Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 223–246

A Political Account of Corporate Moral Responsibility

Article

Abstract

Should we conceive of corporations as entities to which moral responsibility can be attributed? This contribution presents what we will call a political account of corporate moral responsibility. We argue that in modern, liberal democratic societies, there is an underlying political need to attribute greater levels of moral responsibility to corporations. Corporate moral responsibility is essential to the maintenance of social coordination that both advances social welfare and protects citizens’ moral entitlements. This political account posits a special capacity of self-governance that corporations can intelligibly be said to possess. Corporations can be said to be “administrators of duty” in that they can voluntarily incorporate moral principles into their decision-making processes about how to conduct business. This account supplements and partly transforms earlier pragmatic accounts of corporate moral responsibility by disentangling responsibility from its conventional linkages with accountability, blame and punishment. It thereby represents a distinctive way to defend corporate moral responsibility and shows how Kantian thinking can be helpful in disentangling the problems surrounding the concept.

Keywords

Corporations Moral responsibility Corporate moral responsibility Administrator of duty Business ethics Limits of law Punishment and blame Self-government Kantian moral philosophy 

References

  1. Arnold DG (2003) Libertarian theories of the corporation and global capitalism. J Bus Ethics 48:155–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnold DG (2006) Corporate moral agency. Midwest Stud Philos 30:279–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baynes K (1992) The normative grounds of social criticism: Kant, Rawls and Habermas. SUNY, AlbanyGoogle Scholar
  4. Bijker WE, Law J (eds) (1992) Shaping technology/building society. Studies in sociotechnical change. MIT Press, Cambridge MassGoogle Scholar
  5. Boatright JM (2008) Individual responsibility in the American corporate system: does Sarbanes-Oxley strike the right balance? In: Beauchamp T, Bowie N, Arnold D (eds) Ethical theory and business, 8th edn. Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, pp 373–387Google Scholar
  6. Bovens M (1998) The quest for responsibility: accountability and citizenship in complex organizations. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowie NE (1994) French for the masses. Bus Ethics Q 4:513–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bratman ME (2004) Three theories of self-governance. Philos Top 32(1–2):21–46Google Scholar
  9. Coffee JC (1981) “No soul to damn, no body to kick”: an unscandalized inquiry into the problem of corporate punishment. Mich Law Rev 79:386–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coleman J (1990) Foundations of social theory. Belknap, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Danley J (1999) Corporate moral agency. In: Frederick RE (ed) A companion to business ethics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 243–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De George RT (1981/1991) Ethical responsibilities of engineers in large organizations: the Pinto Case. In: May L, Hoffman S (eds) Five decades of debate in theoretical and applied ethics. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, pp 151–166Google Scholar
  13. Donaldson T (1982) Corporations and morality. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  14. Dubbink W (2003) Assisting the invisible hand. Contested relations between market, state and civil society. Issues in business ethics. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  15. Fischer JM, Ravizzo M (1998) Responsibility and control: a theory of moral responsibility. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  16. Frankfurt H (1986) Freedom of the will and the concept of the person. In: Fischer JM (ed) Moral responsibility. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, pp 65–81Google Scholar
  17. French PA (1972a) Individual and collective responsibility: the massacre at My Lai. Schenkman, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  18. French PA (1972b) The responsibility of monsters and their makers. In: French PA (ed) Individual and collective responsibility. The massacre at My Lai. Schenkman, Cambridge, pp 1–15Google Scholar
  19. French PA (1979/1991) The corporation as a moral person. In: May L, Hoffman S (eds) Five decades of debate in theoretical and applied ethics. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, pp 133–150Google Scholar
  20. French PA (1984) Collective and corporate responsibility. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. French PA (1992) Responsibility matters. University Press of Kansas, LawrenceGoogle Scholar
  22. French PA (1995) Corporate ethics. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Fort WorthGoogle Scholar
  23. French PA (1996) Integrity, intentions, and corporations. Am Bus Law J 34:141–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gilbert M (2006) Who’s to blame? collective moral responsibility and its implications for group members. Midwest Stud Philos 30:94–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Goodpaster K (1983) Morality and organizations. In: Donaldson T, Werhane P (eds) Ethical issues in business. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, pp 137–145Google Scholar
  26. Goodpaster K (2007) Conscience and corporate culture. Blackwell, MaldenGoogle Scholar
  27. Guyer P (2000) Moral worth, virtue, and merit. In: Guyer P (ed) Kant on freedom, law and happiness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 287–332Google Scholar
  28. Guyer P (2006) Kant. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  29. Habermas J (1981) Theorie des kommunikativen handelns, two volumes. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  30. Habermas J (1990) Moral consciousness and communicative action, trans Lenhardt C, Nicholsen, SW. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Hart HL (1968) Punishment and responsibility. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Herman B (1993) The practice of moral judgment. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Kant I (1785/1911) Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten Immanuel Kants Schriften IV. Gruyter, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  34. Kant I (1797/1991) The metaphysics of morals, trans Gregor, M. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  35. Keeley M (1988) A social contract theory of organizations. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre DameGoogle Scholar
