Skip to main content

Perspectives on business ethics in the Japanese tradition: implications for global understanding of the role of business in society


The paper explores conceptual approaches to business ethics from the Japanese tradition and their potential to enhance our global approach to social and environmental sustainability, including discussion of a framework for understanding the embeddedness of the business in society. As globalization and economic and sociopolitical challenges proliferate, the nature of the connections between the USA and Asia is more important than ever. Following an expressed “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia and the current nebulous alliances, we hope to raise the profile of Japan’s potential to shape the conception and practice of business in society. We explore attempts to offer a universal business ethic, intended as guidance for businesses globally, and examine contributions of Japanese thought to these frameworks. Considering the traditional approaches of sanpoyoshi, or tri-directional (buyer, seller, and societal) welfare in business transactions, kyosei, which can mean “living and working together for the common good”, and mottainai, or “grateful and sustainable consumption,” the research explores the relationships between the private sector, government, and civil society. Further, we examine the related notion of moralogy, which has been described as a virtue-based stakeholder approach to business. We suggest that these concepts merit promoting the conception of the “homo socio-economicus” model to replace the prevailing “homo economicus” model that threatens what sound business should be. Through interviews with Japanese scholars and practitioners and exploration of Japanese cultural traditions, we present an overview of these approaches. With this perspective, we cite the case of the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster as one illustrative example. We hope that this understanding of the embeddedness of business in society based on Japanese traditions and experience can contribute to a global conception of the role of business in society, relevant to the USA as well. Our goals are to contribute to existing discussions of Japanese business ethics and relevance to a global perspective, and to inspire ongoing exploration of applications of these ideas in teaching and scholarship.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. As of this writing, the TPP is defunct, due to the USA’s withdrawal of their signature, and has been renegotiated by the remaining partners as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, enforced beginning 30 December 2018.

  2. The Principles include the following: respect stakeholders beyond shareholders; contribute to economic, social, and environmental development; build trust by going beyond the letter of the law; respect rules and conventions; support responsible globalization; respect the environment; and avoid illicit activities.

  3. Thus, “The UN Global Compact asks companies to embrace, support, and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values:

    Principle 1: businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

    Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

    Principle 3: businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

    Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor;

    Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labor; and

    Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

    Principle 7: businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

    Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

    Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

    Principle 10: businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.” (UN Global Compact 2000)


  • Adler, P. S. (2015). Book review essay: the environmental crisis and its capitalist roots: reading Naomi Klein with Karl e. Administrative Science Quarterly, 60(2), N:13-NP25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Albrecht, P., & Greenwald, C. (2014). Financial materiality of sustainability: the Japanese context. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 56, 31–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barkema, H. G., Chen, X.-P., George, G., Luo, Y., & Tsui, A. S. (2015). West meets east: new concepts and theories. Academy of Management Journal., 58, 460–479.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bauwens, M. (2006). The political economy of peer production. The Post-Autistic Economics Review, 37, (Article 3). Available at

  • Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1998). Recasting egalitarianism: new rules for communities, states and markets. Brooklyn: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Caux Round Table (1994). Principles for responsible business. Retrieved from

  • Cole, B. M. (2015). Lessons from a martial arts dojo: a prolonged process model of high-context communication. Academy of Management Journal, 58(2), 567–591.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Committee of the Global Ethic Foundation. (2009). Manifesto: global economic ethic—consequences for global businesses. Germany: Presented Tübingen.

    Google Scholar 

  • de Bettignies, H.-C., Goodpaster, K. E., & Matsuoka, T. (1999). The Caux roundtable principles for business: presentation and discussion. In G. Enderle (Ed.), International business ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dill, K. (2014). Japan tops 2014 ranking of the strongest country brands. Forbes, November 12, 2014, Retrieved from

  • DiMeglio, F. (2013). Wharton professor studies the relationship between economics and greed, October 30, 2013. Retrieved from

  • Dodd, E. M. (1932). For whom are corporate managers trustees? Harvard Law Review, 7, 1145–1163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Enderle, G. (2010). A rich concept of wealth creation beyond profit maximization and adding value. Fairness in International Trade.

