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COURSE NAME: "Business Ethics"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:00-4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8.30-10 a.m. and 1.30-3 p.m.

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 posed 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.

The course is divided into three parts. In the first part, 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’ responsibilities to society, and the government’s role in regulating business. For each of these debates, we will study first the main ethical ideas and arguments and then a specific, representative case or cases. Following this second part of the course, you will prepare your first written assignment. In the third part of the course, we will examine businesses’ responsibilities to consumers, to workers, and to the environment in more depth, by studying some more specific and sophisticated issues, theories, and cases. Here you will also prepare your second assignment, based on a more formal group debate in class. 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 lectures, seminar discussions, small group work, debates, 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 three posts unexcused, without this affecting your grade. 10%
First written assignmentThe first 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 Thursday of week 6 and the assignment must be submitted by Friday of week 7. 20%
Group debateYou will prepare a critical study of an argument regarding the food industry, bad jobs, or tourism in the third part of the course. You will develop this study initially in a small group, which will participate in a formal debate with another group in class. Your group’s performance in the debate will be evaluated according to the understanding, analytical and critical thinking, and research displayed and the structure, supports, and delivery of the arguments. Each member of the group will receive the same debate grade. 10%
Critical studyYour second written assignment will be a critical study of the argument regarding the food industry, bad jobs, or tourism which you debate in class. It will be evaluated according to the same criteria of explanation, discussion, and presentation as the first assignment. This assignment will be 1600-1800 words in length and should be submitted within two weeks of the group debate. 20%
Final examination The questions for the cumulative final examination will be distributed on Thursday 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 sickness, 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: Freedom, welfare, and failures       

                        Thursday: Amazon                                                            

Week 5:           Social responsibilities         

                        Tuesday: Concepts of social responsibility                 

                        Thursday: Starbucks and Apple

Week 6:           Government                          

                        Tuesday: Freedom and fairness                       

                        Thursday: Healthcare   

Week 7:           Review and preparation of first assignment

Part III. Stakeholders

Week 8:           Consumers                                                                                     

                        Tuesday: Advertising                      

                        Thursday: Attention

Week 9:           Tuesday: Ethical consumption  

                        Thursday: Food industry (debate)                            

Week 10:         Workers                         

                        Tuesday: Pay                      

                        Thursday: Good work

Week 11:         Tuesday: Artificial intelligence

                        Thursday: Bad jobs (debate)

Week 12:         Environment                 

                        Tuesday: Green business

                        Thursday: The business case                                               

Week 13:         Tuesday: Policy solutions

                        Thursday: Tourism (debate)

Week 14:         Review for final examination

Basic bibliography

Below is a selection of the basic readings and other materials that you will be expected to study for each class, arranged by week. These and supporting materials will be provided on the class website.

2. Page and Katz, “The Truth About Ben and Jerry’s”

    B Corporation, “Ben & Jerry’s Impact Assessment”

    Ferguson (dir.), Inside Job

    Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, ch. 8

3. AVERT, “HIV and AIDS in East and Southern Africa”

    GlaxoSmithKline, “HIV, AIDS and ViiV Healthcare”

    Stanford Rural West Initiative, An Unquiet Landscape

    Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Deep Water, ch. 10

4. Friedman, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”     

    Heath, “A Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics”    

5. Evan and Freeman, “A Stakeholder Theory of the Modern Corporation” 

    Yunus et al, “Reaching the Rich World’s Poorest Consumers”

    Starbucks, Global Responsibility Report 2018                 

    Maitland, “The Great Non-Debate over International Sweatshops”

6. Feinberg, Harm to Others, “General introduction,” §§ 2-4, and ch. 3, § 4, extracts

    Rawls, Justice as Fairness, §§ 13.1-2, 14.3, and 16.1                                              

    Powell and Laufer, “The Promises and Constraints of Consumer-Directed Healthcare”     

    Oberlander, “Between Liberal Aspirations and Market Forces”

8. Machan, “Some Contrarian Reflections on Advertising”

    Lovas, “Advertising: The Uninvited Guest”       

    Wu, “Blind Spot: The Attention Economy and the Law”  

    Ibarra et al, “Should We Treat Data as Labor?”      

9. Lawford-Smith, “Unethical Consumption and Obligations to Signal”    

    Cline, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion, chs. 4 and 5

    Brownell and Warner, “Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died: How Similar Is Big Food?”

    Freudenberg, Legal but Lethal, ch. 1                                                                 

10. Moriarty, “Do CEOS Get Paid Too Much?”    

     Heath, “On the Very Idea of a Just Wage”             

     Gheaus and Herzog, “The Goods of Work (Other Than Money!)” 

     Clark, “Good Work” 

11. Brynjolfsson and McAfee, The Second Machine Age, chs. 9-11 and 14, extracts 

      Danaher, “Will Life Be Worth Living in a World Without Work?” 

      Graeber, Bullshit Jobs, extracts

12. McDonough and Braungart, Cradle to Cradle, pp. 17-19, 21-28, 32-42, 72-82, and 89-91        

      Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins, “A Roadmap for Natural Capitalism”                   

      Henderson, “Making the Business Case for Environmental Sustainability”

      Esty and Winston, Green to Gold, ch. 12

13. Singer, “One Climate” 

     Posner and Weisbach, Climate Change Justice, chs. 1, 2, and 6, extracts    

     Lansing and De Vries, “Sustainable Tourism: Ethical Alternative or Marketing Ploy?”          

     Honey, Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, ch. 2