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

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[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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Book Review: Technology Choices: Why Occupations Differ in Their Embrace of New Technology

Technology ChoicesDiane E. Bailey, Paul M. Leonardi : Technology Choices: Why Occupations Differ in Their Embrace of New Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. 288 pp.$32.00/£22.95, cloth.

Asaf Darr of University of Haifa recently reviewed Technology Choices: Why Occupations Differ in Their Embrace of New Technology in Administrative Science Quarterly. An excerpt from the book review:

Bailey and Leonardi are leading ethnographers of work who acquired their reputations through meticulous fieldwork, comparative research designs, and insightful use of general themes emerging from the data to develop middle-range theory. All these qualities are demonstrated in this book, which summarizes a decade of research into the engineering profession, with an emphasis on product design work. The book compares the work of automotive design engineers, software engineers, and structural engineers; the technologies they choose to employ in their daily work; Current Issue Coverand the division of labor that structures their work.

The book contributes to organizational literature in at least three meaningful ways. First, it provides an important description of design engineering work, highlighting its heterogeneity. Second, it identifies key factors that shape the choices engineering specialists make regarding their work tools. Third, it lays the grounds for a theory that can explain and even predict why and how occupations make decisions about the technologies they will use in their daily work. This theory is grounded in core elements of occupations, such as distinct skills and local divisions of labor, as well as in the surrounding environment, where variables such as market forces and institutional factors influence technological choice.

You can read the rest of the book review from Administrative Science Quarterly by clicking here. Want to stay up to date on all of the latest content published by Administrative Science QuarterlyClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Social Networking Sites as an Emerging Organizational Form

8464661409_32aa7a26a6_zBecause the landscape of the digital industry is always changing, its organizational structures have to be more malleable in form; the development of this industry and its products has caused a departure from more rigid, traditional organizational structures. Among the newer structures, social networking sites (SNSs) have emerged as a significant area of study for researchers. As an extension of the study of SNSs as a distinct organizational structure, researchers are examining SNSs as a unique organizational form. Co-authors Matthew S. Weber, Janet Fulk and Peter Monge explore this subject in detail in their article, entitled, “The Emergence and Evolution of Social Networking Sites as an Organizational Form,” published in Management Communication Quarterly. The abstract for the paper:

A number of new organizational structures have emerged in recent years, including peer production networks, digitally organized social movements, and social networking sites (SNSs). Researchers have devoted considerable attention to these phenomena as groups and communities. This article takes a complementary approach by conceptualizing them as organizational forms, with focus on the emergence of
SNSs as a distinct organizational form. Community ecology theory is implemented to explicate the emergence and subsequent legitimation of organizational forms, Current Issue Coverproviding a foundation for understanding how new forms emerge through interaction with the surrounding environment. Industry data and historical records are utilized to illustrate the development of one specific form: online SNSs. This analysis demonstrates that legitimation is an ongoing process of replication of features, but legitimacy also occurs through recognition from adjacent populations. Findings illustrate the validity of alternative processes of form legitimacy.

You can read “The Emergence and Evolution of Social Networking Sites as an Organizational Form” from Management Communication Quarterly free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know about the latest research from Management Communication Quarterly? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Collage of social network logos credited to Tanja Cappell (CC)

The Diversity Challenge: Part 4 of 5

Editor’s note: Today we’re continuing our series on diversity, targeting specific questions to invite discussion and exploration of related topics. If you have a question that you’d like to see addressed, add it in the comments below!

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Part 4: What can organizations gain from the interactions of individuals in diverse groups?

Gelaye Debebe, Professor of Organizational Sciences at George Washington University and Journal of Management Education (JME) contributor, has published a new book, “Navigating Power Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land” (Lexington Books, 2012), which provides insights into diverse groups in organizational settings.

From the publisher’s description:

Interactions among individuals representing culturally dissimilar and politically unequal groups are a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Navigating Power: Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land by Gelaye Debebe is concerned with how these interactions affect task coordination in organizational settings. While much research has addressed the effect of cultural differences on these interactions, very little work has been done examining the role of political inequality. (lexingtonbooks.com)

To read long excerpts from “Navigating Power Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land” in Google Books, click here.

Hear the SAGE podcast with Professor Debebe on her JME article, “Creating a Safe Environment for Women’s Leadership Transformation,” on Management INK by clicking here.

Gelaye Debebe is Assistant Professor of Organizational Sciences at George Washington University and Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Gender in Organizations at Simmons Graduate School of Management. She received her PhD in Organizational Behavior from the University of Michigan. Her research has examined how people learn in difficult or stressful environments or situations. She has specifically explored the conditions necessary to foster transformative learning among women in formal training and how individuals who represent culturally dissimilar and politically unequal groups create new knowledge through their interactions. Her published work has appeared in Research in Organizational Behavior, Journal of Management Education, Advancing Women in Leadership Journal, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Human Resourced Development International, Issues in Intercultural Communication and Development in Practice.

Up next–the conclusion to our series: How can we improve organizational management and teaching strategies to increase diversity and inclusion?