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COURSE NAME: "Business Ethics "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2017

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 10:00-11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing
OFFICE HOURS: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1.30-3 pm, or by appointment

This course considers some of the most important ethical issues in business today. Students will examine such issues as businesses’ responsibilities to shareholders, workers and consumers, the pros and cons of a "free market," the challenges raised by globalization and environmental destruction, the idea of  "ethical" consumption, and the particular dilemmas faced by Western businesses working in foreign countries. Issues will be studied through a selection of contemporary cases, arguments, and broader theories, along with much class discussion, with the aim of helping students develop a familiarity with the issues and the ability to discuss and defend their own opinions.

This course examines some of the most important ethical issues in business today, such as businesses’ responsibilities to workers, consumers, and investors, the pros and cons of ‘free markets’, the challenges raised by environmental damage, gender discrimination, and the internet, ideas of ‘social’ responsibilities and ‘ethical’ consumption, and the special dilemmas faced by multinational businesses. We will study these issues through a selection of contemporary cases, issues, arguments, and approaches, along with much class discussion, with the aim of helping you to develop a familiarity with the debates and your ability to discuss, reflect on, and defend your own ethical views. Thus, rather than focusing exclusively on ‘strategy’ (the instrumental management of ethical issues by business), ‘theory’ (the study of abstract ethical principles, then ‘applied’ to cases), or ‘virtue’ (the moral improvement of individuals), the course combines aspects of these different approaches in the broader activity of developing your own views about the ethics of business.  

In the first part of the course, we will study and discuss four introductory cases, to start you thinking about some key questions in business ethics. Then, in the second part, we will explore three fundamental debates: over the ethics of free markets, businesses’ social responsibilities, and the government’s role in regulating business. For each of these debates, we will study the main ethical ideas and arguments as well as a specific, representative case. You will then prepare your first written assignment. In the third part of the course, we will develop more specific analyses by focusing on six specific fields: consumption, work, finance, media, the environment, and international business. Here we will study some more specific and sophisticated theories and some more complex cases and issues, and you will undertake a research project, first for a group presentation and then in preparing your second assignment. Finally, at the end of the course there will be a cumulative exam.


More specifically, by the end of the course you will be able to:

• recognize and analyze ethical issues raised by contemporary businesses in their relations with consumers, shareholders, workers, wider communities, government, and the environment;
• analyze relevant recent cases, along with specific positions and arguments regarding them;
• analyze and employ broader theoretical approaches, concepts, and debates, in business ethics;
• develop informed, reasoned positions regarding these issues, cases, and broader theoretical aspects;
• explain and analyze course material orally and in written forms, and in individual and group contexts;
• make appropriate use of original and academic resources and undertake guided research work.


Class participationClasses will involve a mixture of lecturing, seminar discussions, group presentations, and other activities. The emphasis will be on helping you to develop your own opinions and arguments and your ability to discuss them with others, as well as your understanding of the materials, issues and relevant ethical concepts and arguments. Your active involvement in discussions and other class activities, based on adequate preparation outside class, is therefore essential. 20%
Class forum contributionsSince the class forum is intended to allow for free discussion, I will not assess the content of your posts. Your grade for this assessment will be simply the percentage of times that you post on time, out of the possible total posts. You may also miss up to two posts unexcused without this affecting your grade. 10%
Mid-term assignmentThe mid-term written assignment will be a ‘take-home’ assignment of 1400-1600 words, written in response to one of a selection of questions which I will provide. I will distribute the questions on Wednesday of week 6 and the assignment must be submitted by Friday of week 7.20%
Research projectYour second assignment will be based on a research project undertaken in the third part of the course. This project will concern a topic either chosen from among those suggested by me or developed from your own particular interests. After undertaking and presenting your research work in a small group (see ‘Project presentation’ below), you will develop it into your final written assignment, in response to a question agreed with me. If you wish, half of the assignment may be a critique of another student’s assignment on a related topic. This assignment will be 1600-1800 words in length and should be submitted within two weeks of the group presentation.20%
Project presentationYour research work on a topic in the third part of the course will be done initially in a small group, which will present its findings to the class. These group presentations will be evaluated according to the research, understanding, and analytical and critical thinking displayed and the structure, supports, and delivery of the presentation. Each member of the group will receive the same presentation grade. 10%
Final examination The cumulative final examination will consist of an essay written over an hour and a half under examination conditions. The questions will be distributed on Wednesday of week 13 and at the examination, which will take place in week 15, you will be given a selection of these questions to choose one from. 20%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the cou
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


A maximum of two unexcused absences from class will be accepted. Beyond this, a zero grade will be given for each unexcused absence, bringing your average grade down. It is your responsibility to inform me if you miss or cannot participate fully in a class for a good reason. Good reasons include illness, unavoidable appointments, religious holidays, and transport strikes, but not trips, guests, or malfunctioning alarm clocks. Note that arriving late to class, leaving for lengthy ‘toilet breaks’, and using a laptop or mobile phone in class also count as ‘unexcused absences’.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Class schedule and topics

