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Ethical Decisions in Business: Affirmative Action


The process of making an ethical decision in business often can be regarded as the problem of moral choice. In that sense, business ethics can be referred to as having moral standards as their basis. The issue of ethical decisions in business, however, is more complicated and requires considering many aspects.

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Ethical principles of the behavior of managers and recruiters specifically excite all the participants of the business in general and the labor market in particular, i.e. Enterprises’ leaders, potential employees, and HR management.

In the general opinion, the professional work of recruiters should promote the development of civilized labor relations in the international market that is impossible without observance of certain ethical standards.

One of the aspects that require such ethical standards is affirmative action. In this sense, it is possible to ascertain the presence of certain difficulties connected with the so-called “affirmative action “. In this case the issue goes about conscious differentiation of the approach to citizens, for the purpose of the alignment of their chances as a result of a lag in “the starting point”. In US Supreme Court the decision on such affairs is considered debatable, and affirmative actions are regarded as discrimination for the sake of the struggle against discrimination.

The argument for the justification of compensatory actions in some cases is the alignment of historical injustice in relation to socio-politically non-dominant groups. Affirmative action is a tool causing numerous objections, first of all, because of the randomness of the used criteria. This paper discusses affirmative action in the context of ethics in business, arguing against the idea of implementing such policies.

Overview of Ethics in Business

Ethics as a term can be used in two meanings. On the one hand, ethics is an area of knowledge, the scientific discipline studying morals, their occurrence, dynamics, factors, and changes. On the other hand, ethics are understood as a set of moral rules in one or another sphere of the behavior of the person or the organization.

The direct connection of ethics with vital practice is well traced in the sphere of a so-called professional etiquette which represents a system of moral requirements to the professional work of a person. “Business ethics is, quite simply, an attempt to apply the tools and concepts developed by philosophers to distinguish ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, the desirable from the undesirable, to the corporate world. Ethics is a division of philosophy, which includes studies of the nature, the origin and the field of good and bad, right and wrong, justice and related concepts.” (Geoffrey 4) One of the kinds of business ethics is the ethics of business relations.

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It has arisen rather late on the basis of the general labor morals. In turn, the main place in ethics of business relations is occupied with ethics of business. It includes ethics of management, ethics of business dialogue, ethics of behavior, etc. One important aspect of the business ethics issue is concerned with the work of HR managers where the process of making the right decisions can be an important and vital moment in their job. “HRM ethical challenges include discrimination, psychological testing, antiunion activity, work design, employment security, employee discipline, confidentiality and employee privacy.” (Geoffrey 92) Affirmative action in the context of ethics of business, HR direct responsibilities, and practiced policies can be of great concern to the organization. This concern as a subject of controversy” would include the extent and scope of affirmative action programs and the degree to which other forms of discrimination may be unacceptable.” (Geoffrey, p. 77).

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action as a procedure to ensure the absence of racial discrimination was established years before its official announcement.

It was in March 1961 when an executive order was issued by President John F. Kennedy that stated that “The Contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The Contractor will take affirmative action, to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. (Cohen, and Sterba, p. 12).

In that sense, affirmative action can be understood as not merely eliminating racial discrimination in employment, but additionally enforcing that the employer takes a step to make sure that this discrimination does not take place, thus in that context affirmative action is considered as a certain preference.

Arguments for Affirmative Action

The main argument for affirmative action could be considered the desire to establish equality within the society where discrimination can indirectly take place.

The term “indirectly can be explained for the race difference as “clearly, differences in skin color present multiple opportunities for a kind of low-level racism even in a society that is not consciously racist.” (Fiscus, p. 18).

That argument emphasizes that society will still be discriminative at some unconscious level, thus affirmative action is the policy for fixing such inequality. “..most affirmative action programs, even those which rely on so-called “hard quotas,” advance this race-related claim of distributive justice; that in many situations such programs are the only way to advance the claim; and that, far from being unfair to nonminority individuals, such programs advance the claim for both disadvantaged minorities and advantaged nonminorities, both as groups and as individuals (Fiscus, p.19).

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Another argument for affirmative action can be outlined in the fact that it does not violate the rights of the non-minority groups in the first place, as “a rigid quota does not violate the rights of whites when the quota does not exceed the portion of the benefit in question that would have gone to minority individuals under conditions of fair competition and given nonracist assumptions about innate equality. (Fiscus 38)

Arguments against Affirmative Action

As stated before, that affirmative action can cause opposition due to the randomness of criteria, it should be said that in the arguments for affirmative action the criterion is already used which is not proficiency. In that sense, it should be outlined that in the sphere of business as well as other life aspects the selection criteria should be used in regard to the qualities related to that sphere.

One of the arguments against affirmative action, despite the debatable outline that there is no harm for non-minority groups, is that affects minorities in the long term. This could be explained as consequences are damaging as they are “creating widespread resentment, reinforcing stereotypes, and humiliating its purported beneficiaries in the eyes of their classmates, colleagues, workmates, teachers—and even in their own eyes.

Race preference has been an utter catastrophe for the ethnic minorities it was intended to benefit.” (Cohen, and Sterba, p. 110)

The usage of non-professional qualities in that sense is putting the achievements of a particular group in doubt, denying their original professional aspects and subsequently creating an inequality.

If in the case of schools and other educational institutions the effect of admitting a student based on physical factors has more of a moral justification, in the case of business this issue can have a wider influence.

The ethics of business along the social and moral norms have a major defining factor which is economic reasonability.

It should be underlined that the economic reasonability principle is considered not as the factor that is totally defining all thoughts and acts of the businessman, but as some kind of a “restraint from below”.

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After all, the business can be guided in its activity by a set of various motives, and by the most different important values, but at the end it does not presume, that accepting these or other motives of making certain decisions, to be economically inexpedient in such measures to represent a threat to the existence of the business as a whole. Thus, in the context of maintaining equality, the only selection factor should be used is professionalism, where the physical factors should be ignored for or against the potential employee.

Works Cited

  1. Cohen, Carl, and James P. Sterba. Affirmative Action and Racial Preference: A Debate. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  2. Fiscus, Ronald J. The Constitutional Logic of Affirmative Action. Ed. Stephen L. Wasby. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.
  3. Geoffrey. The Ethical Business: Challenges and Controversies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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StudyCorgi. "Ethical Decisions in Business: Affirmative Action." October 25, 2021.


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