“There really are [or are not] ‘absolutes’ upon which a universal truth can be based that can be applied for establishing ethical behavior in business. ” The world of business would be such a chaotic place sans universal truth that can be applied to establish ethical behavior. If they are no “absolutes” then everything else is relative; that state of being depends on how many factors and those factors include how one feels on a certain issue, the norms in a society that one lives in, the definition of right and wrong being subjective, and religious beliefs.
In the instance where an individual will act as they feel and not per universal absolute truth, then the individual may decide not to pay for the services rendered to them or merchandise that they procured because that is how the individual feels about the situation even if the renderer of service or seller may feel that they ought to be paid for their services or goods. They feelings in this case are only true to them and not the buyer as the buyer has a different feeling about the situation.
In the case where the norms of a society dictate the ethical behavior of a society, it would also mean that there is relative subjectivity to the whole notion of ethics as societies can have norms which are not at all right as seen in the case of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. The Hutus were a majority (85%)of the population and through political propaganda they were incited to kill the minority Tutsis (14%). 800,000 people were murdered in the name of tribal cleansing and at that point in time it was alright for a Hutu to kill a Tutsi as per what had become the norm.
The entire world condemned this sordid act even though it was relatively “right” in the Hutu society. This might sound extreme but it only shows us a norm in a society does not make it a right thing to be done. The same applies for business in that what is a norm for business in one society would be considered gross corruption in another and also what might mean integrity in one society would be condemned in another as lack of business acumen as in not being able to accept business opportunities regardless of how the can be obtained.
We cannot therefore base ethical behavior on societal norms and behaviors and not to say that they are not any of those norms that are acceptable and of very high standards that could very well be ethical, however the The definition of right or wrong if treated as relative subject will influence the way one perceives issues in terms of being ethical or unethical. When right and wrong is relative it means what might be right for one might just be wrong for me, there is no absolutes. A classical example is the Nigerian immigration as it purportedly used to be in past, this writer does not have first hand knowledge of the said instances.
It is said that when one travelled to Nigeria, one could not get their passport stamped by the immigration officer if they did not put some money in the passport. The officer would hand one back the passport and advise them that there is a ”page” missing in the passport. The “page” meant a dollar bill. For people who grew up in that tradition it was an expected thing to do and that was how it was supposed to be supposedly but for a foreigner, say an American, that would be so wrong a thing to do because in the USA, that is corrupting a public officer and that is a crime in itself that one could go to jail for.
There is the issue of religious beliefs and religion and lack thereof. It is said that religious beliefs help to foster stronger ethical behavior, as religions tend to be black and white on what is wrong and what is right. Yet there are different religions and needless to say the different religions have different sets of ideals whether it be ethics or morals. To highlight that is the tragic case of Sept11, 2011 when the USA was attacked by the Muslim terrorists.
These terrorists according to what they believed, they were doing the right thing and had been taught so that when they die like that they are martyrs of their religion and they will go to heaven for doing the will of their God. Beliefs in the different religions vary and notwithstanding those without any religion, it is reasonable to say that in this case it is relative as in what a person believes in. If there has to be consistency in any transaction of business, there therefore has to be absolutes upon which a universal truth can be based that can be applied for establishing ethical behavior.
It should not matter how one feels, what norms are in one’s society, how one defines right or wrong, and what one’s religious beliefs are. There are absolutely ethical elements in all the above that can be applied to all business ethics to enhance the ethical behavior but there definitely should be a standard that is universal and expected to be followed by all involved in business. It is so fundamental because it is the basis on which all business is going to be transacted upon. One cannot go into business with a partner who will run one out of business or someone who will not do what they say they will do and do it right.