Inculcating Business Ethics

Following the financial crisis, there has been a reconsideration of the manner in which business schools have been imparting education. Questions are being raised as to whether alternate methods of business education could have modified some of the ethical and behavioural traits that may have fuelled the crisis. In this scenario, an article in the New York Times provides an interesting perspective, showing how business schools are moving towards a liberal arts type of curriculum. The following is what it calls a “radical idea in business education” in order to broaden horizons:

… that students needed to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting. More specifically, they needed to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions.

Here is a flavour of the changes occurring:

As a result, a number of prominent business schools have re-evaluated and, in some cases, redesigned their M.B.A. programs in the last few years. And while few talk explicitly about taking a liberal arts approach to business, many of the changes are moving business schools into territory more traditionally associated with the liberal arts: multidisciplinary approaches, an understanding of global and historical context and perspectives, a greater focus on leadership and social responsibility and, yes, learning how to think critically.

Another notable example is the increased focus on corporate social responsibility among business educators.

Nevertheless, not all are optimistic about the impact such moves can make:

Will any of these changes have a big role in preventing future economic crises? Opinions here are more mixed. If businesses’ pay systems keep rewarding short-term, high-risk or narrowly focused behavior, many say, what business programs teach is unlikely to have much impact.

Beyond business education is a related effort – a recent newsreport points to the effort by Global Business Oath, an initiative of the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, that has drafted a pledge to be taken by business school graduates and entrepreneurs in order to instill moral and ethical values in the conduct of business. Although it may be criticised as being purely symbolic, it nevertheless represents a change in mindset.

As far as legal education is concerned, it already takes into account a liberal arts approach. Moreover, legal ethics is usually mandated in the curriculum. Although many of the issues discussed above do not directly impact legal education, there are certainly lessons to be learned as far as corporate and business laws are concerned. Fortunately, legal education too seems to have caught up with this trend with increasing visibility on issues such as corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. Even though these are yet to be firmly embedded in the Indian law school curricula, it is only a matter of time before that happens.

About the author

Umakanth Varottil

Umakanth Varottil is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He specializes in corporate law and governance, mergers and acquisitions and cross-border investments. Prior to his foray into academia, Umakanth was a partner at a pre-eminent law firm in India.

1 comment

  • Business schools need to adopt a philosophical and a practical approach when teaching ethics.

    Some thoughts on ethics:
    Ethics is concerned with "doing the right thing" but…

    Moral standards differ between individuals depending upon their upbringing, traditions, religion, social and economic situations, and so on. Hence, the existence of grey areas. Therefore, state the “moral” problem in a simple manner and review feedback so that an acceptable decision can be made with minimal overall harm/loss—i.e., we are concerned with “Pareto optimality,” which is related to the net balance of benefits over harm for society as a whole.

    Economic theory is concerned with the efficient utilization of resources to satisfy consumer wants and to maximize profit and satisfaction. Pareto optimality exists at the point where it is impossible to make any given individual better off without harming another given individual. Although most businessmen believe that profits and cash flow are very important, there has been a move toward the recognition of social responsibility.

    The blind pursuit of profit has resulted in bribes, environmental problems, injured workers, unsafe products, closed plants, and so on—this is unethical. Many business schools emphasize the philosophical, rather than the practical aspect of ethics. We need a practical approach to the solution of ethical problems.

    Ethical leadership calls for morals, fairness, caring, sharing, no false promises or unreasonable demands on others, etc. Is “ethical leadership” an oxymoron?

    I have a policy of distributing free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, business law, etc., to anyone who sends a request to [email protected].

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

Top Posts & Pages


Recent Comments


web analytics

Social Media