The Just World Fallacy as a Challenge to the Business-As-Community Thesis

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Matthew Sinnicks of Northumbria University. Dr. Sinnicks recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “The Just World Fallacy as a Challenge to the Business-As-Community Thesis,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Sinniscks reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:


What motivated you to pursue this research?

To be honest, I stumbled upon the idea by chance. There has been some really interesting work done on ethics and the results of personality psychology over the past few decades, and I was perusing some of this literature in a quite unsystematic way when I came across a few articles on the just world fallacy. It struck me as an interesting topic, and one worthy of more philosophical reflection than it has received.
Once I got going, in addition to the fact I found the idea interesting, I was motivated by the frustrating fact that organisations, which most self-consciously regard themselves as virtuous communities, are, in fact, often furthest from that ideal, and so it seemed to me to be worth thinking about the conditions under which Aristotelian community might flourish within organisations.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

Not consciously, but the fact that people who occupy positions of power and prestige often do so despite their lack of merit, and often deserve anything but deference, is a depressing lesson to be drawn from recent political events.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

I hesitate to speculate on how my article will affect the field, but I would be delighted if it helped to start a conversation about the implications of the just world fallacy for human relationships both in organisations and perhaps in society generally. Furthermore, there are a number of business ethics scholars who I admire enormously, but who are far more optimistic than I am about the possibility of community within organisational life under contemporary capitalism, so I would also be delighted if my article encouraged them to address the egalitarian challenge I raise in their future work.

However, the more one reads about psychological biases, the more one becomes aware of how poor most people are at evaluating themselves, and how prone most people are to be unwarrantedly optimistic about their chances of success, so it’s important to note that these are hopes rather than expectations!

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Is Business Ethics Too Important to be Left in the Hands of Business: A Democratic Alternative?


[We’re pleased to welcome author Carl Rhodes of the University of Technology, Sydney. Rhodes recently published an article in Organization Studies entitled “Democratic Business Ethics: Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal and the Disruption of Corporate Sovereignty,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Rhodes reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

Cover image for latest issue of Organization Studies

When people think of business ethics they normally imagine what businesses can or should do to be judged as ethical.  Whether the focus is on breaches of ethical norms by corporations, or models for the achievement of ethical business, the common approach is that it is organizations themselves who are the ethical agents.

This assumption is limited because it fails to account for how corporate responsibility does not necessarily arrive through the voluntary actions of corporations themselves. In response, in my own research I have been exploring a more democratic and socially focussed understanding of how business ethics is practiced.  The results were recently published in my article in Organization Studies called ‘Democratic Business Ethics: Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal and the Disruption of Corporate Sovereignty’

The 2015 Volkswagen emission scandal illustrates what I call democratic business ethics; an ethics where citizens and the institutions of civil society hold corporations to account for their actions, and in so doing disrupt the self-interested abuse of corporate power.  At the time the scandal broke, Volkswagen was the world’s largest auto manufacturer, and a company widely heralded for its environmentalism and its corporate social responsibly activities.  Despite impeccable ethical credentials, the scandal revealed a corporation whose success had been boosted by sophisticated cheating on fuel emission tests.

The paper shows how Volkswagen was brought to justice for its actions not because of its own proclaimed ethics or moral hubris, but because of the interaction of individuals and institutions from outside of business, in this case NGOs, scientists, law makers, government agencies, the media, and the general public.  This was a demonstration how business ethics manifested in the interruption of a flagrant case of corporate fraud, deceit and criminality.

The paper develops the idea of democratic business ethics by focussing on how civil society in particular can and should ensure that corporations are made morally responsible for what they do. This is an ethics made practical through forms of dissent and contestation that redirect power away from centres of organized wealth and capital, returning it to its democratically rightful place with the people.

The conclusion is that business ethics is far too important to be left in the hands of business, and needs to be exercised in the democratic sphere so that corporations are serving society rather than the other way around.

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Mixing Business and Ethics: How the Rotary Club Encouraged Ethical Business Practices

connected-people-988001-mLarge corporations have long been the focus of corporate social  responsibility (CSR) studies. Such studies seem to support the separation thesis, which suggests that business and ethics are mutually exclusive. However, reexamining the role of small businesses in the history of CSR challenges the separation thesis and provides a new perspective on the relationship between business and society. A historical case study of the Rotary Club demonstrates how mixing business and moral decision making has benefited small business owners in the past. Mark Tadajewski recently explored this topic in his article “The Rotary Club and the Promotion of the Social Responsibilities of Business in the Early 20th Century” from Business & Society.

The abstract:

The separation thesis states that business and moral decision making should and can be differentiated clearly. This study provides empirical support for the competing view that the separation thesis is impossible through a BAScase study of the Rotary Club, which fosters an ethical orientation among its global business and professional membership. The study focuses attention on the Club in the early to middle 20th century. Based on a reading of their service doctrine, the four objects of Rotary and the Four Way Test, the author argues that the example of the Rotary Club undermines the separation thesis. The Rotary message was conceptually ambiguous: it did not clearly differentiate business roles from social activities; rather both fed into each other, with the business tools developed by members and disseminated by Rotary, utilized in nonbusiness contexts with a view to enhancing societal well-being.

