Business norms reflect the norms of each historical period. As time passes norms evolve, causing accepted behaviors to become objectionable. Business ethics and the resulting behavior evolved as well. Business was involved in slavery, colonialism, and the cold war.
The term ‘business ethics’ came into common use in the United States in the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, at least 500 courses in business ethics reached 40,000 students, using some twenty textbooks and at least ten casebooks along supported by professional societies, centers and journals of business ethics. The Society for Business Ethics was started in 1980. European business schools adopted business ethics after 1987 commencing with the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN). In 1982 the first single-authored books in the field appeared.
Business ethics reflects the philosophy of business, one of whose aims is to determine the fundamental purposes of a company. If a company’s purpose is to maximize shareholder returns, then sacrificing profits to other concerns is a violation of its fiduciary responsibility. Corporate entities are legally considered as persons in USA and in most nations. The ‘corporate persons’ are legally entitled to the rights and liabilities due to citizens as persons.
Ethical issues include the rights and duties between a company and its employees, suppliers, customers and neighbors, its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. Issues concerning relations between different companies include hostile take-over’s and industrial espionage. Related issues include corporate governance; corporate social entrepreneurship; political contributions; legal issues such as the ethical debate over introducing a crime of corporate manslaughter; and the marketing of corporations’ ethics policies. According to IBE/ Ipsos MORI research published in late 2012, the three major areas of public concern regarding business ethics in Britain are executive pay, corporate tax avoidance and bribery and corruption.