Chapter 10 'Think Theory' answers

Civil Society and Business Ethics

 

THINK THEORY 1

Think about the stakes of non-human stakeholders such as animals or the environment from the perspective of utilitarianism. Would a non-human stake be given a lower valuation in cost-benefit analysis than a human stake? Think through this problem in the context of animal testing or the building of a new road in an area of high biodiversity.

Utilitarianism is human-centric by definition, so non-human stakes would certainly be given a lower evaluation in a cost-benefit analysis. The value ascribed to a non-human stake is likely to be calculated only as a function of its human utility. In terms of building a new road in an area of high biodiversity, this means that the value ascribed to the area itself receives a large discount, making the project more likely to go ahead. The extent to which the interests of non-human stakeholders are taken into account may therefore be limited to the extent to which skilful proxy stakeholders can engage with the process.

THINK THEORY 2

Think about violent direct action by CSOs in terms of consequentialism and non- consequentialism. Which is most important for the legitimacy of CSOs—that they achieve civil consequences or that they adopt civil procedures in doing so?

The divide here between consequentialism and non-consequentialism alters our findings regarding whether the consequences or procedures of a CSO determines its legitimacy.

According to a consequentialist analysis, violent direct action can be ethically justified if the outcomes are positive enough. According to a non-consequentialist analysis, such as a rights and justice approach, it is very difficult to justify an unelected, self-proclaimed, CSO contravening democratically elected laws to pursue its activism in a violent manner. The lack of civility in the procedures would render the group illegitimate no matter the significance of the outcomes.

THINK THEORY 3

Think about the arguments for and against the Facebook ‘Faceblock’ campaign. What ethical theories would you say these arguments primarily rely on?

The arguments for and against the ‘Faceblock’ campaign, which urges users to boycott Facebook for a day, can be strongly linked to utilitarian arguments, with arguments in favour and against the consequences of Facebook’s influence in society. For example, Facebook allows people to connect and communicate, is used for marketing which drives economic growth and arguably facilitates freedom of speech. However, it is accused of being addictive, increasing levels of social anxiety and selling individuals’ data so that they can targeted with advertisements.                                                                   

Facebook arguably has engaged in behaviour which some say is emblematic of their lack principles. For example, their involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal from the perspective of Ethics of Duty, or other deontological perspectives, suggests a lack of ethical conduct. Therefore, through the boycott, consumers are attempting to encourage Facebook to be more ethically principled, as well as punishing it for previous transgressions.  

THINK THEORY 4

Investigate the boycotts in Figure 10.2 and categorise them in terms of instrumental, catalytic expressive, and punitive boycotts. What explains the difference in objectives for CSOs?

 

Target company

Dates

Category of boycott (principal purpose)

ExxonMobil (Esso)

2001-4

Catalytic

PG Tips Tea

2004

Instrumental

Body Shop

2006

Instrumental/Expressive

BP

2012

Punitive

Chick-Fil-A

2012

Expressive

Facebook

2018

Punitive

At least three factors may explain the difference in objectives.

  • The nature of the organiser: There are great differences between civil society organizations. They have different organizational aims and cultures. Moreover, some boycotts are called by alliances.
  • The nature of the issue. Some issues may be more emotive than others and thus more amenable to different treatment.
  • The time-frame: the issue urgency and longevity probably play a role. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the longest-running boycott was catalytic.

THINK THEORY 5

Think about the relevance of stakeholder theory for CSOs compared with corporations. In which aspects is it more or less relevant or applicable for either category of organization?

The textbook’s definition of a stakeholder is, “an individual or a group which either: is harmed by, or benefits from, the [organization]; or whose rights can be violated, or have to be respected, by the [organization].” Unpacking this renders three distinct circumstances under which a person or group can be considered a stakeholder.

