Archives for the month of: September, 2012

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Nicholas Georgouras, 2005, Carrara marble, 250cm x 100cm

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Native American proverb

Sorrell and Hendry define a narrow code of ethics within business as that which is restrained only to its employees or shareholders[1]. A broad code of ethics is that which includes responsibilities to the wider community and environment[2]. Although most codes of ethics define responsibilities to communities, some businesses find that their particular responsibilities to the pursuit of profit for shareholders constrain and conflict with these policy objectives[3]. However, businesses operate in and rely upon the communities where they are situated. The people within these communities expect to be treated equally and fairly by governments and businesses. This essay will argue that a broad code of ethics is needed in the application of inclusive principles, such as the concepts of equal opportunity and affirmative action, and that such inclusive principles can benefit the businesses that apply them.

The expectations and ideals of equality do not reflect the real differences between peoples’ physical and psychological abilities. When these types of real inequalities are transferred to a business environment so that it can reflect political equality, these issues can become problematic[4]. A narrow ethical objection could be: Why is it the responsibility of business to compensate individuals for these real inequalities? To consider these responsibilities, it is useful to consider the laws that are in place and how they are enacted.

The anti-discrimination laws, such as the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), legislate that all employers must fairly treat their employees and potential jobseekers[5]. As such, they reflect the impartiality of the law and appeal to normative ethical approaches of equality and fairness. All employees are entitled to equal opportunities and employers must not allow prejudices or stereotyped views to influence their decisions about hiring or treating people that they employ[6]. The only reason that an employer can legally justify an action of discrimination is if it would cause unjustifiable hardship to them[7]. This type of legislation recognizes the equality of people but also preserves fairness to business.

This legislation means that businesses must operate with a broad code of ethics when it comes to dealing with equal opportunity. These policies began to be enacted in the 1980s as a response to the disadvantages women suffered in the workforce[8], and were extended and implemented by the human resources department of some organisations as a program entitled Managing Diversity (MD)[9]. The main concept of an MD program is to increase competitive advantage through being able to access a diverse workforce. This is supposed to meet employee needs, reduce turnover costs and give the best customer service[10]. At the same time, governments have relaxed the legislative requirements and penalties for breaches[11] and affirmative action legislation has been negated to a certain degree[12].

The use of MD programs has become an answer for corporations subject to equal opportunity requirements. It is seen to broaden the ethical requirements rather than restricting them to the narrow environment of legislated affirmative action[13]. MD programs are also considered to focus upon the positive aspects of diversity rather than the negative aspects of disadvantage[14]: ‘“Managing diversity- the new paradigm” is internally driven, rests on a business case and perceives MD as an investment and difference is perceived as an asset’[15]. Therefore, it seems that business has broadened the scope of the ethics involved in equal opportunity and lobbied to narrow the legislative requirements that were brought about to give access to work for the disadvantaged. Has this broadening of the ethical scope resulted in better access for those who potentially benefit from equal opportunity legislation?

It has been alleged that many companies, such as Microsoft and Coca Cola, simply pay lip service to their espoused equal opportunity policies, with suspicions that policies are a process in image management and are not enshrined in practice[16]. In Britain, while Equal Opportunity (EO) policies have been adopted by many companies, only a quarter of companies surveyed arranged to consult disabled employees, and only half allowed time off for rehabilitation and treatment[17]. It is asserted by Jewson et al.[18] that the four reasons that companies adopt EO policies are:

  1. 1.      as an ‘insurance policy’ against future claims against their reputation;
  2. 2.      to demonstrate employer responsibility;
  3. 3.      as a response to problems created by community pressure; and
  4. 4.      to access a wider talent base or to expand the customer client base.

It is the final reason, that of accessing an expanded base of talent and customers, that should be considered the most important reason for a company to properly attend to equal opportunity policies. It is simply good business.

While EO legislation allows for a company to object to employing someone if it would cause them unjustified hardship, not employing people on the basis of gender, reproductive capability, ethnic origin, disability or age is also unjustified. It denies those effected access to life’s opportunities. Objections to EO policies on the grounds that they do not address primary societal differences in housing and education[19] fail to recognise that having work helps to relieve people from the trap of poverty and allows them access to quality housing and education.

The broadening of the ethics of business to include EO policies is in line with many other policy implementations that have occurred throughout the last century. Businesses have to deal with wage issues that reflect true living costs and conditions that enable workers to be able to have enough security to be a secure workforce. These issues are regulated and are beneficial to businesses because they ensure access to a reliable workforce. Health and safety regulations are also issues that businesses now have to deal with and they benefit through not having to pay for lengthy court cases and compensation claims that can occur after the event. This is similar to anti-discrimination regulations. These regulations give businesses access to a diverse workforce that truly represents the societies in which these businesses operate.

The concept of using a MD program has the advantages for businesses and the community of being internally-driven policy that can be linked to organisational objectives, and being less restrictive than an external EO agenda that demands a set of minimal targets[20]. The main concept of EO policies is that they use a white, heterosexual male as the norm and try to fit other groups into this, whereas MD is about diversity and expects that the mainstream will be a diverse group[21]. It responds to objections to EO policies, being reverse discrimination towards white males[22], by highlighting demographic difference. In this way, MD is able to be sensitive to labour needs and clientele differences which can improve productivity, employee commitment and profitability[23].

