Business Ethics vs Social Responsibility
Business ethics and social responsibility are commonly used in everyday parlance almost interchangeably. While social responsibility is self explanatory, ethics is a word that puts one in a dilemma. Social responsibility looks clearly defined and demarcated. Companies have a policy of social responsibility known as corporate social responsibility whereby they commit to follow their businesses in such a way so as to benefit the community at large. But ethics is a loose term that is dependent upon a person’s conscience. There are certain differences between the two and the two are not overlapping completely.
Before we move to business ethics, we need to spell out clearly the word ethics. Derived from ancient Greek word ethos, ethics has come to mean moral character. Ethical behaviour is what is good or right. Ethical senses always make use of good, bad, right and wrong. Applying this definition to business, we come to a conclusion that though the primary objective of any business or company is to maximize the profits to shareholders, stakeholders also need to be kept in mind, they are directly or indirectly affected by the decisions taken by the company for the operation of business.
Business ethics is the behaviour of any business that it indulges in its dealings with the community or society. For some, making money is all they are interested in, and this is capitalism in its dirtiest form. These people are least concerned with the bad effects of their business practices and the harm they are doing to the society at large.
When companies do not engage in good business ethics, they are penalised by the law. But such cases are rare and the profits of companies engaging in unethical behaviour are far more than these punitive fines.
Man is a social animal and cannot live in isolation. He is expected to behave in a manner that is socially and morally acceptable to others. The same applies to businesses. Though the primary objective of any business is to earn maximum profits for the owners and shareholders, it is also expected to conduct its operations in a manner that it fulfils its social obligations also. For example, though it is not binding on any private sector company to provide employment to the disabled or weaker sections of the society, it is considered to be a part of the social responsibility of the company to absorb people from such sections of the society. Similarly though there is not written law to compel a company to engage in acts to do something to reduce pollution or to do something for the betterment of environment, taking up projects to clean up environment are considered to be a part of the social responsibility of the company.
Difference between Business Ethics and Social Responsibility
Though business ethics and social responsibility seem to be overlapping, there has always been a contradiction between the two. Companies, though they are committed to be socially responsible for their behaviour have been found to be engaging in acts that cannot be called ethical.
What is good for the society is sometimes not good for the business, and what is good for the business is almost always not good for the society.
If the society is conscious, it responds in such a way that businesses are forced to behave responsibly. The same applies to the administration and the judiciary of any country.
Selling of liquor and tobacco in any society is not against business ethics though it may be against the principles of social responsibility. The same applies to lotteries and gambling. But it is certainly against business ethics as well as against social responsibility to entice minors to engage in smoking and drinking.