Kitsap County: On 3 February 2015 when the headline ‘The Princeton Review strips a school of its college ranking for the first time appeared in the UK edition of Business Insider. The article explained that the Henry W Bloch School of Management, the University of Missouri at Kansas City had ‘knowingly submitted false data to the Princeton Review.’ As a result, the school lost its rank in the top league for 2014 and the previous three years.

The Review, it transpires, makes its rankings based on school self-reported data and requires an affidavit to verify that data’s integrity. The school listed activities and clubs that existed only in terms of lists and repeated boasts of its No. 1 rank in the world for research in the field of innovation management. That claim was based on an article in an academic journal that was edited in part by the Bloch School department’s former head, receiving the top ranking.

The Princetown Review has been ranking schools since 1992 and is seen as the independent bell weather of business teaching and research standards. Actions for which a person or group of people can be held accountable and so commended or blamed, disciplined or rewarded, are said to lie within their sphere of responsibility. Anything that lies outside our control also lies beyond the scope of our duties.

Social responsibilities

Ethics, known in academic circles as moral philosophy, is concerned with classifying, defending, and proposing concepts of right and wrong behavior in the way in which we discharge our responsibilities. While many responsibilities lie within the scope of the law, shareholders’ protection, discrimination at work, misleading advertising, and so forth, both in those areas and in the grey area surrounding them, lie the province of ethics and social responsibility. Right and wrong in themselves are often not too difficult to separate.

The problem usually stems from competing ‘rights’ — giving shareholders a better return vs. saving the planet, for example, and humans’ inherent selfishness. Many, if not all, of our actions, are triggered by self-interest. Much of the justification for capitalism’s attraction lies in the ‘invisible hand’ theory advanced by Adam Smith in his defining book, The Wealth of Nations (1776):

Every individual neither intends to promote the public interest nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his security. By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the most significant value, he intends only his gain. In many other cases, he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

Unfortunately, the invisible hand suggests that businesses and consumers, in being selfish, may by accident do good, not that their actions are made ethically in the process. Many purely selfish actions say that operating a cartel to rip off consumers or adopt a polluting production process purely to boost the bottom line falls firmly into the unethical bracket.

Even overtly ethical actions, for example, when a business gives to charity or supports a ‘not for profit’ event, such as Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games over 80 years, can prove ethically questionable. In the first place, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Samsung, and the other Olympics’ sponsors hope to share the considerable marketing benefits of such association. Secondly, supporting the Games may be the ‘right’ thing to do, but keeping the host country, China, a regime with a questionable human rights track record may well be wrong.’


Business ethics defines the categories of duty for which we are morally responsible. Lists of moral responsibilities and rights can be lengthy and overlapping. The duty-based theory advanced by a British philosopher, W D Ross (1877—1971), provides a shortlist of duties that he believed reflects our actual moral convictions:

Fidelity: the responsibility to keep promises.

Reparation: the duty to compensate others when we harm them.

Gratitude: the duty to thank those who help us.

Justice: the duty to recognize merit.

Beneficence: the duty to improve the conditions of others.

Self-improvement: the duty to improve our virtue and intelligence. Non-maleficence: the responsibility to not injure others.

Ross recognized that there would be occasions when we must choose between two conflicting duties. For instance, should your business be involved in any way with products that facilitate abortions? On one side of that moral argument lies beneficence in improving women’s conditions and, on the other, non-maleficence is not doing injury to the unborn child.

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