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Using UNPRME to Teach, Research, and Enact Business Ethics: Insights from the Catholic Identity Matrix for Business Schools


We address how the leaders of a Catholic business school can articulate and assess how well their schools implement the following six principles drawn from Catholic social teaching (CST): (1) produce goods and services that are authentically good; (2) foster solidarity with the poor by serving deprived and marginalized populations; (3) advance the dignity of human work as a calling; (4) exercise subsidiarity; (5) promote responsible stewardship over resources; and (6) acquire and allocate resources justly. We first discuss how the CST principles give substantive content and meaning to the Good Goods, Good Work, and Good Wealth framework in The Vocation of the Business Leader (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Vocation of the business leader, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City, 2012) and then discuss their congruencies and tensions with the UNGC and UNPRME principles. Next, we describe the Catholic Identity Matrix, an assessment tool that provides a quantitative and qualitative portrait of how well a Catholic business school integrates, within the scope of its mission and capacities, the three goods and related CST principles in its strategies, policies, activities, and processes. The concluding section discusses implications for ongoing UNGC and UNPRME assessment, reporting, and development efforts, and addresses the generalizability of our approach to business schools who draw their inspiration and moral principles from other faith-based or secular traditions.

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  1. In this paper, we focus on the aspects of CST that we believe substantively overlap with the more broadly accepted and universal humanistic principles articulated in UNGC and UNPRME. We acknowledge that some institutional policies specifically associated with the teachings of the Catholic Church are disputed across the ideological horizon. These include policies of Catholic ministries related to gay marriage, homosexuality, immigration, pornography, capital punishment, minimum wage legislation, employee access to contraception in employer-provided health plans, etc. In a morally pluralistic society, such policies are controversial and they are unlikely to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Each Catholic business school must wrestle with its own decisions about whether or how to integrate the more controversial aspects of Catholic social teaching in their teaching, research, service, and operational activities.

  2. More specifically, the UNGC asks its signatory companies to support and enact, “within their sphere of influence,” the ten UNGC principles ( The preamble to the six UNPRME principles likewise asks its signatory institutions of higher business education to start with those principles that are more relevant to their “capacities and mission”

  3. The three interrelated goods also map onto what MacIntyre (2011, p. 323) described as three goods that make work meaningful: “…that the work that we do has a point and purpose, is productive of genuine goods” [Good Goods]; “that the work that we do is and is recognized to be our work, our contribution, in which we are given and take responsibility for doing it and for doing it well” [Good Work]; “and that we are rewarded for doing it in a way that enables us to achieve the goods of family and community” [Good Wealth]” (cf. Kennedy 2006; Specht and Broholm 2009).

  4. Pope John Paul II (1991, §36) wrote the following about the phenomenon of consumerism: “In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to human instincts—while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free—then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to the person's physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.”.

  5. We acknowledge that the distinction between needs and wants is not always clear. Thus, the moral status of particular goods and services is debatable. Some goods can be clearly identified as necessary for human flourishing, e.g., access to adequate housing, food, clothing, health care, and a living wage. In other cases, some products and by-products intended to address human needs have been shown to have an adverse impact on human flourishing and the natural environment, e.g., air and water contamination, neonicotinoid insecticides that are demonstrably harmful to bees. In still other cases, a product may be harmful or beneficial to the human person depending on how it is used. Thus, it may need to be regulated, e.g., prescription drugs and certain professional services. In a few other cases, such as direct abortion, violent video games, tobacco, and pornography, today’s culture is sharply divided over whether such products/services are moral and whether they should be legal.

  6. The second principle of Good Goods does not require each business organization to meet everyone’s needs. Indeed, as discussed earlier, UNGC signatories are expected to enact the UNGC principles within their sphere of influence, and UNPRME signatories are expected to enact the UNPRME principles within the scope of their capacities and mission. Thus, for example, a company that produces and distributes agricultural products is not expected to meet its customers’ medical needs. Moreover, the “solidarity with the poor” principle acknowledges the difficulties associated with balancing conflicting stakeholder interests, particularly in cases where some stakeholders have more power than others, and thus, it urges business leaders to enact a preferential option for the poor and other marginalized citizens.

