11.07.2019 in Economics

Business Ethics


One of the biggest debates in the contemporary business world relates to the question of whether morality matters in business or corporations are qualified as positive aspects. The second question relates to whether companies should merely concentrate on the maximization of shareholder returns in line with the law. The first question implies that companies should subscribe to moral standards in the same way as people. The second question, which appears myopic, suggests that companies should be merely players seeking the most benefits with no regard for moral features of the commercial activity. The paper addresses three questions relating to business ethics. The first question reflects the item of “Do not harm” principle and how it applies aspects such as amelioration of environmental pollution. The second question shows the different forms of whistle-blowing and the circumstances under which whistle-blowing is morally prohibited, permitted, and required. The third question analyzes the intellectual property, especially the difference between a copyright and a patent.


  • “Do not harm” principle

The “Do no harm” principle is broadly treated as a prima facie second-order moral responsibility binding on both corporations and individuals (De George 272). The “Do no harm” principle calls for avoidance of harm, at least to the degree to which it can be reasonably foreseen. Sometimes the maintenance of product safety and environmental protection may necessitate individuals do not follow the “Do no harm” principle justifiably so as to realize positive and assured aspects and achieve required goals (De George 273). For instance, the economic competition that leads to loss of money or business can be allowed despite harming some people since it is in the best interest of all.

“Do not harm” principle versus acceptable risk

People reasonably anticipate some level of safety which manufacturers can treat responsibly. Corporations bear the obligation to manufacture products that are safe as to the level of art that the product allows and demands. For instance, an electrical device that gives the user a shock each time the user plugs in is unacceptable. Therefore, the ordinary consumer is aware that devices can be manufactured that do not give shocks. The assessment of risk level depends on four conditions. First, individuals must be conscious of the consequences. Second, individuals must be aware of the nature and origin of the risk. Third, the person must know the degree of the risk, as well as how to address the risk. Fourth, the person must know the available alternatives if any (De George 275). The risk of harm or burden ought not to be higher relative to the ordinary life, which implies that individuals should not face risks that are greater than or supplementary to those ordinarily encountered. For instance, structural failures owing to faulty engineering or the utilization of substandard materials draw from unethical conduct, which means that the harm is attributable to the builder.

Difference between corporate liability and strict liability

Manufacturers are liable in case of criminal deeds or omissions for the management that leads to harm. The corporate liability determines the responsibility of a corporation for its employees’ actions. The liability applies to all injuries proximately perpetrated by a corporation conducting an intrinsically dangerous activity devoid of regard to negligence or fault. Hence, negligence is irrelevant, and a mistake of fact does not constitute a defense. By contrast, the strict liability constitutes a legal doctrine, rather than a moral doctrine. Consequently, a corporation that is held strictly culpable under the law cannot be held morally answerable granted that the company was unconscious of the damage occasioned by the product’s use (De George 279). According to the strict liability consumers merit recompense for faulty products but not for incidental harm.

Application of the “Do no harm” principle in the amelioration of pollution

The destruction of the environment indirectly influences people since they constitute a part of the environment. People need and rely on the clean and safe environment (De George 273). The harm principle applies to actions and omissions that harm others, which implies that corporate activities must yield to harm if it is to be prohibited. The harm principle inspires individuals and corporations to be responsible and mindful of the environment. Corporate entities must avoid illegal and immoral activities of dumping pollutants and untreated waste into the environment.

