Call for Papers: Journal of Business Ethics on Historic Corporate Responsibility

This post is part of an invited series, in an effort to share ethics-related opportunities, news, and projects lead by AOM Divisions, Committees, and members.
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Sins of the Fathers:
Organizations and Historic Responsibility
by Robert A. Phillips, Judith Schrempf-Stirling and Christian Stutz

What are the responsibilities of current managers and the organizations they lead for the actions of long ago predecessors? When historians found that forebears of the U.S. bank Wachovia owned slaves, Ken Thompson, chairman and chief executive officer in 2005, publicly apologized stating, “On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent“. Wachovia has not been the only company – or even the only bank – to publicly apologize for its history. That same year, J.P. Morgan Chase issued an apology and announced it would provide a $5 million scholarship fund for its role in owning slaves who were used as loan collateral.

In 2011, German fashion company Hugo Boss apologized for its use and harsh treatment of forced labourers during World War II. The company’s public statement stressed “its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule.”  Nor is this limited to for profit corporations. In 2017, Yale announced it would rename Calhoun College due to John C. Calhoun’s active support of slavery. While history is in the past, it remains very much in the present. Examples like these raise fundamental questions about the historical actions of organizations and the related responsibility in the present.

We share our history in the form of stories and narratives when we talk about the foundation, origins, developments, changes, and goals of our organizations. Those stories form and express identity and legitimize current activities. Our stories co-create our collective organizational memory. However, stories and narratives are substantially subjective. Due to their own past and experiences and current position, individuals will have different takes on historical and current events – that is, history can be contested. Even when we experience the same event, this does not mean that we think or talk about it in the same way. Different narratives can co-exist about the very same historical events. History, as such, can be a powerful tool. These narratives can be, and often are, used strategically. Non-governmental organizations or activists might (mis-)use history for moralizing purposes to receive greater public attention and support. Corporations may manipulate how the public views past events by sharing only part of the story or discrediting other narratives. Often these organizations are also the stewards of the very documents and artefacts needed to inform our readings of history. Of course, some level of interpretation and selectivity is unavoidable. Examining an organization’s past, how that past is interpreted in the present, and how these sometimes contested interpretations influence today’s managers and organizational stakeholders present fascinating scholarly possibilities.

To provoke and promote deeper examination, we have launched a call for papers for a special issue in Journal of Business Ethics on Historic Corporate Responsibility in which we encourage scholars to consider some of the following pressing questions in relation to organizations and their histories:

  • Can organizations be responsible for the actions of prior generations of leaders and members?
  • What, if anything, can current leaders do to recognize, mitigate or limit responsibility today for past actions?
  • What can leaders today do to affect how they and their organizations are seen in the future? What role can concerns for legacy have in influencing current decisions?
  • What, if any, effect do attempts at re-organization (e.g., acquisition, mergers, bankruptcy, re-branding, changes in leadership, etc.) have on responsibility?
  • Is there a limit to how far back the claims of historic responsibility can go?
  • What would adequate restitution look like? To whom and in what form and magnitude? Can an organization be forgiven? Can an organization apologize and who can accept it?
  • What are the boundaries of past and current organizations? Are there affiliational responsibilities from the past?
  • Who can legitimately speak for the past?
  • What is the role of forgetting and selective memory?
  • What, if any, duty do organizations have to be transparent about their past?
  • Should stigma attach to individuals who were participants in past transgressions? How do we define participants?

Many of our colleagues have been hard at work for many decades within the Academy of Management, particularly within the Management History Division. Tremendous potential remains, however, for exploring how the past continues to affect the sorts of questions that have historically (ahem) been considered part of other domains of the Academy.

Communities of Practice Fostering Moral Strength in the Workplace: An Example in Silicon Valley

by Leslie E. Sekerka, Ph.D.
Menlo College, Atherton, CA

Communities of Practice (CoP) are an important means of sharing information and fostering development among business ethicists. An exemplary model of a particularly effective CoP is the Business Ethics Partnership at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics in the Silicon Valley. The design of this CoP is specifically geared toward the promotion of collaborative discourse between executives and scholars. Meeting throughout the year, members and visiting guests increase their knowledge about how to effectively manage ethics in their own organizations. Founded in 2003, the group includes business leaders, academics, and practitioners who share a common goal of honing ethics and compliance practices and processes. Together, partners work to advance the state of business ethics by sharing common solutions and ideas, as they explore innovative ways of achieving ethical strength in the workplace. Partners have the advantage of efficiency and effectiveness, exchanging knowledge, keeping up with ethics education and policy news, and collaboratively working to address new and emerging ethical challenges.

