Professional and Work Ethics

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Professionaland Work Ethics

Professionaland Work Ethics: A Case Study Report for Volkswagen

Theautomobile is among the most competitive industries in thecontemporary business world. Scandals have become commonplace in thecorporate world, where organizations are competing to expand theirmarket share and profitability (Simons, 2014, p. 82 and Rosli, 2006,p. 95). The high level of competition, especially in the automobilesector, has forced companies to use dishonest means to sustain theirgrowth and create wealth for their shareholders. In essence,automobile companies compete on the basis of fuel efficiency, laxity,speed of the car, and its durability, but achieving a combination ofthese qualities is a challenge (Kannan, 2010, p. 42 and Small, 2014,p. 5). Management of different automobile companies is tempted to lieto customers, who may not be able to determine whether the quality ofcars claimed by these cars is correct or not. This is the case withVolkswagen, which developed software that could cheat the vehicleinspectors by indicating that the level of emission was within therequired limits, but it was 40 times more during the normal driving(Patel, 2015, p. 1). This paper will analyze the case study ofVolkswagen’s unethical conduct and determine the extent to whichmanagement’s ends can be used to justify the means.

Ethicalissues

Compliancewith ethical standards is no longer a voluntary issue since differentgovernments have started outlining the possible consequences ofnon-compliance. In the case of Volkswagen, the management’sdecision to trick customers by indicating a wrong emission rate willaffect the company financially and in terms of its reputationfollowing a series of litigations brought against it. The company,through its team of engineers, developed software (electronic controlmodule) that could detect when each of the Volkswagen’s cars wasundergoing tests for emission rates and engage all emission controlsinstalled in the engine (The Economics, 2015, p. 1). The softwarecould then disable emission controls when the owners of the vehicleswere using it for normal driving, which could result in emissions ofup 40 times above the limits set by the Environmental ProtectionAgency (Patel, 2015, p. 1). The Volkswagen vehicles that weremanufactured within the last seven years emitted lethal gases (suchas nitrogen dioxide) that could easily cause respiratory diseases andcontribute significantly to climate change.

Theconsequence of Volkswagen’s unethical operations is a series oflegal battles. The EPA is allowed to enforce a fine of up to $ 37,500fine for each car that fails to comply with its emission rates fornitrogen dioxide, which means that Volkswagen might be required topay a total of about 15 billion for its 400,000 cars that have beenmanufactured within a period of seven years and fitted with theelectronic control module (Benchoff, 2015, p. 1). This penalty willhave serious financial implications on the company once the case hasbeen concluded. In addition, the negative publicity associated withthe company’s failure to comply with emotion requirements damagedthe image of the Volkswagen. This is confirmed by a drop inVolkswagen’s share by 20 % a few days after the disclosure of itsunethical practices (Benchoff, 2015, p. 1). In addition, thecompany’s managers (including the CEO) face the risk of criminalcharges for breaking the law and deceiving customers.

Ethicalperspectives

Deontology

Thedeontological perspective holds that actions should be judged to bewrong or right depending on people’s tendency to adhere to theirrespective obligations. In other words, an individual or a group ofpeople can be considered to be ethical if they follow what isperceived to be their duty towards other people and the society atlarge (Rainbow, 2015, p. 1 and Anderson, 2011, p. 23). Similarly, themanagement, especially the executive officers of any company has theprimary duty to protect the interest and the well-being of theircustomers (Fontaine, 2013, p. 111 and Tanner 2007, p. 10). The termprotection means that the management is expected to ensure that theproducts or services that the organization offers do not harm theircustomers or the society. According to Alsmadi (2012, p. 159)protection of the rights of consumers should be part of the company’scorporate social responsibility and be integrated into its businessstrategies.

Thecompetitive advantage and sustainable growth are not only measured bythe amount of revenue earned in a given financial year, but also themanagement’s willingness to assume its duties and protectconsumers. In the case of Volkswagen, the management made adeliberate decision to increase the efficiency of its diesel poweredvehicles in order to enhance its competitiveness in the automobilemarket at the expense of the consumer’s health (The Economics,2015, p. 1). Therefore, the management achieved its end (an increasein profitability and competitiveness) in the short-run, but this endcannot justify the means because of the negative issues (such as theenvironmental pollution) associated with the use of the wrong meansto enhance profitability.

Utilitarianism

Theutilitarian perspective provides the basis for judging the possibleconsequences of different actions. Under this perspective, ethicalactions are expected to enhance the well-being or the happiness ofthe majority while actions that tend to make a smaller group happy atthe expense of the well-being of the majority are considered to beunethical (Robertson, 2007, p. 1 and Baugher, 2014, p. 3). Applyingthe utilitarian concept to Volkswagen, the decision to install theelectronic control module enhanced the happiness of a few internalstakeholders (including the management) by enhancing the perceivedcompetitiveness of its vehicles in the market, but subjectedconsumers and other members of the society to the risk of sufferingfrom different respiratory diseases.

Itis evident that Volkswagen’s action was unethical since itsconsequences were harmful to the general public. In addition, theaction violated the ethical principle of least harm, which requireshuman beings to achieve their goals by inflicting the least amount ofharm and harm the least number of people as possible (Burns, 2005, p.48 and Jackbson, 2008, p. 169). This implies that, even aftercomplying with EPA’s emission limits, Volkswagen would still harmthe society, but the harm would then be considered to be unavoidablebecause a vehicle has to emit some gases. However, this harm would beconsidered to be minimum and within acceptable limits. Therefore, ashort-term increase in sales of Volkswagen cars as a result of falsefuel efficiency cannot justify the use of software to cheat vehicleinspectors and consumers.

Virtue

Thevirtue ethics theory judges people’s actions on the basis of theircharacter, instead of focusing on actions or their consequences.Virtue ethics consider several factors (including motivation,reputation, and morals) when rating one’s behavior or actions(Magundayao, 2013, p. 98 and Grcic, 2013, p. 416). Applying virtueethics to the case of Volkswagen, it is clear that the management(including the company’s CEO) was motivated by the desire to makehigh profits to cheat its customers regarding the fuel efficiency ofthe company’s cars (Smith, 2015, p. 1). The management believedthat customers are currently interested in buying the most efficient,but the least fuel consuming vehicles (Anderson, 2011, p. 89 andSchipper, 2010, p. 10). This could be difficult for the company toachieve, especially with a diesel powered vehicle. Therefore, theonly way to achieve profit targets would be to cheat customers andinstall software that could help the company bypass the emissiontests performed by authorities. The management of Volkswagen togetherwith its team of engineers can be described as a team of greedyindividuals whose sole objective is to enhance their financialsuccess irrespective of whatever means they use.

VolkswagenCode of Conduct

Thecode of conduct outlines the key values and strategies that anorganization uses to ensure that it adopts proper practices and meetthe expectations of different stakeholders. Volkswagen has acomprehensive code of conduct that guides all employees anddepartments working in different countries. Volkswagen states “Wemake ecologically efficient advanced technologies availablethroughout the world and implement them over the whole life-cycle ofour products” (19). This is a commitment that the Volkswagen Groupsmake and a form of promise to its stakeholders that it will applytechnology that will protect the environment and invest in continuousimprovement with the objective of minimizing the environmental impactof its vehicles. On the contrary, Volkswagen adopts technology thatcan help it increase environmental pollution through an increase inemission of lethal gases in an effort to enhance efficiency of dieselengines (Bimmer, 2015, p. 1). This suggests that Volkswagen hasviolated key principles in its own code of conduct. In essence, thecode of conduct acts as a public relations tool that Volkswagen hasbeen using to entice its clients.

Besidesthe code of ethics, Volkswagen has a set of values outlined in itsethical policy. Some of the key elements of this ethical policyinclude a commitment to fairness, honesty, compliance with companyregulations, and compliance with the law (Volkswagen, 2014, p. 6). Bydeciding to cheat customers as well as the motor vehicle inspectorsusing technology, Volkswagen acted contrary to all values that areoutlined in its ethical policy. For example, an attempt to bypass theemission limit set by the EPA is an indication of dishonesty on thepart of the management and the lack of respect for the governmentagencies as well as the regulations set by these agencies. Inaddition, Volkswagen’s act a complete set of negative values thatinclude lying, cheating, exploitation of customers, deception, lawbreaking, and merciless profiteering (Volkswagen Group, 2015, p. 9).The violation of the code of conduct and the provisions of theethical policy harm customers, which implies that the end achieved byVolkswagen’s management cannot justify the means.

Conclusion

Theends that the management of any organization achieves can justify themeans only if those ends do not harm the society and customers.Companies tend to use the wrong means that are described bydishonesty, cheating, and violation of rules when the level ofcompetition threatens their profitability and growth. This has beenthe case with Volkswagen, which had to cheat its customers andvehicle inspectors in order to earn more profits for itsshareholders. Although increasing the company’s profitability andsustaining its growth are positive attempts, these accomplishmentscannot justify dishonest means in any way. This is because compliancewith ethical requirements and protection of customers should be thepriority.

Listof references

Alsmadi,S., 2012. Consumer rights today: Are they in business or out ofbusiness? InternationalJournal of Marketing Studies,4 (1), p. 159-167.

Anderson,T., Parry, W., Sallee, M. and Fischer, C., 2011. Automobile fueleconomy standards: Impacts, efficiency, and alternatives. Reviewof Environmental Economics and Policy,5 (1), p. 89-108.

Baugher,D. and Weisbord, E., 2014. Egoism, justice, rights, andutilitarianism: Student views of classic ethical position. Journalof Academic and Business Ethics,1, p. 1-11.

Benchoff,B., 2015. Ethics in engineering: Volkswagen’s diesel fiasco.Hackaday.[Online]. Available at: &lthttp://hackaday.com/2015/09/23/ethics-in-engineering-volkswagens-diesel-fiasco/&gt[Accessed 26 December 2015].

Bimmer,F., 2015. Volkswagen under investigation over illegal software thatmasks emission. TheGuardian.[Online]. Available at: &lthttp://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/sep/18/epa-california-investigate-volkswagen-clean-air-violations&gt[Accessed 26 December 2015].

Burns,J., 2005. Happiness and utility: Jeremy Bentham’s equation.Utilitas,1, 46-61.

Fontaine,M., 2013. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability: The newbottom line? InternationalJournal of Business and Social Science,4 (4), p. 110-119.

Grcic,J., 2013. Virtue theory, relativism and survival. InternationalJournal of Social Science and Humanity,3 (4), p. 416-419.

Holder,J., 2015. VW Emission scandals: Nine VW vehicles have false CO2ratings. Autocar.[Online]. Available at: &lthttp://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/industry/vw-emissions-scandal-nine-vw-vehicles-have-false-co2-ratings&gt[Accessed 26 December 2015].

Jackbson,2008. Utilitarianism without consequentialism: The case of JohnStuart Mill. PhilosophicalReview,117 (2), p. 159-191.

Kannan,K. and Udayakuma, M., 2010. Experimental study of the effect of fuelinjection pressure on diesel engine performance and emission. Journalof Engineering and Applied Science,5 (5), p. 42-45.

Magundayao,M., 2013. Dispositions and skills: An argument for virtue ethicsagainst situationism. Kritike,7 (1), p. 96-114.

Patel,P., 2015. Engineers, ethics, and the VW scandal. IEEESpectrum.[Online]. Available at: &lthttp://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/at-work/education/vw-scandal-shocking-but-not-surprising-ethicists-say&gt[Accessed 26 December 2015].

Rainbow,C., 2015. Descriptionsof ethical theories and principles.Davidson, NC: Davidson College.

Robertson,M. and Walter, G., 2007. A critical reflection on utilitarianism asthe basis for sychiatric ethics. Journalof Ethics in Mental Health,2 (1), p. 1-4.

Rosli,M., 2006. The automobile industry and performance of Malaysian autoproduction. Journalof Economic Cooperation,27, 1, p. 89-114.

Schipper,L., 2010. Automobilefuel: Economy and CO2 emission in industry countries.Washington, DC: World Resources Institute Center for SustainableTransport.

Small,A. &amp Dender, K., 2014. Fuel efficiency and motor vehicle travel:The declining rebound effect. EnergyJournal,28 (1), p. 25-51.

Simons,W., 2014. Innovation in the automobile industry: How the changingface of global competition affects motor vehicle patenting. Journalof Applied Business and Economics,16 (5), p. 82-85.

Smith,J., 2015. Eleven, Volkswagen cases show why we should push back oncorporate ethics. TheConversation.[Online]. Available at:&lthttp://theconversation.com/7-eleven-volkswagen-cases-show-why-we-should-push-back-on-corporate-ethics-48739&gt[Accessed 26 December 2015].

Staveren,I., 2007. Beyond utilitarianism and deontology: Ethics in Economics.Reviewof Political Economy,19 (1), p. 21-35.

Tanner,C., Medin, L. &amp Iliev, R., 2007. Influence of deontologicalversus consequentialist orientations on act choices and framingeffects: When principles are more important than consequences.EuropeanJournal of Social Psychology,1, p. 1-13.

TheEconomics, 2015. A scandal in the motor industry: Dirty secrets. TheEconomics.[Online]. Available at: &lthttp://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21666226-volkswagens-falsification-pollution-tests-opens-door-very-different-car&gt[accessed 26 December 2015].

Volkswagen,2014. TheVolkswagen Group: Code of conduct.Wolfsburg: Volkswagen.

VolkswagenGroup, 2015. Organization,management, and control model.Wolfsburg: Volkswagen.

Reflection

Ethicalprinciples and theories are critical tools that are used to analyzeand determine the moral or ethical correctness of certain decisionsand actions. These theories and principles are mostly utilized whenresolving moral dilemmas in the personal as well as in professionallife (Bowden, 2008, p. 19). However, slightly different conclusionsmay be reached depending on the type of principle or theory that hasbeen applied in a given scenario. Nearly all corporations havedeveloped codes of ethics to guide them in the process of becomingenvironmentally and socially responsible, but the suitability ofthese codes should be gauged using ethical principles and theories.This paper will provide the analysis of the code of ethics developedby the Institute of Administrative Management for its members anddiscuss lessons learned from the present research and experience.

Instituteof Administrative Management: Professional Code of Ethics

TheInstitute of Administrative Management (IAM) is among the oldestbodies that bring together professional managers. The body wasestablished with the objective of preparing as well as enablingprofessional administrative managers, administrators, and leaders inthe field of business to build successful careers, fulfill theirpotential, and develop their skills (Institute of AdministrativeManagement, 2013, p. 2). IAM’s code of ethics is formulated in amanner that it helps members achieve their career goals whileachieving strategic objectives of the organizations that they manage.The most unique feature of the code of ethics is that it provides aset of rules that each of its members should observe and possibleconsequences of breaking those rules. This creates a perception thatobserving ethics in the field of business management is no longeroptional since there are severe consequences for breaching ethicalcodes of conduct (McDougle, 2014, p. 3 and Gilman, 2005, p. 4). Mostimportantly, the strictness of the code of ethics ensures thatmembers of the business community are able to regulate themselveswithout the need to wait for the government agencies to control ormonitor their conduct.

Principlesof ethics

Ethicalprinciples provide guidelines that can be used to assess thecorrectness of different decisions. There are three major ethicalprinciples that may be used to analyze the IAM’s code of ethics.First, the principle is beneficence holds that people should alwayschoose to do what is perceived to be good. The principle ofbeneficence guide people in doing what is good and encourages humanbeings to generate a larger proportion of good over evil that ispossible on earth (Chagani, 2014, p. 2 and Mawere, 2012, p. 2).Similarly, the IAM code of ethics encourages members to promote thecharitable objectives of their organization (IAM, 2013, p. 2). Thisis a guide towards doing what is good to humanity.

Secondly,the principle of least harm is provoked in situations where neitherof the available choices is beneficial. During such a dilemma, anindividual is expected to go for a choice that will inflict the leastamount of pain or harm (Davis, 2003, p. 288 and Gaverick, M., 2013,p. 506). The principle is founded on the idea of human responsibilityto enhance the well-being of other people, instead of increasingtheir suffering. The IAM code of ethics calls on members to respectthe customs of their fellow members, which means that the respect fordiversity should be part of one’s life. Although respecting peoplefrom different backgrounds have no direct benefits to them, itreduces the pain they would have suffered in case they werediscriminated against (Alpert, 2014, p. 3 and Chou, 2011, p. 1015).

Thethird principle of justice holds that people should engage in actionsthat are perceived to be fair to all those who are involved. Theprinciple encourages the idea of fair play where people are expectedto make decisions that promote equity, entitlement, and fairness(Michelbach, 2011, p. 25 and Miee, 2010, 26). An adherence to theprinciple of equity requires people to respect others irrespective oftheir social differences. Therefore, decisions and actions are judgedto be ethical when they demonstrate fairness to all people who areinvolved. Similarly, the ethical code of conduct of IAM requiresmembers to respect diversity, inclusion, and equality, all of whichare the key elements of the principle of justice (IAM, 2013, p. 2).By doing what is just to others, members will be able to enhanceharmony in their workplaces and foster an environment in which peoplecan work together irrespective of their social or culturaldifferences.

Ethicaltheories

TheIAM code of ethics can be critically analyzed using a set of fourethical theories. First is the deontological theory, which holds thathuman beings are expected to follow their respective duties as wellas obligations when analyzing different ethical dilemmas (Mitcham,2014, p. 1 and Anderson, 2011, p. 23). The theory holds thatupholding one’s duties should always be considered to be ethicallycorrect. The entire code of ethics of IAM indicates the duties thatall members are expected to carry out. For example, the code holdsthat all members have a duty to seek for constructive feedback ontheir own performance and performance of those that they manage.Therefore, managers have a duty to monitor their own performance aswell as the performance of their juniors with the objective ofpromoting the interests of the stakeholders that they represent.

Secondly,the theory of utilitarianism holds that people should take actionsthat will be beneficial to a larger group of people. Alternatively,actions are considered to be ethically correct when they minimize thesuffering of a larger group of people while maximize their happiness(Mack, 2004, p. 64 and Robertson, 2007, p. 1). The IAM’s code ofethics promotes rule utilitarianism as opposed to act utilitarianism.This is because the code requires its members to obey all laws andregulations that govern their profession. Under the ruleutilitarianism, acts are considered to be ethical if they maximizethe happiness of a larger group, but they must be by the law.Therefore, the IAM’s code promotes the rule of law, which reducesorganization’s conflict with the government agencies.

Third,virtue ethics theory judges the correctness of actions depending onthe character of an individual. This theory is founded on the notionthat people make decisions and take actions depending on their normalbehavior and character (Jost, 2009, p. 253 and Adams, 2009, p. 83).The theory considers individual’s reputation, morals, andmotivation when assessing the moral correctness of their respectiveactions (Kristjansson, 2013, p. 2). This implies that one’s pastbehaviors and trends in decision making may be taken into accountwhen judging their present character. However, the IAM’s code ofethics does not seem to take into account the past conduct of theorganization’s members when evaluating the ethical correctness oftheir present actions. This is because the code simply states thatnon-compliance with any of the provisions will lead to severalactions, such as termination of membership (IAM, 2013, p. 1).Therefore, the code may result in the punishment of members out ofmistakes while they have complied with its regulations in the past.

