In the last few decades there has been an increasing amount of research focusing on the business ethics of organizations (e.g. codes of ethics). Research on codes of business ethics alone has been performed in the USA (e.g. Cressey and Moore, 1983; Mathews, 1987; Weaver, Trevino and Cochran, 1999; Berenbeim, 2000; Chonko, Wotruba and Loe, 2003), in the UK (e.g. Langlois and Schlegelmilch, 1990, Le Jeune and Webley, 1998), in Ireland (O'Dwyer and Madden, 2006), in Canada (LeFebvre and Singh, 1992; Schwartz, 2002; Singh, 2006,) in Sweden (Svensson et al., 2006), in Australia (Kaye, 1992; Farrell and Cobbin, 1996; Wood, 2000; Wood and Callaghan, 2003). Research have also been conducted on organizations operating across the world (Bethoux, Didry and Mias, 2007; Carasco and Singh, 2003; Kaptein, 2004).
Business ethics, or rather organizations' directions, decisions and guidelines to support managers' and employees' behaviours and practices of business ethics, in the marketplace and the surrounding society is an ongoing timely subject of crucial importance from both managerial and scholarly perspectives. Organizations such as Enron, WorldCom, Tyco International, Arthur Andersen, Qwest, Global Crossing, Parmalat, Barings Bank, Systembolaget and Skandia (Carroll and Meeks, 1999; Davies, 2001; Flanagan, 2003; Heath and Norman, 2004; Rosthorn, 2000; Wallace, 2004) have all come to the notice of their publics for the wrong reasons. Across the world, we have seen these organizations, their advisors and even a spouse face courts and the wrath of their societies: societies which have been made worse off by their unscrupulous behaviours and practices of business ethics. These behaviours and practices shake the confidence of governments, shareholders and as a consequence we all bear the brunt of such miscreant and bullish behaviour and practices (Wood and Callaghan, 2003).
The occurrence of malpractice in organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics are however not new (Richardson, 2001; Warren and Tweedale, 2002; Piety, 2004). Cragg (2000) has labelled the 1980s as the decade of greed in North America. Cadbury (1987) writes that organizations have to take account of their responsibilities to society and the society has to accept its responsibilities for setting the standards against which the behaviours of organizations and the practices of business ethics are made through their directions outlined, decisions taken and guidelines provided to managers and employees.
A few questions emerge: Why do we experience ethical scandals from time to time in the marketplace and across societies? Why do we have unethical behaviours and practices by organizations? Why do we have unethical behaviours and practices among managers and employees? Is it because the organizations are unethical in their directions outlined, decisions taken and guidelines provided? Probably not, but why is it so then? Obviously, there are several reasons that may contribute and explain the occurrence of unethical behaviours and practices by organizations in the marketplace and the surrounding society. Likewise, there are several possible reasons why managers and employees transgress from time to time.
Generally speaking, unethical behaviours and practices may be the outcome of conscious actions, but they may also be subconscious. We will discuss reasons for both possibilities of unethical behaviours and practices by organizations', their managers and employees. It is derived from, limited to and based upon 'teleological approaches' as defined by Stacey, Griffin and Shaw, 2000 to describe and explain the phenomenon of human actions in organizations, which will be positioned and introduced in the context of business ethics in the next two sections.
Different factors influence organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society. Svensson and Wood (2003 and 2004) identify five factors such as time, context, gap, outcome and consequence. Organizations' behaviours and practices are dependent upon them. In the first place, organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics may be seen as a function of time. The time parameter in the business and societal environment affects organizations in terms of what may be considered to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society. In literature, organizations' business ethics are often seen as a function of time even though it is not usually spelled out explicitly (e.g. Orwig, 2002; Kilcullen and Kooistra, 1999; Feldman, 1998; Pava, 1998; Giacalone and Knouse, 1997; Yamaji, 1997; and McDonald and Zepp, 1989). In the second place, organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics may also be seen as a function of context (e.g. culture). The current contextual situation and the contextual evolution in the business and societal environment also affect organizations in what are considered to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society. Subsequently, various studies across countries have been performed and have stressed the context of the situation (e.g. Jakubowski et al., 2002; Hood and Logsdon, 2002; Bucar et al., 2002; Fisher et al., 2001; Seitz, 2001; Peppas and Peppas, 2000; Singhapakdi et al., 1999; Fernandez-Fernandez, 1999; Vinten, 1998; and Sen, 1997).
Consequently, as time moves on, contexts evolve and as a consequence the organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics change. The evaluation of an organization" behaviours and practices of business ethics may be seen as a function of gap, outcome and consequences. Svensson and Wood (2004) address these factors, where the gap underpins the outcome of business ethics that in turn leads to consequences (i.e. either positive or negative ones) for the organization in the marketplace and the surrounding society. In conjunction, these parameters create a fundament for managerial and scholarly frameworks, and also contribute to describe the dynamics of an organization's behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society. An organization's business ethics may be seen as a function of these factors (Svensson and Wood, 2003).
In the sixteenth century, Niccolo Machiavelli (1532) stressed that circumstances and coincidences in a setting have a crucial impact on the outcome of different situations. This may apply to an organization's behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society. Others have a strong belief in that careful preparations and attention to details as well as the overall picture over time and across contexts may prevent undesired or unexpected outcomes in different situations (e.g. Sun Tzu, 500 B. C.; Miyamoto Musashi, 1645). This may also be applicable to organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society too. Stacey, Griffin and Shaw (2000) argue that the dominant discourse on the management of human organizations is built upon two strands of thinking, namely: 1) scientific method; and 2) systems thinking. There is a dilemma--both apply the methodology of natural science to human action, which may also affect the research findings in organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society.
Taylor (1911) and Fayol (1916/1948) produced seminal works in scientific management, but their work ignores the interaction taking place in human action. It is a point of interest in research of organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics. For example, Taylor (1911) emphasizes the satisfactory output of physical activities needed to achieve an organization's goal(s) based upon a prescription to provide standardized descriptions of all activities. He contends that management is an objective science that is structured around laws, rules and principles. However, it is questionable whether business ethics may be seen as an objective science due to its relative nature in the marketplace and across societies. Fayol (1916/1948) divides the organization into different activities, such as accounting, commercial, management and technical areas. He sees management as an approach of forecasting, planning, organizing, coordinating and controlling based upon rules that should be followed. Others, such as Mayo (1949) and Likert (1961) commenced to address the interaction between individuals and within groups--still using the scientific approach.
Three strands of systems thinking emerged in the mid 20th century. One is general systems theory (e.g. Boulding, 1956; von Bertalanffy, 1968), which is founded on the belief that systems have a strong tendency to move toward a kind of equilibrium to reduce and correct disorder. Another is cybernetic systems (e.g. Wiener, 1948; Ashby, 1945, 1952 and 1956; Beer, 1979 and 1981), which is based upon the belief of self-regulating and goal-directed systems adapting to the surrounding environment (e.g. Total Quality Management, TQM). The third is systems dynamics (e.g. Phillips, 1950; Goodwin, 1951; Tustin, 1953; Forrester, 1958, 1961 and 1969), which stresses economics and industrial management problems using mathematical non-linear models/equations of how systems change over time.
Stacey, Griffin and Shaw (2000) argue that both the scientific management and systems thinking approaches provide limited understanding of human action in organizations. We contend that both provide restricted insights into organizations' behaviours and practices of business ethics in the marketplace and the surrounding society. Nevertheless, scientific management has improved the understanding and practice of efficiency in management, as well as systems thinking representing a broadening of...