  7. Thus, a political leader with many talents, such as a Hitler or a Pol Pot, is not justified to murder his citizens, regardless of whether the leader believes the means justify the ends. Likewise, a business leader with many talents is not justified to knowingly allow unsafe work conditions at his company, regardless of whether he might believe that the unsafe work conditions are necessary to improve his company’s profits.

  8. As Pope Francis (2013, §203) put it, “Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”.

  9. At the heart of “subsidiarity” as a principle of leadership is a respect in action that assists leaders to take another look (re-spect from the Latin respectare to re-look) at their employees (Naughton et al. 2015). This relooking calls leaders to move beyond first impressions, and to recognize the unrepeatable, irreplaceable personal reality of each employee.

  10. The SAIP uses the Baldrige approach to extend a longstanding moral practice, the examination of conscience, from individuals to organizations. An examination of conscience is a periodic, systematic review of one’s thoughts, decisions, words, and deeds for the purpose of evaluating their alignment with or departure from a set of moral precepts. An individual typically performs an examination of conscience by reflecting upon a structured inventory of questions that are rooted in a set of moral precepts. Such reflection helps moral agents identify opportunities to conform their conduct more closely to the precepts and assimilate the moral standards more deeply within their character (Maines 2011, p. 360).

  11. Such challenges cannot necessarily be inferred from the principle’s content alone; rather, their identification frequently requires the moral insight that comes only with extensive professional experience within a particular industry or organizational setting—e.g., a manufacturing firm, an acute care hospital, a long-term care facility for the elderly, and a college of business. Consequently, progressive articulation relies heavily upon the practical wisdom of executives and managers (Maines and Naughton 2010, p. 675). Their experience is critical to creating incisive queries that will help decision makers determine both how well a particular moral principle has been institutionalized and what must be done to integrate the standard deeper within the organization’s management system, such that the principle will be embodied more fully within the firm’s decisions and actions.

  12. Application of the tool spawned the following examples of improvement: Expanding planning efforts to include the stewardship of natural resources, to ensure the organization intentionally addresses this aspect of its responsibilities; enhancing the metrics used to evaluate programs targeting the health needs of the poor and marginalized, to better assess their clinical effectiveness and ensure they are delivered in a manner that honors the dignity of participants; working with public officials to modify public bus routes, to enhance access to a behavioral health treatment center by those who are most in need of its services; establishing forums and processes to more effectively educate physicians and nurses on the bio-medical teachings of the Catholic moral tradition, to provide them with a broader context for understanding the specific norms articulated within the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2009); and identifying and addressing barriers to nurses’ participation in wellness offerings and other support services, to help ensure caregivers themselves are “whole,” flourishing persons, and thus capable of promoting patients’ healing in body, mind, and spirit.

  13. The existence of informal practices, the possibility of mission drift, the reality that most organizations will never fully embed their espoused principles in their policies and activities, and continuous improvement and development goals require a “progressive articulation” of the principles and periodic reassessments of how well they are integrated within the organization (cf. Maines and Naughton 2010; Maines 2014).


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The authors thank three anonymous reviewers, Arnold M. Weimerskirch, and participants at the 22nd Annual International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference (IVBEC) (October 22–24, 2015, New York) for their helpful comments and suggestions, and Naomi Sack for her able administrative assistance. Summer research grants to Brian Shapiro from the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and the Veritas Institute are gratefully acknowledged.

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Goodpaster, K.E., Dean Maines, T., Naughton, M. et al. Using UNPRME to Teach, Research, and Enact Business Ethics: Insights from the Catholic Identity Matrix for Business Schools. J Bus Ethics 147, 761–777 (2018).

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  • Baldrige Performance Excellence Program
  • Catholic Identity Matrix
  • Catholic social teaching
  • Ethics assessment
  • Mission integration
  • United Nations Global Compact
  • United Nations Principles for Management Education