  • The organization harms the stakeholder given the nature of CSOs’ goals and activities, they should not have any stakeholders that fit into this category. Even if criticisms of CSO harm are valid, this category is less applicable to CSOs than companies. 
  • The stakeholder benefits from the organisation. Stakeholders that benefit from CSOs should include at least beneficiaries, employees, and the general public, plus some notion of civil society as a whole. Given the nature of CSOs, this seems likely to be a more relevant category of stakeholder than for corporations.
  • The organization can affect the rights of the stakeholder. Both CSOs and companies can affect the rights of their stakeholders, and it is not easy to see how this type of stakeholder is more or less applicable or relevant to one or the other type of organization.

THINK THEORY 6

Think about the idea that CSOs overseas are stakeholders in a business. How can companies effectively recognize the right CSOs as their stakeholders in an overseas context?

The section in Chapter 5 on managing stakeholder relations could inform students’ approach here. Notable is Mitchell et al’s (1997) discussion of the relationship aspects that determine stakeholder salience (power, legitimacy, urgency). Stakeholder salience tells us whether a stakeholder matters in a material sense: does the firm need to take them into account to best advance the firm’s strategy.

However, stakeholder salience shouldn’t be the only method of identifying CSOs as stakeholders, as some ethically urgent stakeholders lack power to such a degree that they are easy to dismiss, as they have little power to either punish or enable the firm. In these cases it is important to remember that business ethics is more than instrumental thinking: firms should also engage the CSOs that are impacted by firm decisions, as well as the CSOs that offer the best opportunities to solve social problems. 

THINK THEORY 7

Think about the theory of moral relativism in the context of global CSOs. Could there be a case for arguing that to be accountable to their local beneficiaries, CSOs have to adopt some level of relativism, or can they maintain a one-size-fits-all form of moral universalism?

There is no easy answer to this, but one response is the observation that this helps explain why there are so many high-level CSOs currently operating: on no major issue is there simply one or two major CSOs that take over the conversation. For instance, there are hundreds of well resourced environmental CSOs and thousands of well-resourced poverty CSOs. Part of this plurality is a sense that CSOs need to be responsive to local context, and this responsiveness can be challenging: not all people in all places agree, leading CSOs to often break up into new, different, groups.

This isn’t to say that moral relativism is inevitable, however: most large CSOs grant a certain amount of autonomy to national or regional member groups, thus permitting some local-level special responsiveness as well as greater local accountability. These CSOs nonetheless retain a set of core objectives and core values that set their overall agenda. Very few large international CSOs thrive by adopting a truly relativistic approach: at that point, what holds the movement together? Some level of balance between local responsiveness and universal values is usually on offer.

THINK THEORY 8

Think about the triple bottom line of sustainability and set out the various stakeholders that represent the different interests in the market for GM. Is it possible to determine which sustainability elements are deemed more legitimate (or are the most strongly represented) by the stakeholders involved?

 

Element of triple bottom line

Stakeholders with an interest

Example Sustainability Concerns

Economy

The food industry
National government
Local government
Development agencies
Farming groups and land-owners

  • Increased profit due to benefits of GM crops and foodstuffs
  • Economic impact of GM product

Environment

National environmental NGOs
International environmental NGOs
Local environmental groups
Local conservation groups

  • Environmental issues related to GM, e.g. accidental creation of ‘superweeds’
  • Alteration of ecosystems, biodiversity and food chains

Society

Local communities
Local community groups

  • Positive impact of GM foodstuffs on developing countries, e.g. in tackling malnutrition and poverty

It is nearly impossible to determine which of the elements of sustainability is more legitimate from the perspective of the various stakeholders. The concept of the triple bottom line, however, gives the three elements equal weight. In practice, the most noise has been made about the environment, so one could say that the environment is the most strongly represented of the three elements. This being said, ‘environmental’ stakeholders are divided amongst themselves, making this a very tricky issue. A solution would be to engage in a discourse ethics approach to generate acceptable norms on this emotive issue.