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Assessing the Compatibility of Business Ethics and Sustainable Development
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, Department of Earth Sciences.
2012 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Since 1987, the United Nations has promoted sustainable development as a form of

development that takes into account and balances economic, ecological, and social

considerations. To achieve sustainability, the United Nations has repeatedly required private

businesses—among other actors—to assume a broader set of social responsibilities. This is

though highly contested in the corporate world and among economists. To throw light on this

debate, the aim of this paper is to assess whether contemporary theories of business ethics are

compatible with the Brundtland notion of sustainable development. For that reason, the

responsibilities for sustainable development that corporations should assume are deduced

from the Brundtland Report; followed by an introduction to the field of business ethics and a

detailed discussion of major contemporary theories reflecting instrumental, integrative,

political, and ethical approaches to corporate social responsibility. By comparing the different

responsibilities the compatibility of sustainability with each discussed theory on business

ethics is assessed. This paper finds that the compatibility is low for instrumental theories,

moderate for integrative and political theories, and high for ethical theories on business ethics.

Nevertheless, ethical theories assume a normative perspective on sustainable development,

idealizing how corporations ought to act in a sustainable world. In reality, the world is far

from sustainability. This is not least a result of national economic and legal policies

maintaining conditions and structures that continue to promote globalization and free markets.

It is argued that the combination of fierce competition and corporations’ opportunities to take

advantage of weak legal systems in emerging and developing countries leads firms to further

subscribe to an instrumental approach to business ethics. It is suggested that international

politics develop a global legal framework based on sustainable development that provides

competitive conditions at arm’s length.

At the same time, recent management research is presented that suggests that corporations can

promote sustainability if they contribute solutions to the social and environmental problems of

our time. The pursuit of sustainability, therefore, results more from business opportunities

than from any ethical convictions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Sustainable development, business ethics, corporate social responsibility (CSR), shareholder value, stakeholder management, corporate citizenship
National Category
Natural Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-169037OAI: diva2:504934
Educational program
Master Programme in Sustainable Development
Life Earth Science
Available from: 2012-03-22 Created: 2012-02-22 Last updated: 2012-03-22Bibliographically approved

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