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COURSE NAME: "Business Ethics"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 8:30 AM 9:45 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: One previous course in Philosophy or Junior Standing. Co-requisite: EN 110
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11.15 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4.15-6 p.m.

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 and automation, the ideas of “social” responsibilities and “ethical” consumption, and the special dilemmas faced by multinational businesses. Issues will be studied through a selection of contemporary cases, issues, arguments, and approaches, along with much class discussion, with the aim of helping students to develop a familiarity with the issues and debates and their ability to discuss, reflect on, and defend their own ethical views.

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 and automation, the 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 issues and 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 you as individuals), the course combines aspects of these different approaches in the broader activity of developing your own reasoned views about the ethics of business.  


The course is divided into three main 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, over businesses’ responsibilities to society, and over government’s role in regulating business. For each of these debates, we will first study the main ethical ideas and arguments and then evaluate them in relation to 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 toconsumers, workers, and the environment in more depth, by studying some more specific and sophisticated issues, arguments, and cases. Here you will also participate in a more formal group debate in class, and prepare your second assignment based on it. 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%
ExercisesSince the exercises are intended to allow for free discussion, I will not assess the content of your contributions. Your grade for this assessment will be simply the percentage of times that you complete an exercise by 8 a.m. on the day of the relevant class, out of the total classes. You may also miss up to two exercises 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


1. Introduction to business ethics 


2. Introductory cases

Tuesday: Ben & Jerry’s                        

Thursday: Financial crisis 


3. Tuesday: GlaxoSmithKline and HIV

Thursday: Fracking and deepwater drilling  


4. Markets 

Tuesday: Freedom, welfare, and failures

Thursday: Amazon


5. Social responsibilities         

Tuesday: Concepts of social responsibility                            

Thursday: Apple, Patagonia, Starbucks         


6. Government regulations                             

Tuesday: Freedoms and fairness                    

Thursday: Healthcare + Writing workshop 


7. Review and preparation of first assignment


8. Consumers

Tuesday: Advertising                                    

Thursday: Attention and surveillance + Fast fashion workshop


9. Tuesday: Ethical consumption                                               

Thursday: Unhealthy food (debate) 


10. Workers

Tuesday: Pay 

Thursday: Good work  


11. Tuesday: Automation and UBI                                                        

Thursday: Farm work (debate) 


12. Sustainability

Tuesday: Valuing nature

Thursday: Business reasons                                           


13. Tuesday: Policy                                                                         

Thursday: Organic agriculture (debate)                                 


14. Review for final examination


15. Final examination


Basic bibliography


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

    Sternberg, “Ethical Misconduct and the Global Financial Crisis”


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. Carroll, “Carroll’s Pyramid of CSR” 

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


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”

    LiPuma and Robichaud, “Reforming the U.S. Healthcare System”


8. Machan, “Some Contrarian Reflections on Advertising”  

    Lovas, “Advertising: The Uninvited Guest”       
    Wu, “Blind Spot: The Attention Economy and the Law”

    Zuboff, “You Are Now Remotely Controlled”


9. Cassidy, “Individual Responsibility for Consumerism”  

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

    Freudenberg, At What Cost, ch. 2

    Conly, “Paternalism, Food, and Personal Freedom” 


10. Moriarty, “Do CEOS Get Paid Too Much?”    
     Gheaus and Herzog, “The Goods of Work (Other Than Money!)” 

     Graeber, Bullshit Jobs, extracts


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

     Rogers, “How Not to Argue for Basic Income”

     Doggett and Holmes, "Food Labor Ethics"

     Thompson, From Field to Fork, ch. 2


12. Jamieson, “Climate Change, Responsibility and Justice”

      Gardiner, “Is No One responsible for Global Environmental Tragedy?”

      Henderson, “Making the Business Case for Environmental Sustainability” 

      Berkey and Orts, “The Climate Imperative for Business”


13. Broome, “Do Not Ask for Morality”

      Singer, “One Atmosphere”

     Budolfson, “Food, the Environment, and Global Justice”

     Barnhill and Fanzo, “Nourishing Humanity without Destroying the Planet”