Society for Business Ethics 2007: Day 1 (morning)

I’m blogging from the Society for Business Ethics conference. (I won’t be sending out email notices about this or subsequent blog entries over the next couple of days.)

Here are a few notes & bullet points (nothing very structured) about things I’ve seen so far:

I caught the tail end of “The Ethics of Pressure Groups and Stakeholder Reciprocity: The Missing Link in Stakeholder Theory,” by Yves Fassin, of Ghent University.
– interesting paper; reminding us that ethics is for NGO’s & others, too; useful broadening of the scope of business ethics.
– My friend Daryl Koehn (University of St. Thomas ) asked a very good question about what mechanisms are available for implementing the kind of accountability Fassin was arguing for.

Then I saw “Building a Case Against Corporate Social Irresponsibility,” Timothy S. Clark, George Washington University
– useful reframing, at least as a provocative change in vocabulary
– not clear whether “social irresponsible” is intended to mean something different from “unethical.” It probably should mean something different, if the “social” part is to meaningful at all (because not everything unethical has a “social” impact).

Next I heard Norman Bowie on “Organizational Integrity.”
Best line (I’m paraphrasing, here): “I’ve lost faith in codes of ethics, because codes of ethics lack ‘asset specificity.’ The key to organizational integrity is a sound ethical climate. An ethical climate has high asset specificity and is not easily copied.”

Then Ed Freeman (the ‘father’ — grandfather? — of stakeholder theory) gave a presentation called “Building an Ethical America” — part of an ambitious book project of his. He called for an end to “saints-and-sinners” thinking, and proposed a re-moralization of our institutions. What he meant by that was not a ‘return to old-fashioned values,’ but a rethinking of various social institutions and their purposes.

Also of note: During Q&A, Freeman said that the most important question of political philosophy is “How do we sustain value-creation & trade over time?” The question of justifying the state (the question normally taken as being primary) Freeman said should come second.

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