Module 2 Ch 1

% Chapter objectives This chapter will: e outline a range of political, social and cultural rights, and discuss some ways in which they relate to business ethics; e discuss some features of the way that we tend to think about rights; e explain how stakeholding offers a basis for considering rights in business contexts; e highlight the need for businesses to consider the rights of affected stakeholders as well as those of influential stakeholders; e explain the importance placed on property rights in contemporary business contexts; e introduce contrasting perspectives on the relationship between property and labour. Introduction What do we mean when we use the word 'right'? We tend to use this word in two different ways when talking about ethics. On the one hand, we often say that some- thing is the right thing to do, meaning that it is the ethically correct thing to do. In such instances, 'right' is being used as an alternative to 'ethical' or 'moral'. Although 'right' is often used in this way, this is not the meaning that this chapter will discuss.
m Ethics Theory & Business Practice Instead, this chapter will focus on a more specific use of the word. It will explore what we mean when we say that someone has a right. When we talk about right or rights in this way we are referring to specific ethical entitlements that individuals or groups have. This usage of the word often crops up when people talk about ethics. For instance, we might speak of our 'right to know', our 'right to speak' or our 'right to be heard'. More generally, we often refer to 'human rights' in the belief that there are certain ethical entitlements that all people share, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or nationality. These human rights might include things like the right to life, the right to work or the right to be respected. A discourse of rights is also common in business contexts. Most large corporations have a lot to say about the emphasis they put on respecting the rights of people who come into contact with them. If you look at the social-responsibility pages of most firms" websites, you are likely to find declarations of the firm's commitment to respect- ing consumer rights, employee rights, shareholder rights and the rights of local communities. Meanwhile, critics of corporations also tend to talk about rights, often claiming that there is a discrepancy between what corporations say about respecting people's rights and what those corporations actually do. This chapter will explore the way that we speak about rights in more detail, con- sidering some of the implications of rights talk for business. The first part of the chapter will describe how rights have come to assume such a prominent place in Western society. It will also highlight some features of the way we usually think about rights. The second part of the chapter will introduce the notion of stakeholding as a way of thinking about rights and business. I will explore some ways in which stake- holder relationships may entail rights to consideration on the part of specific groups. I will also highlight the importance of companies taking the rights of all their stake- holders into account, not just the rights of their most-influential stakeholders. The chapter will end by considering a particular set of rights, which hold a prominent place in contemporary ethics debate, especially in business contexts: that is, property rights. T will introduce some contrasting ideas about property rights offered by John Locke and Karl Marx, outlining their relevance to business ethics. About rights theory This first section of the chapter will offer a brief overview of how contemporary, Western understanding of rights has evolved and how political, social and cultural rights might relate to business activity. I will say a little about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how it might offer a reference point for ethical business conduct. I will then describe some features of the way that we usually think about rights, drawing out some implications for business ethics.
Rights Theory: Considering Business Ethics in Terms of Stakeholder Rights The development of modern rights theory It is commonplace to talk about ethics in terms of rights nowadays. However, this has not always been so. Although the roots of the Western preoccupation with rights can be traced back over 2,000 years (Herbert, 2002; Campbell, 20006), it was not until the seventeenth century that explicit talk of rights began to shape our ethical understand- ing. Some commentators identify three stages in the evolution of rights theory since then. They speak of three 'generations', each of which has introduced different aspects to the way that we think about rights today. As Tom Campbell (2006) points out, we should use this three-stage classification with care, for trying to capture the evolution of any complex phenomenon in such simple terms runs the risk of over generaliza- tion. Nevertheless, the three-generation typology offers a helpful starting point for exploring some rights that we consider to be important today and for thinking about their relevance to business. I will therefore say a little about some key themes that emerged during each so-called 'generation', as well as outlining some ways in which these ideas can be applied to contemporary business ethics theory and practice. First generation: political rights Political rights relate to people's ability to have a say in how the communities within which they live and work are run, but they also concern broader aspects of people's treatment by those in positions of power. Words such as participation, justice, fairness, equality and freedom often crop up in discussions of political rights. Over the last few centuries, when people spoke of political rights they were usually talking about the relationship between the state and citizens. 'The state' in this context is a generic term used to refer to the individuals, groups and institutions that govern a nation. Political rights, thus understood, were a major inspiration for revolutionary events that took place in Europe and North America during the seventeenth and eight- eenth centuries (Almond, 1993; Freeman, 2002; Campbell, 2006; Mahoney, 2007). These included the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' in England, the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, each of which sought to limit the power of the state and grant political rights and a certain amount of economic autonomy to some of the citizens of those countries.' However, despite this early focus on controlling the power of the state, political rights are also relevant to business in a number of ways. For one thing, as Tom Campbell suggests, in a world that is increasingly shaped by corporate activity, 'the state is no longer seen as the only significant danger to the rights of the individual' 'Usually these rights were limited to wealthier, male citizens. Recognition of political rights for the poor and for female citizens has taken longer to establish.
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