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There are many different types of business ethics research, and there are many different ethical systems in the world. Ethics does not necessarily help a business make more money, but it can promote company pride and maintain a sense of personal morality. Business ethics research often investigates how ethics is applied today, which is a descriptive type of research, but it can also be used to look at the role that ethics should play in business, which might be considered a prescriptive form of research. Almost all researchers understand to some extent that what behavior qualifies as ethical depends on culture and society, so it is not necessarily universally true.
Among the different types of business ethics research, one of the most important types is research concerning effects on a macro scale. While almost anyone can understand that operating a business that is in violation of the law or that is exploitative of human life is wrong, it can be more difficult to see how decisions made about how to run a business can affect people all over the world. Deciding whom to hire and from where, for example, can be thought of as a major ethical decision. Money can save or ruin lives, and unethical business practices can lead to entire areas falling into ruin.
Another type of business ethics research involves looking at how ethical decisions are managed within a company and in what contexts ethical standards are likely to be violated. It has been shown that people who feel powerful have a tendency to act in ways that even they themselves recognize as unethical. Likewise, people who do not feel accountable for their actions often violate their own moral standards. Research on when and why people act immorally can be used by businesses to implement checks and balances into the decision-making process, making it more difficult for people to feel empowered to act unethically.
Business ethics research is often divided into areas like sales, marketing, and human resources, but all of these different types of research ask the same questions about ethics and morality, although they approach the subject from different perspectives. Even with each area of business covered, only a perspective that looks at the business as a whole from both an interior and exterior perspective can truly say whether an action is ethical. No company can anticipate all possible outcomes of a potential decision, but companies can make a good faith effort to do their research and act in a way they find moral. One of the most important steps business ethics research has taken is the widespread acceptance of the idea that ethics and good business are complementary rather than incompatible values for a company to hold.
Business ethics might not lead to higher profits, but they are critical to the long term success of any business. That crooked lawyer, for example, might gain in the short term by ripping off clients, but ultimately will be out of business when his sneaky ways are revealed.
Want another example? How about Enron, a company that cheated, lied and pulled all sorts of shenanigans and posted profits for a time, but ultimately failed and destroyed a lot of its executives and works in the process.
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