Week 1:           Introduction to business ethics

Part I. Introductory cases 

Week 2:           Tuesday: Ben & Jerry’s                                                                      

                        Thursday: Financial crisis

 Week 3:          Tuesday: GlaxoSmithKline and AIDS 

                        Thursday: Fracking and deepwater drilling

Part II. Contemporary debates

Week 4:           Free markets                                                                            

                        Tuesday: For and against markets      

                        Thursday: Walmart                                                           

Week 5:           Social responsibilities         

                        Tuesday: Concepts of social responsibility                 

                        Thursday: Starbucks

Week 6:           Government                          

                        Tuesday: Fairness                       

                        Thursday: Healthcare reform  

Week 7:           Review and preparation of mid-term assignment + Project work preparation

Part III. Specific fields

Week 8:           Consumers                                                                                     

                        Tuesday: Choices and advertising                      

                        Thursday: Industrial food + Fast food

Week 9:           Workers

                        Tuesday: Fairness, respect, and participation  

                        Thursday: Pay levels + Working in the U.S.                             

Week 10:         Finance                         

                        Tuesday: Shareholder priority?                       

                        Thursday: Digital currency + Financial regulation

Week 11:         Media

                        Tuesday: Sex and violence

                        Thursday: Internet privacy and piracy + News

Week 12:         The environment                 

                        Tuesday: Sustainability

                        Thursday: Genetic engineering + Green business                                               

Week 13:         International business                    

                        Tuesday: Multinationals and global trade

                        Thursday: Corruption + Tourism

Week 14:         Review for final examination

Basic bibliography

Below is a selection of the basic readings, online materials, and documentaries that you will be expected to study for each class, arranged by week and class. These and supporting materials will be provided on the class website or in class and detailed references to all materials will also be given on the class website.

2. Ethical Consumer, ‘Swallowed Up’                                                                                               

   Page and Katz, ‘The Truth About Ben and Jerry’s’

   Economic Policy Institute, ‘An Investment, Not a Bailout’                                                 

   The Economist, ‘Saving Detroit is a Mistake’                                                       

3. AVERT, ‘AIDS, Drug Prices and Generic Drugs’                                                                

    Gray (dir.), Fire in the Blood

    Stanford University Rural West Initiative, An Unquiet Landscape                          

    Sierra Club, ‘Ending Our Dependence on Oil’ 

4. Friedman, ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits’                               

    Cassidy, How Markets Fail

    Greenwald (dir.), Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices                                                       

    Hemphill, ‘Demonizing Wal-Mart: What Do the Facts Tell Us?’

5. Evan and Freeman, ‘A Stakeholder Theory of the Modern Corporation’                           

    Donaldson and Dunfee, ‘The Social Contract for Business Ethics’    

    Starbucks, Global Responsibility Report 2014                                                                                   

    Global Exchange, ‘Starbucks Campaign’

6. Rawls, A Theory of Justice                                                                                                              

    Simmons, ‘Pathological Politics: An Anatomy of Government Failure’    

    Kaiser Foundation, ‘Health Reform’                                                                                            

    Herzlinger, ‘Healthcare Reform and its Implications for the U.S. Economy’

8. Smith, ‘The Consumer Sovereignty Test’                                                                                     

    Kilbourne, Can’t Buy My Love                                                                                    

    Soechtig (dir.), Fed Up                                                                                                            

    Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma  

    Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox                                                                                                       

    Nestle, Food Politics

9. Bowie, ‘A Kantian Approach to Business Ethics’                                                                            

    Orlando, ‘The Fourth Wave: Corporate Downsizing’   

    Maitland, ‘The Great Non-Debate over International Sweatshops’                                                

    Duhigg and Barboza, ‘In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad’

    Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch                                                                       

    Moretti, The New Geography of Jobs

10. Boatright, ‘What’s So Special About Shareholders?’                                                                    

      Norman, ‘The Financial Theory of the Firm’                                   

      Bakan (dir.), The Corporation                                                                                           

      Schwartz, ‘The “Ethics” of Ethical Investing’

      Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics                                                                                      

      Davies, The Financial Crisis: Who is to Blame?

11. Valdivia, ‘What Can We Get Away With?’                 

      Gordon and Kitross, ‘Violence and Pornography’

      Morozov, ‘Saving Face’   

      Solove, ‘Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have “Nothing to Hide”’

      McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy    

      Jones, Losing the News

12. Hawken, ‘A Roadmap for Natural Capitalism’                                                               

      Garvey, The Ethics of Climate Change

      Rauch, ‘Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?’                                                                    

      Bostrom and Roache, ‘Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement’      

      McDonough, Cradle to Cradle                                                                                     

      Esty and Simmons, The Green to Gold Business Playbook

13. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree                                                                             

     Crane and Matten, ‘Corporate Citizenship’    

     Shaw, ‘Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’                                                                            

     Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Google and Saving Face in China’                  

     Holloway, The Business of Tourism                                                                                                    

     Honey, Ecotourism and Sustainable Development