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Ethics at work: Two essays on the firm's moral responsibilities towards its employees
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, Philosophy.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1765-8987
2013 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Essay I analyses a sample of corporate codes in the Swedish banking sector. The purpose is to investigate the codes’ ethical status. Are they consistent with the values of fairness or are they instead at a risk of harming the employees? With regard to employees, eight of the nine codes in the material were found to (a) focus one-sidedly on their duties and responsibilities, (b) lack statements regarding their value to the firm, while carefully stating the importance of several other stakeholders, (c) have an anonymous or authoritarian tone, (d) say little regarding the substantial reasons why certain behaviour is forbidden or expected; some of the codes also (e) contained problematic freedom restrictions. The empirical investigation of code content and design leads us to the normative issue of whether such a design can be unfair and risks harming the employees. Departing from the values of equality, reciprocity, care and respect, eight of the nine codes are found to be at risk of being in conflict with these values. The socially responsible firm, which avoids risking employees’ welfare and self-respect, must consider rewriting such corporate codes.

Essay II seeks to provide a richer moral assessment of the transactions, offers and working conditions in the labour market. Some of the most influential accounts have focused on either the act of consent (Nozick), the background conditions (Peter) or the quality of the offers (Olsaretti). I argue that all these aspects are ethically relevant and necessary to make agreements morally justified. This leads me to the conclusion that (a) unreasonable offers remain ethically flawed regardless of employees’ consent and adequate background conditions; (b) the mere act of consent is, nonetheless, ethically valuable; (c) there exist different kinds of demands, affected differently by whether they are properly consented to. Then, in a well-ordered liberal democracy (which constitute the necessary background conditions), to ascertain whether a firm’s offers and working conditions are morally sound, we need to know both their quality (how reasonable they are) and whether they have been properly consented to. A firm ends up with three moral responsibilities: (i) not to exploit the workers’ disadvantaged position in the labour market, which requires that they are offered only reasonable proposals, (ii) to inform employees in the contract situation of all the relevant aspects and working conditions associated with the job, thereby enabling proper consent, and (iii) once the worker is employed, to only implement working conditions of the kind that are possible to justify and consistent with treating the employees as persons.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2013. , 42 p.
Theses in philosophy from the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1650-8831 ; 44
Keyword [en]
ethics, employees, consent, moral responsiblitiy, codes of ethics, philosophy
National Category
Philosophy, Ethics and Religion
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-129983ISBN: 978-91-7501-872-0OAI: diva2:654662
2013-10-28, 231, Teknikringen 78B, KTH, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)

QC 20131010

Available from: 2013-10-10 Created: 2013-10-07 Last updated: 2013-10-10Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Codes of ethics in the light of fairness and harm
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Codes of ethics in the light of fairness and harm
2013 (English)In: Business Ethics. A European Review, ISSN 0962-8770, E-ISSN 1467-8608, Vol. 22, no 2, 174-188 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Nine codes of ethics from companies in the Swedish financial sector were subjected to a content analysis to determine how they address and treat employees. The codes say a great deal about employee conduct and misconduct but next to nothing about employee rights, their rightful expectations or their value to the firm. The normative analysis echoing some of the value-based HRM literature draws on the foundational values of respect, equality, reciprocity and care. The analysis shows that most of the codes are in conflict with these values. Such a treatment is then in conflict with fairness and risks harming the employees. Some of the features that make these codes ethically problematic are typical of how corporate codes have been described in previous code studies. Consequently, the normative analysis reaches beyond the scope of this material and in the end, what is at stake, is a very typical code design.

Corporate Codes, Business Ethics, Conduct, Values, Justice, Choice, Market
National Category
Philosophy Economics and Business
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-120526 (URN)10.1111/beer.12017 (DOI)000316335500004 ()2-s2.0-84878323786 (ScopusID)

QC 20130411

Available from: 2013-04-11 Created: 2013-04-11 Last updated: 2013-10-10Bibliographically approved
2. Beyond coercion: moral assessment in the labour market
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Beyond coercion: moral assessment in the labour market
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

 Making moral assessments in the labour market has too often simply been a matter of distinguishing voluntary transactions from coercive ones. For example, some libertarians argue that consent alone makes le-gal transactions in the labour market voluntary and, therefore, morally justified. Some of their critics argue that such an act of consent is no guarantee against coercion. To know whether agreements are voluntary we need to assess the quality of these offers and the quality of the pre-vailing background conditions. To move beyond this stalemate I pro-pose a middle position where the question of voluntariness is put on hold. I argue that ‘libertarian’ consent confers a certain level of legiti-macy to the firm’s offers. However, for these offers to be morally justi-fied they must also possess another quality, though not the one that their critics have suggested; the offers need to be reasonable. Thus, the liber-tarian notion of consent is neither as flawed as its critics have argued nor sufficient to justify transactions in the labour market. An ethical frame-work is suggested which is rooted in a more convincing story of what is morally worrying with a labour market based on libertarian principles.


consent, labour market, moral assessment, legitimacy, wrong, exploitation, coercion
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-131266 (URN)

QS 2013

Available from: 2013-10-10 Created: 2013-10-10 Last updated: 2013-10-10Bibliographically approved

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