  • Types of whistle-blowing

The term whistle-blowing describes a broad range of activities that are divergent from a moral point of view: one who discloses malpractice in an organization to the public and authorities. The term also refers to one who reveals information regarding misconduct in the workplace that contravenes the law or endangers other people’s lives. Lastly, the term refers to one who speaks out mainly to expose corruption or hazards to the public or environment (De George 301).
The first type of whistle-blowing encompasses non-governmental whistle-blowing involving employees in profit-making entities, who for moral reasons, leak information in hope that the company products will be made safer or practice altered. The whistle-blower may make public information on a faulty product, or the failure to observe safety or state of the art standards (De George 301).
Governmental whistle-blowing occurs when a government employee leaks information to the media or an investigative bureau. The whistle-blowers may report aspects as fraud against the government in the form of cost overruns (De George 300). Personal whistle-blowing is morally allowed, but not morally required, unless there is immediate danger presented to others (De George 301). Whistle blowing can also be anonymous where the employee declines to reveal his or her identity or choose to use a pseudo name. By contrast, identified whistle-blowing occurs when an employee reports wrongdoing using his or her name.

Arguments in support of whistle-blowing as morally permissible

Whistle-blowing is morally permissible. It provides certain standards to be satisfied. For example, the company via its policy or products can cause serious and significant harm to the employees or the public, whether in the consumer, an innocent bystander or the general public (De George 306). Second, whistle-blowing may be morally justified in case the employees show a severe threat to the user of a certain product or the general public and report the threat to the immediate superior and render the moral concern known. Third, whistle-blowing is morally justified if the employee’s immediate superior fails to tackle the concern or complaint. Hence, the employee must exhaust the internal procedures and possibilities in the firm, which necessitates taking up the matter up the managerial ladder (De George 309).

Argument in support of whistle-blowing as not morally permissible

The notion that whistle-blowing under certain conditions is morally permitted does not necessarily oblige any obligation on an employee to blow the whistle externally. The perception that whistle-blowing is an instance of disobedience to the corporation yield the conclusion that whistle-blowing can sometimes be morally wrong (De George 306). Whistle-blowing is not morally permissible if the whistle-blower lacks a reasonable belief of the misconduct, or possible misconduct exists. The failure to make known the moral concern may also render the whistle-blowing unjustifiable.

Circumstances under which whistle blowing is morally required

In order for whistle-blowing to be morally required, other conditions (in addition to reasons that make whistle-blowing morally permissible) must be met. Therefore, the whistle-blower ought to have access to documented evidence that would persuade a reasonable, impartial observer that the employee’s view of the situation is correct, and the entity’s product or practice presents a severe and probable threat to the public or the product users (De George 310). In addition, the employees must possess sound reasons to believe that by going public the critical changes will be delivered (De George 310). The moral requirement of whistle-blowing highlights the need for the provision of effective legal safeguards for employees and the institution of anti-retaliation policy.

  • Types of property

Property can be divided into four categories such as tangible, real, intangible, and intellectual property. Tangible property exists physically, for example, building. Ownership of tangible property has certain rights concerning the item. The holder of the tangible property has the right to sell, trade, destroy, discard, or otherwise dispose of the property.
Real represents the property that cannot be moved including anything erected or affixed to the land. Although, people can claim the right to the exclusive usage of the real property and the right to utilize the real property more or less as they desire. There are limitations on the utilization that people can make use of the property. Hence, the collection or rights related to real property overlap.
Intangible property, on the other hand, lacks physical reality that grants the owner certain benefits such as money, bonds, stocks, and intellectual property. Intangible property differs from tangible property in the sense that face value or equivalent amount that matters rather than the physical bills or the serial numbers of the bills. Since the value in intangible property cannot be touched, the bundle of rights is distinct concerning intangible property compared to real and tangible property.
The fourth category of the property encompasses intellectual property, which is constituted by a bundle of rights directing products of the mind or intellect such as ideas, inventions, discoveries, or expression of ideas. Intellectual property can be shared with others devoid of losing any part of the property. For instance, if one steals a car, the owner of the car no longer uses the car. In contrast, if one steals an idea, the “owner” of the idea has full use of the idea, but he or she faces difficulties in proving the exclusiveness of the stolen idea. There are four ways of safeguarding intellectual property such as trade secrecy, trademarks, patent, and copyright. The mentioned ways determine the rights of intellectual property’s owner.

