, especially if he or she knows the character of the ethical source well. If it is difficult or impossible to explain the reasons for a business decision to a trusted ethical source without feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or as if he or she is disappointing a mentor, this may be a sign that the decision violates personal ethics as well.
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