Rarely is there the individual who does not encounter an ethical or moral dilemma at some point in his or her business life. Whether that individual is the owner of a multinational corporation, a small business entrepreneur, or a new or established employee, everyone is likely to have to face such an instance eventually. Much like a personal ethical dilemma, an individual is faced with making a decision based on how it will affect not only himself, but on how it will affect the organization as a whole. One of the major problems when dealing with an ethical dilemma in business is that individuals are often swayed by business profits and the legality of a decision.

The Institute of Business Ethics, whose slogan is “doing business ethically makes for better business”, describes the term business ethics as such.

Business ethics is the application of ethical values to business behaviour. It applies to any and all aspects of business conduct, from boardroom strategies and how companies treat their suppliers to sales techniques and accounting practices. Ethics goes beyond the legal requirements for a company and is, therefore, discretionary. Business ethics applies to the conduct of individuals and to the conduct of the organisation as a whole. It is about how a company does its business, how it behaves intrinsically.

As clear as this definition is, it is certainly open to interpretation. Therefore it must be understood that the application of business ethics to any situation is entirely subjective.

One can also understand business ethics, and business opportunities of any kind, as applying a sense of fairness to a situation. Even with a sense of clarity applied to the use of business ethics, reaching a just and moral decision can be a complex process for most individuals. The subject of business ethics has been a source of great debate in recent years as the heads of major (and minor) corporations are revealed as less than ethical characters both in the way they do business and in their personal conduct. However, it may be said that any individual who does not practice business ethics cannot be personally ethical even though the reverse may not also be true.

Ethics generally has a long history of applications business opportunities

Centuries ago a man’s ethical practices defined who he was as an individual. However, as populations grew, the necessity for incorporating the best business practices into a company became somehow less important because there was always another customer around the corner and the owner of a business was rarely the focus of attention in a community the way he or she may have been in the past. A company’s administration took a seat in the background and hired representatives to deal with any fallout. Ethics rely on several factors, one of the most important of which is culture. Again, like the business person of the past, a culture’s ethics practices will largely depend upon the value that is placed on them. Business ethics have the unappealing conflict of often being contrary to what is legal. Often what is “right” is not necessarily what is legal, and a business must consider this conflict when making ethical judgments. Although there are many in the business world who believe that a business has no room for ethics if it is to function competitively, the numbers of corporate whistleblowers indicate that there is still room for ethics in business.

Western societies place a great deal of emphasis on success. However, in business, there are often conflicts between ethical behavior and business success. This disparity is often multiplied for the small business owner. To compete with larger businesses, it may be tempting to abandon ethics just to make an adequate profit. Additionally, the small business person is relatively autonomous in his or her decision making; he or she does not have to answer to a large employee base or a corporate governing board.