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Sunday, October 1, 2023


Stop ignoring ethics in business

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Unethical choices make or break your career or company. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

It’s just business, right?

Ethics is relevant beyond the professional workplace. Regardless of whether it’s in the professional workplace, or right here on campus, ethical business policy affects our daily lives – and level of success.

Many of us have listened to our professors warn us about the consequences of plagiarism at the start of the semester. UH has a policies that outline ethical student conduct. Students enter into a kind of contract with UH when they enroll, understanding they can be failed or expelled if they violate it.

In some cases, there are clear, black and white rules that tell us what is and is not ethical business behavior.

When news of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal and Turing Pharmaceuticals’ 5,000 percent increase in the price of a pill (from $13.50 per pill to $750) was released, the public saw the two companies as yet another set of recent examples of unethical business practices.

Volkswagen clearly violated the law, but the pharmaceutical company crossed an unwritten ethical line.

Today, some might question the relevance of unethical, but still lawful business practices.

Realistically speaking, hasn’t everyone at some point in their life told white lies, exaggerated the truth or crossed some moral or ethical line without feeling guilty?

According to Bloomberg Business in 2013, “only 21 percent of people characterized business executives as having “high” ethical standards—a little above lawyers (19 percent), but below bankers (28 percent) and journalists (28 percent).”

The same article notes that while some rely on an internal ethical sense to guide their choices, others conform and obey the rules management sets before them. Some may negotiate or rationalize potentially unethical situations or just take the route that is the most advantageous to them.

“To a certain extent, people do follow the ethical standards of institutions and companies they work for,” said management information systems (MIS) senior Alan Ng .

“How quickly people can change faces is up to them, but once they’re caught…it’s too late.”

Ng also pointed out what is likely one of the most difficult problems of making ethical choices in business: Which action is considered ethical?

He says “We don’t know.”

“[While] I choose not to teach or tell people how to make ethical decisions, there are certain things in business you’ll have to deal with. First, someone may ask you to do something unethical. Second, someone will behave unethically towards you. Decide beforehand what your response is going to be,” said Professor Carlos Ortega, executive professor of business.

Although sometimes difficult to define, ethics is not just a meaningless phrase to be tossed around by philosophers.

Ethics can make or break a business, or even a professional career.

Ethics in business is “absolutely essential,” says Ortega. “Lots of companies and entrepreneurs get into trouble – if not in the short term then in the long term…Unethical decisions can cost you more in the long term.”

Volkswagen is paying the price for its mistake, a total of $18 billion dollars. The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals also had to lower the price of the drug to stop the incessant criticism of his leadership.

As consumers, we need to hold corporations and their leaders accountable when they cross the ethical line whether it is breaking the law or not.

As students and professionals, we need to decide beforehand how far we are willing to go, and remember that we are defined by our choices.

Assistant opinion editor Sarah Kim is a political science major senior and may be reached at [email protected] 

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