Managerial Ethics and Indian Ethos

Rabi N. Subudhi
Professor, School of Management, KIIT University Bhubaneswar - 751024
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All of us find and fall victim of un-ethical practices, directly or indirectly, in some form or the other, in our life today.
We get up in the morning to prepare our morning tea, but look at the tea/ milk-powder packet with suspicion, whether it is really a genuine product or unfortunately a counterfeit! Then we go for buying vegetables or grocery, but the doubt continues, on whether pricing/ weight is correct or not. Then later in our busy routine life we find many occasions to feel uneasy or seriously hurt, by seeing series of unethical or immoral activities, in all walks of life, affecting us directly or indirectly. Then we feel ourselves the necessity of ‘ethics’ and more particularly managerial ethical practices.
But when we seriously introspect, we ourselves may be party to such practices, which might cause inconvenience to others. And the person, whom we feel to have ‘cheated’ us or consider having ‘unethical practices’, he himself might not be thinking so. Some consider ‘lesser evil’ acceptable, justifying further, about its ‘virtues’. Contradictory ‘beliefs’ ca best be explained by taking the example of ‘abortion’. Even if the parents sincerely wish to go for an abortion, how ethical it is, when we do not respect/ care the ‘wish’ of the ‘yet-to-be-born’ God-given ‘speech-less’ child!! How we ‘blame’ poor manager, who is to save his job, only by making profit ‘by any means’? How we accept the mythological, controversial role of Lord Krishna & Yudhisthira, while declaring: ‘Aswasthama hatah thaya, nare baa Gunjare’?
Un-avoidable evil?
Since ages or centuries, we have enough examples of un-ethical practices some people/ party, where other parties get affected, at least to some extent. Some times bribe giver and receiver do the act with ‘mutual agreement/ consent’ and they justify the ‘act’. They accept the ‘act’ as harmless or ‘lesser-evil’. Even one party goes to the extent of justifying it as ‘unavoidable’ (lesser-evl). But as we take impartial view of such act, in most of such cases, some other party is directly/ indirectly affected or hurt. Getting a deal/ contract signed/ granted, we hear of some undue ‘favour’ being made/ shown. Ministers/ officers accepting ‘favours’ (like using chartered flights or air-travel offers) from business houses, for their personal/ family work is a common incident these days. Though it appears to be ‘harmless’ or even ‘lesser evil’ at that very point of time, there is surely expectations of return ‘favour’ for those very ‘harmless’ favours.
Such stories goes on; people ponder and lament.
Research and Cases on ‘Business Ethics’
When we look back to the history of systematic (academic) study or research on this grave issue, affecting our society since many centuries, ‘Business Ethics’ came as an independent subject of formal/ serious research only after 1970’s. It now attracts much more attention of researchers, these days. There are many notable findings, which tries establish the ‘necessity’ of practicing ‘ethical practices’ by business-houses, for their very own existence and long run sustainable business. It is beyond the scope of this paper to enlist exhaustively all such notable research. But Reidenbach’ work is one worth mentioning here, which categorises business organisations into following four groups and urges transformation for the best form:
Fig.: Conceptual Model (Reidenbach-Robin) of Corporate Moral Development

Stage 1: Amoral Organisation
Stage 2: Legalistic Corporation
Stage 3: Responsive Corporation
Stage 4: Emergent Ethical Organisation
[From: Reidenbach & Robin, ‘A conceptual model of corporate moral development’, Journal of Business Ethics, 1991]
MNC’s Indian Business:
In the era of globalization, we cannot talk of ‘purely’ Indian business or ‘purely’ ‘Indian ethical values’. Many MNCs are doing very large business, contributing economically to Indian society, where many Indians get employment. But they are governed mostly by their own rules, ethics/ ethos. In some cases, their (compensation) rules are much better than Indian rules. But ‘ethical belief’ differs. We all remember the tragic episode of ‘Bhopal gas-leak’ disaster and the legal war against Union carbide. Hundreds of people were critically affected. Legal fight was on for over a decade for monetary compensation. But what about human values? Can life be ever compared in monetary terms?
Perhaps a lesser known, similar episode is the deadly ‘mercury-spill’ by one HLL (thermometer) industry in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, in 1980’s. Over 600 workers were badly affected (because exposure to mercury-waste substance). Harmful waste was left in a local stream, that severely damaged environment. For a few years HLL covered-up things and did not listen to local protest. When many NGOs intensified the protest, the news (and factual report) became a national concern. HLL was then forced to accept the ‘lapse’ and closed the project, with a formal statement that, ‘it is quitting thermometer manufacturing business, as its core business is actually …soap, detergent, deodorant, food and beverages’ (2001). It was also forced to sent back remaining hazardous-waste (of atleast 300 tonnes) to US in 2006.
Such examples (of society’s fight back against un-ethical practices) are many and rising day by day. People are more aware than before. Even MNCs are realizing to respect local ‘ethos’, in their very own business interest.
Indian ethical-value considerations
As we find many good ‘exemplary’ developments, at least some businessmen are worth mentioning here, for their significant contribution through CSR. Name of Ajim Premji should come here, who has pledged a major share of his own income to society. As per Indian ‘ethical-values’/ ‘ethos’, we believe that we are all answerable to the supreme power. End of our life, we must introspect and ‘have a look’ at our ‘ethical-account’, on what we have done and ‘how’ we have done those things. Here ‘we’ refers, very well to all the business-practices by all the business houses, small or big.
Can we not expect a policy, like mandatory CSR-contribution, to have ‘Annual Ethical Statement’, in place for all Indian Business Houses!!!
Badaracco JL, Business Ethics: Four Spheres of Executive Responsibility, California Management Review, Spring 1992.
Chakraborty SK (1995), ‘Ethics in Management: Vedantic Perspectives’, Oxford University Press
Domènec Melé (2007), ‘Integrating Ethics into Management’, Journal of Business Ethics
Emma Bell and Alan Bryman (2006), The Ethics of Management Research: An Exploratory Content Analysis published online: 15 MAR 2006 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8551.2006.00487.x
Henthorne, Tony L.; Robin, Donald P.; Reidenbach, R. Eric (1992). Identifying the Gaps in Ethical Perceptions Between Managers and Salespersons: A Multidimensional Approach, Journal of Business Ethics. Nov. 1992, Vol. 11 Issue 11, p849-856. 8p.
Iyer, Gopalkrishnan R (1999). Business, Consumers and Sustainable Living in an Interconnected World: A Multilateral Eco-centric Approach. Journal of Business Ethics. Jul99 Part 2, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p273-288.
Ketola, Tarja (2014). Rationale, Morals and Needs Pyramid for Corporate Responsibility Development. Corporate Social Responsibility & Environmental Management. Jul.2014, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p228-239.
Nguyen, Nhung; Basuray, M.; Smith, William; Kopka, Donald; McCulloh, Donald (2008). Moral Issues and Gender Differences in Ethical Judgment using Reidenbach and Robin’s (1990) Multidimensional Ethics Scale: Implications in Teaching of Business Ethics. Journal of Business Ethics. Feb2008, Vol. 77 Issue 4, p417-430.

Reidenbach RE & Robin DP (1991), A conceptual model of Corporate Moral Development, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol.10 pp.273-284
Reidenbach, R. Eric; Robin, Donald P. Journal of Business Ethics (1995). A Response to "On Measuring Ethical Judgements"; Feb95, Vol. 14 Issue 2, p159-162.

Robin, Donald P.; Reidenbach, R. Eric (1993). Searching for a Place to Stand: Toward a Workable Ethical Philosophy for Marketing. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Spring 93, Vol. 12 Issue 1, p97-105.


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