  • Enderle, G. (2014). Business and the greater good as a combination of private and public wealth, Forthcoming. Jiangsu Social Sciences Journal (in Chinese).

  • Ethical Performance (2015). Japanese car brands lead way in emissions reductions. Retrieved from

  • Ethisphere (2015). World’s most ethical companies 2015. Retrieved from

  • Ethisphere (2018) World’s most ethical companies 2018. Retrieved from

  • Friedman, M. (1970). The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970.

  • Galpin, T. (2016). Creating a culture of global citizenship. In M. McIntosh (Ed.), Globalization and corporate citizenship: the alternative gaze. Sheffeld: Greenleaf Publishing Limited.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goodpaster, K. E. (1999). Bridging east and west in management ethics: Kyosei and the moral point of view. In G. Enderle (Ed.), International business ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grant, A. M. (2014). Give and take: why helping others drives our success. New York: Penguin Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Halkos, G., & Skouloudis, A. (2017). Revisiting the relationship between corporate social responsibility and national culture: a quantitative assessment. Asian Journal of Business Ethics, 55(3), 2017.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hollensbe, E., Wookey, C., Hickey, L., & George, G. (2014). Organizations with purpose. Academy of Management Journal, 57(5), 1227–1234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ishida, H. (2014). CSR and human rights due diligence: perspectives from Japan. Presentation to Caux Roundtable, November 21, 2013. Retrieved from

  • Kim, Y., Kim, M., & Kim, W. (2013). Effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on global public acceptance of nuclear energy. Energy Policy, 61, 822–828.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Koehn, D. (1999). What can eastern philosophy teach us about business ethics? Journal of Business Ethics, 19(71–79), 1999.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koehn, D. (2012). Post-credit crisis: what new concepts are needed? Which old notions or practices should be abandoned? Asian Journal of Business Ethics, 1(1), 2012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Küng, H., Leisinger, K. M., Wieland, J. (2010). Manifesto global economic ethic: consequences and challenges for global businesses. Deustcher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co.

  • Mackey, J., & Sisodia, R. (2013). Conscious capitalism: liberating the heroic spirit of business. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Matsuoka, T. (1999). The Caux roundtable principles for business: presentation and discussion. In H. C. de Bettignies, K. E. Goodpaster, & T. Matsuoka (Eds.), International business ethics: challenges and approaches. Georges Enderle. London: Notre Dame University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • McIntosh, M. (2014). Editorial. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 56, 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mochizuki, Y. (1993). The ideals of Moralogical management. Business Ethics: Japan and the Global Economy Issues in Business Ethics, 5(189–207), 1993.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mung, E., & Jung, J. (2018). Change above the glass ceiling: corporate social responsibility and gender diversity in Japanese firms. Administrative Science Quarterly, 63(2), 409–440.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nagayasu, Y. (2013). Toward an integrative theory of business ethics: with special reference to the East Asian Region. In X. Lu & G. Enderle (Eds.), Developing Business Ethics in China. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nakano, C. (1997). A survey study on Japanese managers’ views of business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(1737–1751), 1997.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nakano, C., & Yamada, T. (2008). Institutionalization of ethics at Japanese corporations and Japanese managers’ views of business ethics: comparisons with ten years ago. Reitaku International Journal of Economic Studies, 16, 1.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Boyle, E. J. (1994). Homo socio-economicus: foundational to social economics and the social economy. Review of Social Economy, Fall 1994.

  • O’Boyle, E. J. (2011). The acting person: social capital and sustainable development. Social Economy, 40(79–98), 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ohno, M. (2012). The origin of ‘Sanpoyoshi’ and its implication in the modern period. Journal of the Japan Society for Business Ethics Study, 19(241–253), 2012.

