Professor Pedro Márquez on why business ethics matter, and how you can instill them in your people
"Every time we speak about ethics, we’re really talking about an individual’s character"
by Michael Ganley
Alberta Venture’s Guide to Business Education
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Pedro Márquez is the dean of the faculty of management at Royal Roads University and a professor of business ethics. Alberta Venture editor Michael Ganley spoke with Márquez about business ethics: what they are, how to teach them and what effect they are – or are not – having on the way people do their jobs and run their companies.
MG: How do you define business ethics?
PM: Ethics comes from the Greek word ‘ethos,’ which means character. So every time we speak about ethics, we’re really talking about an individual’s character. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that studies concepts related to human morality and conduct: what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, what is virtuous and not virtuous. Business ethics is an applied form for organizations.
MG: How do you teach business ethics?
PM: We’ve introduced business ethics as core content in our courses. We moved from the practice of having a separate business ethics course standing by itself to introducing business ethics as a perspective that is discussed within every course.
We get students to reflect on how they make decisions, what are the criteria they use, what is the purpose, what are you trying to accomplish. I like to talk about “responsible management,” decision-making that is fully aware of the possible effects of those decisions. The effects need to be measured and identified by economic, social and environmental impacts.
MG: Do personal ethics not cover business situations?
PM: Many people say there is no need for ‘business ethics’ – that if we all hold strong ethics, that should be enough to ensure proper behaviour around the way we conduct ourselves in business. But business ethics are not the same as personal ethics because they frame situations that might not exist at the personal level.
It’s also important to differentiate between ethics and morals. Morals have to do with an individual’s core personal values and principles. Ethics is about the generally accepted rules of behaviour in a given context. They do not have to match.
MG: Where do you see business ethics at work?
PM: Governments try to regulate economic behaviour through laws and regulations, and corporations try to regulate human behaviour through their own corporate social responsibility. CSR usually has three components: a code of ethics; rules at the board of governors’ level to guarantee that decisions are taken in a way that protects the organization, the environment and society; and a formal CSR policy and strategy.
MG: Is it harder to create an ethical environment in a larger corporation?
PM: It definitely is. Part of business ethics is developing the proper culture within the organization, and culture is those shared principles and values. The larger the corporation, the more difficult it is to make sure you have policies and activities that are followed by everybody. And how many organizations operate across nations? Developing and advancing that corporate culture consistently is quite difficult.