The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 1, 2002

Ethical concerns and business organisations
Harbans Singh

Business Ethics
by C.S.V. APH Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pages 281. Rs 395.

Business EthicsBusiness Ethics is a serious attempt to offer a "practical and conceptual perspective" to university students on the fundamental question of ethics. C.S.V. Murthy has attempted to elucidate the basic principles of ethics as applied to life in general and business in particular. This contribution of the author is all the more important as it comes at a time when the interests of multi-national corporations appear to govern the world, and, since many of them have in recent times been embroiled in scandals, there has been a question mark over the measures that they adopt to achieve success, such manipulating figures to inflate profits etc. The author deals with all this without losing sight of the role played by an individual not only in his personal capacity but also as part of an organisation.

Business ethics as a subject is relevant to everybody, from the top man in the management to the lowest-ranked employee, making it everybodyís business. The challenge is not only to achieve ever-higher levels of economic performance but also to achieve it in a manner which is socially and ethically acceptable. The author has made a distinction between the personal and professional dilemmas that many professionals have to face. He has also done well to point out some positive ways in which business leaders reacted in such situations. For example, Johnson and Johnson protected customers by recalling Tylenol capsules when poison was found in some Tylenol bottles on store shelves, or HMT Ltd, a public sector undertaking, withdrew all milk separators supplied through its dairy manufacturing unit when it was found that one of the separatorís lid flew off, hitting the roof.

The book is divided into 13 modules and at the end of each chapter there are questions for the student, designed not only to help him understand the subject but also to provoke him to a higher level of analysis and introspection. Leading through the issues of capitalism and market, the author wades through the intellectual property rights and ethics as applied to organisations, human resource management and financial issues.


One of the important modules of the book deals with ethics and social responsibility. Both affect business as much as the turns of the economy, government and legal forces do. With growing cynicism and sophistication in our society, it is exceedingly being believed that all things are relative, and that nothing is absolutely right or wrong. While some might succeed in taking this situation in their stride for a short duration, the long-term response of society corrodes the authority of not only the individual, but also of institutions of long standing.

The module on Ethics and the Organisation deals with a variety of issues ranging from the alienation caused by repetitive work, oppressive authority and invasion of the privacy of the workers. Herein, the conflict of interest between the organisation and the individual, too, is dealt with, and emphasis is laid on insider trading and the responsibilities of the organisation towards its employees. The chapter on human resource management is interesting as it makes a distinction between HRM systems followed in different countries. Marketing and advertising have also been dealt with, though one wishes the treatment meted out to these two instruments of business was more comprehensive.

For a general reader, the ninth module would be of a great interest as it deals with broader ethical issues in society and also addresses ecological concerns. The world over it has been found that balancing business and environmental concerns is a daunting task. The chapter encompasses subjects as wide ranging as air pollution, earthís warming due to human activity and cruelty to animals. In doing so, the author has used the occasion to question the ethics of the corporate response to the Kargil War, when, he alleges, cynical attempts were made to gain leverage out of the tragedy. Ideally, he contends, such crises should serve as opportunities for business to re-establish its roots in society, a role "that must, however, go beyond the narrow promotion of corporate names, products and brands."