“Cosmopolitan Business Ethics. Outline of a Global Approach to Business Ethics” by Jacob Dahl Rendtorff
In my book Cosmopolitan Business Ethics. Towards a Global Ethos of Management, I have defined Cosmopolitan Business Ethics as the theory and practice of the responsibility, ethics and legitimacy of corporations in a globalized society. The book argues for a Cosmopolitan Business Ethics as the foundation of management and leadership in the complex processes of globalization and increased interdependence between different parts of the world.
The book consists of a discussion of the major theories of global business ethics related to sustainability, corporate social responsibility and corporate governance. The argument focusses on contemporary debates about how to deal with international challenges of global economics, development and protection of human rights and the environment, especially the threat of global warming and climate change.
We can say with the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur that the aim of ethics is “the good life for and with the other person in just institutions”. Cosmopolitan Business Ethics applies this aim to corporations, organizations and other context of professional life in institutions. At the institutional level, business ethics deals with the ethical theory of actions of corporations and organizations. This leads to the application of Aristotelianism, Kantianism and Utilitarianism and other ethical theoretical frameworks to the context of business. At the level of protection of individuals, this may include ethical principles such as protection of the four ethical principles of protection of the human person: autonomy, dignity, integrity and vulnerability.
The book is based on the cosmopolitan philosophy of Immanuel Kant that is applied as foundation for the analysis of the contemporary European and Anglo-American debate on business ethics in order to formulate a theory of global and cosmopolitan business ethics. The analysis compares different concepts and schools of business ethics and philosophy of management and apply them to the contemporary debate on cosmopolitan and global business ethics. On this ground, the book addresses contemporary problems of sustainability, business and human rights, corporate social responsibility, stakeholder management, corporate governance in order to promote the cosmopolitan concept of business ethics and philosophy of management as the global ethos of management.
Important chapters of the book include a presentation of Cosmopolitan Business Ethics with focus on its contemporary and historical origins. A core element of the book is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s concept of cosmopolitan responsibility and hospitality as it is developed in his moral and political philosophy, which is applied to the contemporary economic and political system and social order.
In this context, the book provides an overview of contemporary European concepts of business ethics, including ethical economy, order ethics, integrative business ethics, ethics of capabilities, global world ethics, transaction cost economy ethics etc. This implies a critical evaluation of the different positions and philosophies of cosmopolitanism and development of a theory of cosmopolitan business ethics and philosophy of management.
After this the book elaborates the different elements of practical management, including sustainability management, values-driven management, leadership and governance, stakeholder management, corporate social responsibility, and strategy for business ethics and Cosmopolitan Business Ethics.
In addition, the book contains case studies and develops a decision-making model for cosmopolitan business ethics that deals with the complexities of globalization. These case studies address the efforts of particular businesses to work with global and cosmopolitan business ethics at the levels of crisis management as well as establishing and maintaining corporate integrity in globalization. Moreover, the book proposes a methodology for decision-making based on analysis of ethical dilemmas in the process of globalization.
The methodology of Cosmopolitan Business Ethics is multifaceted, but many approaches can be considered as “critical philosophy” combined with an interdisciplinary institutionalist approach to economic and social sciences. Institutional sociology and economics provides the social science background for evaluating ethical issues in corporations and organizations. Business ethics mediates between structural and intentionalist explanations of causalities of actions in institutional theory. It uses different concepts of institutions and organizations in the managerial sciences as the background for the analysis of particular issues and cases of business ethics in corporations. At the same time, as critical philosophy, business ethics goes beyond mere institutional analysis and proposes a normative perspective of applied ethics and analysis of ethical argument as basis for discussion of business decisions, strategies and actions.
In this sense, Cosmopolitan Business Ethics also implies a critical evaluation of different concepts of managerial economics, in particular of neoclassical economics of efficiency and utility and it leads to a broader interdisciplinary, institutional and historical perspective on the norms and values of corporations. A constant issue for discussion is the problem whether business ethics remains an oxymoron and therefore as such is impossible because as Milton Friedman has put it “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” or whether we should go beyond this neoclassical idea towards closer integration of business, economics and ethics. Accordingly, most business ethics theorists go beyond a strict neoclassical position and argue that business has social and ethical responsibilities that cannot be reduced to profit concern but rather precede profit maximization as the fundamental “license to operate” of the firm.
Accordingly, Cosmopolitan Business Ethics integrates the rationalities of different philosophical theories with the perspectives of social sciences, law, economics and politics in order to promote environmental, social and economic sustainability and the good life of humanity. Here the efforts to support the idea of the triple bottom line of the three P’s of people, planet, and profit is an important element of business ethics. Cosmopolitan Business Ethics is not only about external limitations on business activity, but it also implies internal guidance for economic value-creation. It implies not only a deontology of correct business rules but also an argument for the value-shift towards a morality of just institutions of free economic markets.
We can perceive the emergence of a close link between ethics and economics as new strategy for corporate social responsibility and moral management. However, there remains a tension between ethics and economics. Therefore, we need external political and legal constraints on economic markets. Ethics is the foundation of economic action. At the same time, we should admit that there is an ethical dimension within economic notions of utility and efficiency, which must be taken into account when dealing with the ethics of economic markets. Therefore, there may be an economic dimension to ethics and ethics and economics are in a “dialectical relation” where they mutually shape one another.
We can analyze the impact of different views of the firm and economic life in different theories of management and economics in the 20th and 21th Century as an important basis for the emergence of Cosmopolitan Business Ethics. The views of legitimacy in some of the most influential theories of economics and management can be used in order to promote an institutionalist and stakeholder oriented view on corporate legitimacy, which is based on the idea of the good citizen corporation. In the perspective of ethical theories, the idea of stakeholder dialogue is viewed as the normative basis of the concept of good corporate citizenship. These ideas makes us escape the Weberian iron cage” of instrumental rationality opening for market regimes based on “integrative business ethics” with a broader social basis. Legitimacy is founded on the social community and the human life-world based on views on justice as fairness, protection of rights and the promotion of the common good for society. Thus, according to this alternative view of the legitimacy of business in society, responsibility, integrity and accountability emerges out of the idea of Cosmopolitan Business Ethics where the license of operate and good business of the firm is to be a good servant of society following the ideals of good and dutiful national and international corporate citizenship.
Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Ph.D and Dr. Scient. Adm., is Professor of Business Ethics at Roskilde University, Denmark. Rendtorff has a background in research in ethics, business ethics, bioethics, information ethics, political theory and philosophy of law. Rendtorff has written articles and books on issues of existentialism and hermeneutics, French philosophy, ethics, bioethics and business ethics as well as philosophy of law. He has recently published Cosmopolitan Business Ethics. Towards a Global Ethos of Management, London: Routledge, 2018.