Recently the CoP focused on how to cultivate productive discourse toward addressing discrimination and microagression in a proactive manner. Offering insights, Leslie Sekerka, Professor of Management and Ethics in Action Center Director at Menlo College (Atherton, CA), presented a workshop entitled “Fortifying Workplace Respect through Balanced Experiential Inquiry (BEI).” Partners and guests engaged in an adult learning process (BEI) to better understand and address Islamophobia and anti-Muslimism and other forms of discrimination. Dr. Sekerka underscored the critical nature of diverse work environments that encourage respect for all. Although a thoughtful regard for others is often assumed, this requires work to become an realized and sustained. Without respect, friction among coworkers can lead to ethical issues of discrimination, contributing to inequality and a lack of civility. The professor led the BEI session while also providing insights about how to conduct the process itself. Robert Shanklin, a philosophy lecturer at SCU (Santa Clara, CA), helped participants understand how seemingly little things —a string of offhand remarks or common assumptions— can lead to unhealthy cultures and even lawsuits. Participants in this session worked together to better understand how micro-aggressions can contribute to corporate culture problems and to consider how responses to such negativity can be more effective and ethically appropriate.

In all, the gathering helped members practice the use of tools that will help them lead and foster mindful awareness and respect toward others in their respective workplace environments. Participants left the session with a sense of how to respond to ethical challenges with moral courage through the use of specific moral competencies, skills that enable people to address
ethical issues like anti-Muslimism, with compassion and care.

Additional resources:
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business ethics/programs/business-ethics- partnership/
http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319180892
http://www.innovativelearning.com/teaching/communities_of_practice.html

What are we professors to do? Are we better than VW?

As members of the Academy, we each hold responsibility in upholding our professional ethics. Once the ‘egg is broken’, it will be very hard to re-establish public confidence. VW, for instance, will undoubtedly have a long road in convincing the public that their organization acts in an ethically responsible way. While the public seemed to quickly forgive GM for their ignoring a faulty ignition problem, they are less willing to forgive systemic premeditated corruption. We have seen the flashback from the American Psychological Association regarding members advising how best to conduct torture having an impact on their community. In short, many of these professional ethical issues have a way of impacting our field for the long run.

In the last posting, Greg Stephens AOM’s ombudsperson outlined a range of issues they examine, with instructions regarding how to proceed should you have a professional ethics dilemma. They do a fantastic job, often behind the scenes, and we should be very appreciative of their hard work.

Of course, these issues are primarily only of relevance to things that happen in and around the Academy of Management. If you observe something at another conference, or at a non-AOM sponsored journal, well, there may be few if any options for you to pursue.

An AOM recent censure ruling, the first I ever recall seeing, included sanctioning an academy member. A member had submitted a previously published paper for consideration at the upcoming Annual Meeting. The ruling was as follows:

The final sanctions include disqualification from participation in Academy of Management activities (including but not limited to submission to the conference, participation on the conference program, serving the Academy or any of its Divisions or Interest Groups in an elected or appointed role, or submission to any of the Academy of Management journals) for a period of three (3) years, public notice of the violation through publication in the AcadeMY News; formal notification to the journal where the work was previously published, and ethics counseling by the Ombuds Committee.

Seeing a public and formal sanction is a good professional start, and I applaud our organization for taking the trouble to demonstrate that we have professional limits that should be honored. However, what if the member were found to have done the same thing at, say, EGOS, or BAM? Of what about someone who submits a paper simultaneously to two different journals for review? Would the consequences be the same? Likely not.

It would seem to me that we would all benefit from a larger professional ‘tent’ whereby public notice of violations and censure were more systematically discussed. I find it very odd that, out of 20,000 members, it is so rare for us to have a public censure (this is the first I am aware of – although there may have been other non-public consequences). Every year I hear of multiple cases of doctors and lawyers getting disbarred.  The odds are presumably the same for our profession, but the consequences far less, and the frequency of public humiliation quite rare. This would only provide incentives to engage in unprofessional conduct.  I am not suggesting we begin a yellow journalistic finger-pointing exercise. Only that given the rise in competition, and the important stakes involved in our profession, we should collectively think about professional monitoring, public dialog, and the provision of clear ethical guidelines in our doctoral and professional career development.

Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.

Ethical Issues in Professional Life: Codes and Conflicts of Interest

Blog No. 2011-01 (October 1, 2011)

What’s My Domain?  Everything Else

Welcome again to the ethics blog, this time from your journalist on “professional life” issues.  Compared to research or teaching, it may be more difficult to define this sphere of ethical issues.

For me, research evokes a process of reading, analyses, writing, presenting, submitting to editors (and in my case, often re-submitting after editorial rejection) and publishing pieces for a variety of outlets: journals, books, book chapters, working papers, policy reports, case studies and other scholarly purposes.  The ethical issues this process raises are myriad, but the process has an intuition that many can grasp pretty easily.

Continue reading “Ethical Issues in Professional Life: Codes and Conflicts of Interest”