The distinction between a copyright and a patent

The copyright law grants the copyright owner exclusive rights over the reproduction and display of copyrighted material, as well as the distribution and public performance of the work (De George 437).  Copyright, which contains both economic and moral rights (that can be waived, but not assigned to others), safeguard the expression of ideas including artistic works such as songs, paintings, books, computer programs, and movies. The legal doctrine of fair use allows one to copy some or all of the work provided that it is for personal rather than commercial use. Patents, on the other hand, cover not the expression of ideas, but rather inventions, processes, machines or composition of matter (De George 438). A patent bars others from making, utilizing or selling the invention. Patents differ from copyrights in the sense that patents protect ideas and not mere expressions of the ideas. As such, patent holders award temporary monopoly of exploitation of the invention that can be perceived as a financial incentive for the invention (De George 451). The rationale for providing both copyright and patent protection draws from consideration of justice and utilitarian considerations.

Ways in which computer programs qualify as a patent or as a copyrightable property

Computer programs can be protected through the use of patents (as is the case of Japan) and copyrights (as is the case of the US) (De George 443). Copyright protection awards a copyright owner a bundle of certain rights based on the kind of work involved. Case law has largely categorized computer programs as falling in the statutory definition of copyrightable material in the group of literary works, rather than works of creative origin (De George 446). As such, it is a contravention of the copyright to share programs with others or use programs in more than the computers that the license specifies. The bulk of computer-based inventions are patentable; however, patent protection cannot be derived from inventions that fail to satisfy the present test of the patentable subject matter. In order to be patentable, computer programs ought to satisfy the patent test of non-obviousness.

Difference between computer programs as patent or copyrightable property

Copyright applies to computer software by protecting the form of expression (source and object code) from close imitation or duplication. Copyright may also be applied to the computer program’s sequence, structure, and organization, as well as elements of user-interface. However, copyright protection cannot protect the underpinning functions, ideas, methods, systems or algorithms, as well as the independent creation of the same or analogous program. In order for a computer program to be patentable, the inventions ought to comprise of patentable subject matter and be capable of industrial application. In addition, the program must be novel, involve an inventive step (non-obvious), and the disclosure ought to be meet formal and substantive standards (De George 438).

Case scenario: the legal owner of a computer program written using employer resources

Since the program was developed on company time and using company resources, the program is both job-related and can legitimately be regarded as part of its job, which means that the program legally belongs to the company. It is unethically and illegal for an employer to claim products that the employee has created using his or her own time and another resource. As such, the employee cannot take the program with him/her to a new job (De George 446). Since the employee was paid by the company and utilized the company’s resources to produce the program, the work belongs to the company, irrespective of whether the program is used at the workplace.


Corporations possess a moral obligation not to do harm. The moral obligation falls on the company, as well as those who manage the company. Corporations should manufacture products that are reasonably safe and meet the standards that the public can reasonably expect in light of the engineering art. Similarly, manufacturers are morally obliged not to endanger consumers of their products deliberately and warn the consumers of potential harm from the utilization or misuse of their products.
Overall, whistle-blowers are utilitarian, altruistically motivated individuals. The notions as to whether whistle-blowing is worthy or unjustified partly hinges on the outcome; if whistle-blowing fails to deliver anything, then blowing the whistle can be considered as the wrong decision. Whistle-blowing is morally obligated if a reasonable belief or evidence of misconduct is based on first-hand knowledge. The misconduct, in this case, must seriously contravene the law or yield to severe financial, psychological, physical harm or breach of fundamental moral rights.
An analysis of the literature reveals that the line between computer software (programs) and computer hardware (the physical computer) remains blurred. Both patent law and copyright law are applicable to the protection of computer programs. Computer software is the proper subject for patent protection in the same way as other inventions. The owner of an invention or author of a work invests significant amounts of time, money, and resources into the final product; hence, it would be unjust for someone else to profit simply from the product and rob the original creator the benefits of his or her creation.

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