You can read “The Rotary Club and the Promotion of the Social Responsibilities of Business in the Early 20th Century” from Business & Society by clicking here. Want to be notified of all the latest research like this from Business & Society? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Why Some Corporations Choose To Be Socially Responsible

clean-home-2-1193877-mDo you know what makes your pans non-stick or your toothpaste and hand soap fight bacteria? According to the European Commission Department for Health and Consumers, products like these can contain chemicals such as pesticides that cause cancer, reproductive and developmental issues, endocrine disruption, and environmental issues. While the EU has developed Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) to address this issue, the United States Government Accountability Office has made no recommendations for creating a similar program. So why would a company then choose to create their own regulations for their products? Authors Caroline E. Scruggs and Harry J. Van Buren III investigate in their article “Why Leading Consumer Product Companies Develop Proactive Chemical Management Strategies” from Business and Society.

The abstract:

Scholars have studied the various pressures that companies face related to socially responsible behavior when stakeholders know the particular social issues under consideration. Many have examined social responsibility in the context of BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpointenvironmental responsibility and the general approaches companies take regarding environmental management. The issue of currently unregulated, but potentially hazardous, chemicals in consumer products is not well understood by the general public, but a number of proactive consumer product companies have voluntarily adopted strategies to minimize use of such chemicals. These companies are exceeding regulatory requirements by restricting from their products chemicals that could harm human or environmental health, despite the fact that these actions are costly. They do not usually advertise the details of their strategies to end consumers. This article uses interviews with senior environmental directors of 20 multinational consumer product companies to investigate why these companies engage in voluntary chemicals management. The authors conclude that the most significant reasons are to achieve a competitive advantage and stay ahead of regulations, manage relationships and maintain legitimacy with stakeholders, and put managerial values into practice. Many of the characteristics related to the case of chemicals management are extendable to other areas of stakeholder management in which risks to stakeholders are either unknown or poorly understood.

Click here to read “Why Leading Consumer Product Companies Develop Proactive Chemical Management Strategies” from Business and Society. This article is Open Access and free for viewing and sharing! Want to know about all the latest research like this from Business and Society? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Where Are the Marketing Ethics Courses?

Many of the challenges facing today’s businesses — such as advertising claims, consumer protection, and product quality — are marketing ethics issues. So why do so few university business programs offer standalone marketing ethics courses? In a study published in the Journal of Marketing Education, authors O. C. Ferrell of the University of New Mexico and Dawn L. Keig of Brenau University examine this problem, offer recommendations and explain why we need to start educating our future business leaders on marketing ethics:

It is important that students understand that marketing ethics is just not philanthropic activities, sustainability, and social responsibility. Although these are important topics, few companies engage in serious misconduct while trying to carry out these activities. On the other hand, marketing ethics and social responsibility are complementary concepts. Marketing ethics relates to decision making consistent with legal compliance, orJME(D)_72ppiRGB_150pixwganizational policies, and stakeholder relationships. Social responsibility relates to evaluations about contributions to the economic and social common good of society. Ethics becomes important as it is embedded in daily decisions related directly to functional areas of decision making.

Continue reading “The Marketing Ethics Course: Current State and Future Directions” in the Journal of Marketing Education.

Business Ethics Everywhere

Business ethics issues are cropping up every day in the news, but not always taking hold in the mind of the management student. How can instructors give future business leaders the tools they need to behave ethically?

Susan D. Baker of Morgan State University and Debra R. Comer of Hofstra University, who published “Business Ethics Everywhere’: An Experiential Exercise to Develop Students’ Ability to Identify and Respond to Ethical Issues in Business” in the Journal of Management Education (JME) February 2012 issue, created an easy-to-implement classroom exercise to teach about ethics through real-world examples. Janet Gillespie, an associate editor of JME, talked recently with the authors about why this exercise hit home with students. Click here to listen to the podcast and here to subscribe on iTunes.

Susan D. Baker, Associate Professor of Management in the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management at Morgan State University, received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development from George Washington University. She teaches classes in business ethics, leadership, and organizational behavior. Her current research interests include ethical behavior in organizations, followership, and role-sharing and role exchange between followers and leaders.

Debra R. Comer is a Professor of Management in the Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University. She received her B.A. with honors in psychology from Swarthmore College and her M.A., M. Phil., and Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale University. Her current research interests include ethical behavior in organizations, on-line learning, crisis management education, and the use of popular culture in management education.

Follow this link to hear more interviews in the Journal of Management Education podcast series. Further information about the journal can be found here.

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Ethics and the Corporation

After a week in which outgoing executive Greg Smith accused Goldman Sachs of losing its “moral fiber,” Apple’s factory conditions in China made news again, and the Ethisphere Institute released its 2012 list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, the issue of corporate ethics is in the spotlight.

For today’s post, we’ve pulled together a diverse assortment of articles related to ethics and the corporation, including an analysis of global codes of ethics, an exercise in ethics education, and a study of executives’ ethical leadership.

We hope you find this selection insightful and thought-provoking.

Gene R. Laczniak, Marquette University, and Ann-Marie Kennedy, Auckland University of Technology

Hyper Norms: Searching for a Global Code of Conduct

Journal of Macromarketing (September 2011)


Susan D. Baker, Morgan State University, and Debra R. Comer, Hofstra University

‘Business Ethics Everywhere’: An Experiential Exercise to Develop Students’ Ability to Identify and Respond to Ethical Issues in Business

Journal of Management Education (February 2012)


Jennifer Jordan, University of Groningen; Michael E. Brown, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College; Linda K. Treviño, The Pennsylvania State University; and Sydney Finkelstein, Dartmouth College

Someone to Look Up To: Executive–Follower Ethical Reasoning and Perceptions of Ethical Leadership

Journal of Management (March 15, 2011)


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