Emerging Business Ethics Issues

Emerging Business Ethics Issues
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Business Ethics - More Than Just Insider Trading and Avoidance of Sexual Harassment

While one might think of business ethics as being a field that covers insider trading, sexual harassment, and treatment of employees, the field has grown over the years. Business ethics now includes a laundry list of ethical issues including development ethics, animal ethics, environmental ethics, justice ethics, and more. Below is a list of current emerging cases involving business ethics issues, including the recent Supreme Court decision involving corporations, health insurance hikes by Anthem Blue Cross, Sara Lee’s organic practices, and Monsanto’s genetically modified agriculture products.

The Supreme Court Decision to Include Corporations as “Persons”

In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are “persons” in a case that essentially allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaign financing (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission). What this ruling does is give corporations the same power as individual citizens when it comes to rights. In business ethics, this changes how corporations are seen - especially when it comes to acquisitions, political power, and influence on small businesses (not to mention the influence corporations have on politics). This is a case to watch in the coming months.

Anthem Blue Cross Hikes California Insurance Rates

Recently, Anthem Blue Cross determined it would raise their California insurance premiums by percentages in the double digits as high as 39% starting in May, calling attention to their unfair insurance practices. When this fee hike went public, it also came to the attention of California insurance regulators that Anthem Blue Cross had many complaints filed for non-payment of benefits, low settlement offers, and more. The problem with fee hikes is that the hikes are aimed at some 800,000 independently insured persons (generally independent contractors, sole proprietors, etc.) and this hike can be a severe burden on the insured. This case is sparking political discussions about ethical insurance practices, and should spark discussions in your company about how fee increases should be handled.

Sara Lee Organic?

Sara Lee, best known for its baked goods, has come to news attention due to the claim that Eco-Grain production is organic. The problem is that criticism exists stating that the production of Eco-Grain is not, in fact, organic and instead it only uses a reduced rate of synthetic fertilizers - but instead of the 100% reduction rate required by organic certifiers, the rate of reduction executed by Sara Lee is only 15%. Finally, though the Eco-Grain bread contains some of this wheat in it, most of the wheat in the bread is, in fact, traditionally farmed. This raises many ethical problems when discussing product labeling and product naming practices.

Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Agriculture Products

Another agriculturally related business ethics topic is the production of Genetically Modified agriculture products produced by Monsanto. Monsanto is the company that came up with DDT, Agent Orange, and Round Up. Monsanto is also largely responsible for the types of seeds used to grow your food. They have genetically modified and patented a variety of seeds, including corn, soybeans, cotton and more, and they pursue lawsuits against farmers who use their seeds without purchase. Many questions have been raised about whether these are ethical practices - especially since their GMOs are invasive and take over crops. This case raises interesting questions about what can be patented, how cases are pursued, and fair business practices.

Keeping Ethics in Mind When Doing Business

It’s hard to always have your eye on every potentially questionable ethical practice, but it is important to try to run your business in a way that is consistent with ethical values. Make sure to perform risk assessments and research the effects of those potentially affected by your practices before undertaking any business venture.