  36. Kooiman J (1993) Governance and governability: using complexity, dynamics and diversity. In: Kooiman J (ed) Modern governance. New government—society interactions. Sage, London, pp 35–50Google Scholar
  37. Korsgaard CM (1996) The sources of normativity. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Korsgaard CM (2009) Self-constitution. Agency, identity and integrity. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  39. Ladd J (1970) Morality and the ideal of rationality in formal organizations. Monist 54(4):488–516Google Scholar
  40. Laufer WS (1996) Corporate culpability and the limits of law. Bus Ethics Q 6:311–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lindblom CE (1977) Politics and markets: the world’s political-economic systems. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  42. MacLagan P (1998) Management and morality: a developmental perspective. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  43. May L (1987) The morality of groups: collective responsibility, group-based harm, and corporate rights. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre DameGoogle Scholar
  44. McMahon C (1994) Authority and democracy: a general theory of government and management. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  45. Maus I (1986) Verrechtlichung, Entrechtlichung und der Funktionswandel von Institutionen. In: Maus I (ed) Rechtstheorie und politische Theorie im Industriekapitalismus. Fink Verlag, München, pp 277–331Google Scholar
  46. McMahon C (1995a) A political theory of organizations and business ethics. Philos Public Aff 24:292–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McMahon C (1995b) The ontological and moral status of organizations. Bus Ethics Q 5:541–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Moore G (1999) Corporate moral agency: review and implications. J Bus Ethics 21:329–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nelkin D (2007) Do we have a coherent set of intuitions about moral responsibility? Midwest Stud Philos 31:243–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Offe C (1979) >Unregierbarkeit< In: Habermas J (ed) Stichworte zur 'geistigen Situation der Zeit'. Band I. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt aM., 294–318Google Scholar
  51. Offe C (1985) The divergent rationalities of administrative action. In: Offe C, Keane J (eds) Disorganized capitalism. Contemporary transformations of work and politics. Polity Press, Cambridge: 300–316Google Scholar
  52. O’Neill O (1997) Instituting principles: between duty and action. South J Philos 35(supp):79–96Google Scholar
  53. O’Neill O (2001) Practical principles and practical judgment. Hastings Cent Rep 31:15–23Google Scholar
  54. Perrow C (1972) Complex organizations: a critical essay. Scott, Foresman and Company, GlenviewGoogle Scholar
  55. Pettit P (2001) A theory of freedom: from the psychology to the politics of agency. Polity, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  56. Pettit P (2007) Responsibility incorporated. Ethics 117:171–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Philips MJ (1995) Corporate moral responsibility: when it might matter. Bus Ethics Q 5:555–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pippin RB (2006) Mine and Thine? The Kantian State. In: Guyer P (ed) The Cambridge companion to Kant and modern philosophy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 416–446Google Scholar
  59. Pressman JL, Wildavski AB (1973) Implementation: how great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  60. Rawls J (1993) Political liberalism. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. Reath A (1997a) Legislating for a realm of ends: the social dimension of autonomy. In: Reath A, Herman B, Korsgaard CM (eds) Reclaiming the history of ethics: essays for John Rawls. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 214–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Reath A (1997b) Self-legislation and duties to oneself. The Southern Journal of Philosophy. XXXVI/Supplement, xx-xxGoogle Scholar
  63. Rivera F (2006) Kantian ethical duties. Kantian Review XI: 78–101Google Scholar
  64. Scanlon TM (1998) What we owe to each other. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  65. Scherer A, Palazzo G, Baumann D (2006) Global rules and private actors: toward a new role of the transnational corporation in global governance. Bus Ethics Q 16:505–532Google Scholar
  66. Scott WR (1981/1998) Organizations: rational, natural and open systems, 4th edn. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  67. Skolnick JH (1968) Coercion to virtue. South Calif Law Rev 41:588–641Google Scholar
  68. Smith JD (2005) Moral markets and moral managers revisited. J Bus Ethics 61:129–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Solomon RC (2003) Victims of circumstances? A defense of virtue ethics in business. Bus Ethics Q 13:43–62Google Scholar
  70. Stone CD (1975) Where the law ends: the social control of corporate behaviour. Harper and Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  71. Strawson PF (1962) Freedom and resentment. Proc Br Acad 48:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Thompson D (2005) Restoring responsibility: ethics in government, business and healthcare. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  73. van Hees M (2003) Voluntariness, suffering and euthanasia. Philos Explor 6:50–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Velasquez M (1983/1991) Why corporations are not morally responsible for anything they do. In: May L, Hoffman S (eds) Five decades of debate in theoretical and applied ethics. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, pp 111–131Google Scholar
  75. Velasquez M (2003) Debunking moral responsibility. Bus Ethics Q 13:531–562Google Scholar
  76. Weale A (1992) The new politics of pollution. Manchester University Press, ManchesterGoogle Scholar
  77. Werhane PH (1985) Persons, rights and corporations. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  78. Wolf S (1985) The legal and moral responsibility of organizations. Nomos 27:267–286Google Scholar
  79. Wood AW (1999) Kant's ethical thought. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  80. Wood A (2002) The final form of Kant’s practical philosophy. In: Timmons M (ed) Kant’s metaphysics of morals: interpretative essays. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 1–21Google Scholar
  81. Yeager PC (1991) The limits of law: the public regulation of private pollution. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Young IM (2002) Inclusion and democracy. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of HumanitiesTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Banta Center for Business Ethics and SocietyUniversity of RedlandsRedlandsUSA

Personalised recommendations