All organizations, businesses, and individuals, regardless of size, geographic location, or social status manage a wide variety of ethical issues on daily basis. For centuries, societies and individuals have struggled to interpret what is the right way to behave and act upon in different circumstances. Analyzing the decision-making process and the circumstantial factors helps in understanding philosophical theories and influences like the consequentalist theories, deontological, and other models.
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In early human societies, right and wrong were often interpreted in accordance to religious doctrines. Socrates laid the foundations of philosophy as we know it in the 4th century B.C, by raising the question what is justice? Socrates teaching put in question what was then defined and expected of people. Twenty-five centuries later, with more universities around the world than Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would have ever imagined to be possible, we are still struggling to define the ethical standards. Very often, the laws try to establish what is often perceived as a moral agreement of people, at least on key issues to a certain degree, such as what we consider fraud, theft, murder, and our basic rights. In addition to the laws, there are several principles that managers unconsciously take into consideration when facing ethical dilemmas: utilitarian, virtue, and cultural relativism.
Consequentalist as a general term pay particular attention on the implications of the results of the decision (teleological) (Trevino and Nelson, 2011) and supports that an action is morally right if it results in the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people affected by the action (utilitarianism) (Crane and Matten, 2016) In the business world, legal requirements take priority when it comes to assessing a business decision. After the legal requirements are sorted out, there is often more than one path that management can follow for a particular issue, whether it is regarding an acquisition, sale of a business, environmental issue, employee relations, or compliance with tax and financial regulations. As a principle, businesses look for ways to minimize cost, mitigate risk and legal exposure when it comes to decision making. Management seeks the options where the benefits outweighs the cost. The real dilemma is the interpretation as to what is the right thing to do for all stakeholders. The main focus of the business are the shareholders, and in harsh reality the persons involved in the decision making are more concerned as to how a decision will impact their careers.
Another ethical approaches that have emerged and developed in recent years are worth mentioning as alternative prospects are that based on character and integrity (virtue ethics), on relationships an responsibility (feminist ethics), on procedures of norm generation (discourse ethics) and on empathy and moral impulse (postmodern ethics) (Crane and Matten,
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