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The Ethical Rational of Business for the Poor – Integrating the Concepts Bottom of the Pyramid, Sustainable Development, and Corporate Citizenship

Abstract

The first United Nations Millennium Development Goal calls for a distinct reduction of worldwide poverty. It is now widely accepted that the private sector is a crucial partner in achieving this ambitious target. Building on this insight, the ‹Bottom of the Pyramid’ concept provides a framework that highlights the untapped opportunities with the ‹poorest of the poor’, while at the same time acknowledging the abilities and resources of private enterprises for poverty alleviation. This article connects the idea of business with the poor to sustainable development and especially to the notions of inter- and intragenerational justice. These principles of justice can be linked with the ‹Bottom of the Pyramid’ approach directly through the Rawlsian principles to foster holistic thinking. On this basis, the article offers a normative-ethical reasoning of corporations’ possible responsibilities for the poorest of the poor. Today’s state of worldwide inequalities is likely to generate future tensions between the privileged western world and the uncounted mass of poor (let alone the ethical dubiousness of this status). However, it is at the same time problematic if not even impossible to improve the situation of the poor by simply copying the resource intensive western way of living to the ‹Bottom of the Pyramid’ due to the limited carrying capacity of the earth. After highlighting possible moral dilemmas which may occur through such a potential trade off, this article concludes with an outlook on how the concepts ‹Bottom of the Pyramid’ and sustainable development could be combined.

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Acknowledgements

The author likes to thank the anonymous referees for stimulating and constructive comments that helped to improve the original draft considerably.

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Correspondence to Rüdiger Hahn.

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Hahn, R. The Ethical Rational of Business for the Poor – Integrating the Concepts Bottom of the Pyramid, Sustainable Development, and Corporate Citizenship. J Bus Ethics 84, 313–324 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9711-6

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Keywords

  • Bottom of the Pyramid
  • corporate citizenship
  • intra- and intergenerational equity
  • moral dilemma
  • poverty alleviation
  • Rawlsian principles
  • sustainable development
  • human rights
  • categorical imperative