Business Ethics definition

Business ethics refers to the moral questions, judgements and dilemmas that arise from the business environment and is concerned with the way people act and behave when making decisions in business.

Business ethics is linked to the philosophy of business, which is concerned with the social, political and economic function of business in the human world. It’s made up of both normative ethics, which is concerned with peoples’ beliefs over right and wrong, and applied ethics, which is the philosophical pursuit of moral judgement in a given situation.

Business ethics came into common parlance and began being taken seriously in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in the academic field. In the late 1980s and 1990s, however, business ethics suffered because of public opinion around the ‘freedom’ of entrepreneurs and threats to economic prosperity but nowadays the relative might of corporations compared with communities and individuals has made people far more suspicious of business activity. Research into business ethics, and general scepticism and transparency of business practices, is now encouraged.

Significant attention has been made in recent years to the concept of maximising shareholder value, a codified goal of public companies, and the fact that violating this concept – even for a moral reason – can lead to the company being sued.

Specifically in the HR field, business ethics is concerned with a variety of areas including age discrimination, treatment of whistleblowing, strike breaking, sexual harassment in the workplace and privacy of employee data.