    Google Scholar 

  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Initiative (2015). How’s life? 2013. Measuring well-being. Retrieved from

  • OsamuPark, E., & Ohm, J. Y. (2014). Factors influencing the public intention to use renewable energy technologies in South Korea: effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Energy Policy, 65(198–211), 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  • Palencia-Roth, M. (2010). The Ortholinon principle and reverence: civilizational reflections on Hiroike, Schweitzer, and Gandhi. Studies in Moralogy (Japan), 66, 17–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Porter, M. E., & Kramer, M. R. (2011). Creating shared value: how to reinvent capitalism—and unleash a wave of innovation and growth. Harvard Business Review. January–February 2011. Retrieved from

  • Radcliff, B. (2013). The political economy of human happiness: how voters’ choices determine the quality of life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Reade, C., Goka, K., Thorp, R., Mitsuhata, M., & Wasbauer, M. (2014). CSR, biodiversity and Japan’s stakeholder approach to the global bumble bee trade. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 56, 53–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rossouw, G. J. (2011). Global business ethical perspectives on capitalism, finance and corporate responsibility: the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008. Asian Journal of Business Ethics, 1(63–72), 2012.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, K., Lerner, B., Bohlin, K. E., Nakayama, O., Mizuno, S., & Horiuchi, K. (2011). Happiness and virtue: beyond east and west toward a new global responsibility. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing (North America, Latin America & Europe) and Shinagawa-ku. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing (Japan).

    Google Scholar 

  • Sagi, S. (2015). “Ringi system” The decision making process in Japanese management systems: an overview. International Journal of Management and Humanities, 1, 7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sandel, M. J. (2012). What money can’t buy: the moral limits of markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Google Scholar 

  • Serafeim, G. (2013). The role of the corporation in society: an alternative view and opportunities for future research, working paper, May 27, 2013, retrieved from

  • Sundaram, A. K., & Inkpen, A. C. (2004). The corporate objective revisited. Organization Science, 3, 350–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taka, I., & Dunfee, T. W. (1997). Japanese moralogy as business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 507–519.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Takahashi, T. (2009). CSR that incorporates local and traditional knowledge: the Sampo-yoshi way. A Survey of International Corporate Responsibility, International Corporate Responsibility Series, 4, 107–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tanimoto, K. (2014). Introduction: Japanese approaches to CSR. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 56, 5–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Treviño, L. K., & Nelson, K. A. (2014). Managing business ethics: straight talk about how to do it right (6th ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

    Google Scholar 

  • Tutsui, K., & Lim, A. (Eds.). (2015). Corporate social responsibility in a globalizing world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Umeda, T. (2013). A new view of the market and the market player: an introductory framework of meta socio-economics. In Paper presented at the 2013 Annual Conference of the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) (pp. 12–14). Lille, France: EDHEC Business School.

  • Umekawa, T. (2015). Japan’s GPIF may consider governance in stock investments. Reuters. April 2, 2015. Retrieved from

  • United Nations Global Compact (2000) Retrieved from

  • Werhane, P. H., & Bevan, D. (2015). Capitalism in the twenty-first century: tracing Adam Smith in variations of free enterprise. In G. Enderle & P. E. Murphy (Eds.), Ethical Innovation in Business and the Economy. Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc..

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams, O. F. (2014a). CSR: will it change the world?—hope for the future: an emerging logic in business practice. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 53(9–26), 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams, O. F. (2014b). Corporate social responsibility: the role of business in sustainable development. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wittneben, B. B. (2012). The impact of the Fukushima nuclear accident on European energy policy. Environmental Science & Policy., 15, 1–3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wokutch, R. E. (2014). Corporate social responsibility Japanese style, revisited. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 56, 11–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young, S. (2003). Moral capitalism: reconciling private interest with the public good. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank Georges Enderle for his insightful and supportive consultation on our research.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jessica McManus Warnell.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

McManus Warnell, J., Umeda, T. Perspectives on business ethics in the Japanese tradition: implications for global understanding of the role of business in society. Asian J Bus Ethics 8, 25–51 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: