Organizational Ethics Programs and the Need for Stakeholder Discourse

Abe Joseph Zakhem


More than ever, businesses are called upon to manage organizational ethics programs. There are, as of yet, no internationally accepted guidelines for doing so. Some find in the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines a framework that fits this need (Palmer & Zakhem, 2001; Izraeli & Schwartz, 1998; Jackson, 1997). As they stand, the Guidelines offer little insight as to what constitutes “ethical conduct.” This in itself is not a problem. Indeed, the question of what business ethics demand is for the most part an “open” question and one that should be regularly revisited to better understand and properly act on changing stakeholder demands (Freeman, 2008). What does constitute a problem, however, is that the Guidelines offer no suggestions as to how an organization ought to work through, in a morally acceptable way, inevitable stakeholder conflict over what is good and right. Following Jürgen Habermas’s insights on discourse ethics, this paper states that the lack of a substantive and discursive procedural ethic threatens ethics program effectiveness. This article expands upon these claims and offers some thoughts about the mutually beneficial role that discourse ethics can and ought to play in effective ethics program management.

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