A broad ethical approach by any business to concepts of equal opportunity and affirmative action are based upon good reason. These concepts reflect the principles of equality and fairness in our society. They also reflect good business judgments about acting within the self-interest of a company and its shareholders, in that they broaden the scope of access to employees and customers. Finally they reflect the intuitive and universal Kantian concept of acting towards others as you would have them act towards you. It must be remembered that all of us can be affected, broadly or narrowly, by such inequalities as gender difference, ethnicity, disability or age.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. De Cieri, H. and R. Kramar, 2003, Human Resource Management in Australia, McGraw Hill, Sydney
  2. Gaze, B. 1998, “The Ambiguity of Affirmative Action in Australia”, in Law in Context, (1998), vol. 15 no. 2
  3. Grace, D. & Cohen, S. 1995, “Ethical reasoning in business” in Business Ethics , Grace, Damian; Cohen, Stephen, 1995, pp.1-51
  4. Hettinger E.C. 2001, ‘What is Wrong with Reverse Discrimination?’ in W. Michael Hoffman, Robert E. Frederick & Mark Schwartz (eds.) Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality, 4th edition (McGraw-Hill, New York, 2001), pp. 315-322
  5. Hoque, K. & Noon, M. 2004, “Equal Opportunities Policy and Practice in Britain: Evaluating the ‘Empty Shell’ Hypothesis”, in Work, Employment & Society,British Sociological Association, September 2004, vol. 18 no. 3, pp. 481-506
  6. Jewson, N., Waters, S. and Harvey, J. 1990, “Ethnic Minorities and Employment Practice: A Study of Six Employers”, Research Paper No. 76, Sheffield: Employment Department
  7. Jewson, N., Mason, D., Lambkin, C. and Taylor, F.,1992,  “Ethnic Monitoring Policy and Practice: A Study of Employers’ Experiences”, Research Paper No.89, London: Department of  Employment
  8. Jewson, N., Mason, D., Drewett, A. and Rossiter, W., 1995, “Formal Equal Opportunities Policies and Employment Best Practice”, Employment Department Research Series No. 69, Sheffield: Employment Department
  9. Pojman, Louis P. “The modern workplace: transition to equality and diversity: The moral status of affirmative action” in Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality , Hoffman, W. Michael; Frederick, Robert E.; Schwartz, Mark S. , 2001 , 303-315
  10. Sorell, T. & Hendry, J. 1994, “Narrow and broad business ethics” in Business Ethics , Sorell, Tom; Hendry, John , 1994 , pp. 28-54
  11. Strachan, G., Burgess, J. & Sullivan, A. 2003,  Affirmative Action or Managing Diversity- What is the future of Equal Opportunity Policies in Organisations? Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle, NSW
  12. The Anti-Discrimination Board, “Discrimination and the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW”, ADB factsheet, viewed on: 30 July 2012 http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/adb/ll_adb.nsf/vwFiles/Disc_ADB_0311.pdf/$file/Disc_ADB_0311.pdf


                [1] Sorrell & Hendry, 1994, “Narrow and broad business ethics” in Business Ethics, Sorrell, Tom; Hendry, John,1994, p.28

                [2] Sorrell & Hendry, 1994, p.28

                [3] Sorrell & Hendry, 1994, p.28

[4] Grace & Cohen, 1995, p.144

[5] The Anti-Discrimination Board, “Discrimination and the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW”, ADB factsheet, p.1, viewed on: 30 July 2012 http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/adb/ll_adb.nsf/vwFiles/Disc_ADB_0311.pdf/$file/Disc_ADB_0311.pdf

[6] The Anti-Discrimination Board, 2012, p.1

[7] The Anti-Discrimination Board, 2012, p.2

[8] Strachan, G., Burgess, J. & Sullivan, A. 2003,  Affirmative Action or Managing Diversity- What is the future of Equal Opportunity Policies in Organisations? Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle, NSW, p.1

[9] Strachan et al. 2003, p. 1

                [10] De Cieri, H. and R. Kramar, 2003, Human Resource Management in Australia, McGraw Hill, Sydney, pp. 28-29

                [11] Strachan et al. 2003, p. 3-4

                [12] Strachan et al. 2003, p. 5

                [13] Strachan et al. 2003, p. 5

                [14] Strachan et al. 2003, p. 5

                [15] Strachan et al. 2003, p. 6

[16] Hoque, K. & Noon, M. 2004, “Equal Opportunities Policy and Practice in Britain: Evaluating the ‘Empty Shell’ Hypothesis”, in Work, Employment & Society,British Sociological Association, pp.481-482

[17] Hoque & Noon, 2004, p. 483

 [18] Jewson, N., Waters, S. and Harvey, J. 1990, “Ethnic Minorities and Employment Practice: A Study of Six Employers”, Research Paper No. 76, Sheffield: Employment Department; Jewson, N., Mason, D., Lambkin, C. and Taylor, F.,1992,  “Ethnic Monitoring Policy and Practice: A Study of Employers’ Experiences”, Research Paper No.89, London: Department of  Employment; Jewson, N., Mason, D., Drewett, A. and Rossiter, W., 1995, “Formal Equal Opportunities Policies and Employment Best Practice”, Employment Department Research Series No. 69, Sheffield: Employment Department

[19] Pojman, Louis P. “The modern workplace: transition to equality and diversity: The moral status of affirmative action” in Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality , Hoffman, W. Michael; Frederick, Robert E.; Schwartz, Mark S. , 2001 , p.314

[20] Strachan et al., 2003, p.6

[21] Strachan et al., 2003, p.6

[22] Hettinger, E.C., 2001, ‘What is Wrong with Reverse Discrimination?’ in W. Michael Hoffman, Robert E. Frederick & Mark Schwartz (eds.) Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality, 4th edition, pp. 315-322

[23] Strachan et al., 2003, p.6

 

JE Thomas (2007), Invocation, 250 x 150 cm, oil on canvas