Despite its growing influence, business has a bad name. Daily newspapers and periodicals are replete with the latest escapades of our “business leaders.” Most recent in our minds are defense contractors’ exorbitant prices for screwdrivers and other small parts, and the insider trading scandal on Wall Street.

The atmosphere that permits such corruption has become pervasive, even among idealistic students. In a survey of 131 students majoring in business, researcher John Pearce discovered that students “judged the climate in American business to be essentially unethical by a ratio of 2 to 1.” Half the students accepted the idea that during their business careers they would engage in behavior that is less than ethical.

Studies by Pitney Bowes and Uniroyal bear out the students’ expectations. In a group of 800 managers surveyed anonymously, most felt pressure to compromise personal ethics for company goals. This was true of 59 percent for Pitney Bowes and 70 percent for Uniroyal. Prof. Archie B. Carroll of the University of Georgia surveyed a random sample of corporate managers throughout the United States in a similar study. His respondents revealed that 64 percent felt pressured to compromise personal ethics for company goals.

Business Ethics: An Academic Growth Industry

Corporate America is confused and searching for its ethical identity. The businessperson today is forced to ask a new set of questions: Is it ever right to use privileged information to advance one’s self-interest? Does a company have any obligation to help remedy social problems, such as poverty, pollution, and urban decay? Does a firm have a right to subject its employees to lie-detector, drug, or AIDS tests as a condition ...

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