Fourth,the rights theory holds that all rights that are upheld by a givensociety should be given a high priority and be protected. Under thistheory, rights are considered to be ethically correct if they areendorsed by the ruling or a large population (Rainbow, 2015, p. 1).The theory also allows individuals to bestow rights on other peopleas long as they have the power and resources to do so. Applying therights theory to the IAM’s code of ethics, it is evident that IAMas an organization has used its powers to give rights to its members.For example, the organization gives its members the right to advancetheir professional knowledge on a continuing basis, which is a way ofencouraging them to progress in their career. Therefore, the code isconsistent with the assumption of rights theory, where the rightsconsidered by the organization to be correct are given the priority.

Lessonslearned from research and experience

Thereare several lessons learned from the current research on code ofethics. For example, the trends indicate that corporate socialresponsibility is increasing becoming a legal issue, unlike in thepast when organizations were expected to voluntarily assume theirsocial responsibilities. For example, engaging in activities andprocess that minimize emissions is mandatory and its violation canlead to litigation. This is seen from the case of Volkswagen wherethe management violated the EPA’s emission limit in its 400,000vehicles, which resulted in a suit (Benchoff, 2015, p. 1). The falseemission rating was discovered in nine models (Holder, 2015, p. 1).

Thesecond lesson learned is that developing ethical policies and codesof ethics may not be sufficient. This is because the stakeholdersexpect organizations to respect and obey their codes and policies,instead of using them as public relations tools (Rovira, 2014, p. 1).Apart from satisfying the stakeholders, compliance with ethicalpolicies protect organizations from legal issues and damage to theirimage. This is because most of the elements of ethics (such asprotection of the environment and respect for diversity) have beenintegrated into the legal systems.

Inaddition, the fact that the top management of an organization has theprimary duty to protect organization’s customers is a major lessonlearned from research. These executives are held liable for any harmthat is caused by their organization’s products to consumers(Opala, 2014, p. 19 and Reddy, 2012, p. 7403). The idea of holdingthe top executives liable for harms caused by organization’sproducts is based on deontological theory that require the ethicalcorrectness of actions to be determined by one’s intention toadhere to their duties (Anderson, 2011, p. 23). Therefore, failing toprotect consumers is considered to be unethical. This ensures thatexecutive officers do not prioritize the organization’s growth andprofitability at the expense of the well-being of its customers.

Conclusion

Acode of ethics is mainly designed to help an organization and itsmembers engage in activities that are ethically correct and avoidconflicting with other stakeholders. Provisions of a code of ethicsdepend on the sector in which an organization operates in, but thesuitability of any code of ethics should be judged on the basisethical principles and ethical theories. Some of the ethicalprinciples that may be considered include the principle of leastharm, beneficence, and justice. Several ethical theories may beconsidered, which include the deontological theory, virtual ethics,rights, and utilitarianism. Some of the key lessons learned from thepresent research include the need for the integration of ethicalstandards into legal systems, compliance with codes of ethics insteadof using them for public relations, and the primary duty ofexecutives to protect the organization’s customers.

Listof references

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Anderson,T., Parry, W., Sallee, M. and Fischer, C., 2011. Automobile fueleconomy standards: Impacts, efficiency, and alternatives. Reviewof Environmental Economics and Policy,5 (1), p. 89-108.

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McDougle,L., 2014. Understandingand maintaining ethical values in the public sector through anintegrated approach.San Diego: University of San Diego.

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Miee,Y., 2010. Breaking the legend: Maximum fairness notion is no longereffective. InternationalJournal of Applications,2 (2), p. 25-35.

Mitcham,C., 2014. Deontology.Farmington Hills: Gale Group Publishing.

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Rainbow,C., 2015. Descriptionsof ethical theories and principles.Davidson, NC: Davidson College.

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Robertson,M. and Walter, G., 2007. A critical reflection on utilitarianism asthe basis for sychiatric ethics. Journalof Ethics in Mental Health,2 (1), p. 1-4.

Rovira,A., 2014. Usingcorporate social responsibility as a public relations tool in a localcommunity.Tarragona: Virgili University.

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