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The Foundations of Business Ethical Reflection

When one looks at the role the private sector has been assigned to play in society, one finds definitions like: to supply goods and services that people want and/or need. Or to generate employment opportunities and, thereby, sustainable livelihoods within an economy. Or to be a source of innovation and a center providing creative solutions to existing challenges.
This list could go on for much longer, but, where is the argument that defines the role of business in society as an instrument to maximize the monetary return on investment for businesses‘ financiers – whether they are shareholders or other forms of ownership? When one looks at the reality of many businesses, though, it seems that this is exactly what businesses are doing: they try to ‗make money‘ rather than ‗make goods and services,‘ thus turning the underlying rationality about the role of business in society on its head.
It is not a case of a business serving the interest of society and, consequently, those people who chip in their money must get a decent return to reward them for the risks they have taken. Instead, most businesses strive to maximize the return for their financiers and they therefore need to offer goods and services for which they can generate demand.
All the same, one might think, as the two are interdependent. The difficulty with this reversed rationality is, however, that different ends lead to different means.
A business that tries to maximize the returns of those who invested in it will not be overly bothered whether the needs it serves are genuine, as long as it finds a way to generate profitable demand. Neither will a profit-maximizing organization be able to exercise self-restraint when, for example, pursuing a growth opportunity means turning a blind eye to ethical or environmental concerns. Nor can a purely profit…...

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