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The Biggest Unrecognized Ethics Risk

Every year I challenge students in my Stanford University Ethics on the Edge class to find new examples of drivers of ethics transgressions. Every year they do. A few years ago it was anonymous social media. The latest: the sharing economy. Is Uber spreading unethical employee practices and unsafe passenger experiences by categorizing drivers as independent contractors and defending sub-par safety checks? Or is Uber really “just a platform” and therefore justified in dumping responsibility for ethics on the technology, the users, the drivers, and society? (more…)

Arbitrary Ethics

One of the biggest obstacles to ethics is arbitrariness. All kinds of behavior – both unethical and ethical – can lead to arbitrary ethics consequences. Conversely, arbitrariness in ethics oversight almost always generates unethical behavior. Let’s take a common example in organizations of all sectors and sizes: leaving enforcement of ethical guidelines up to the immediate boss in a hierarchical structure. One employee’s particularly punitive boss may deliver a career-damaging punishment. Another boss may not even read the e-mails signalling more serious unethical behavior leaving her direct report to carry on with impunity. Both occur within the same organization with...

Untangling the Confusion Over Organizational Ethics

This article was first published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Summer 2013).  A wave of ethics transgressions underlines the importance of comprehensive ethics oversight for organizational success. Last year, 2012, was in many regards a step forward for proponents of ethical action. Roger Gifford, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, one of the world’s financial capitals, declared business ethics a priority and critical to the City’s economic success. François Hollande published a Code of Ethics within 11 days of becoming president of France. And the new Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, highlighted the ongoing danger of corruption to economic and social development as a central part...