2018 was an exciting year in business ethics. But rather than being dominated by specific incidents, the business ethics news in 2018 was dominated by a set of recurring themes.
Here, in no particular order, are the top Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility themes of 2018, as chosen by the Editors of Business Ethics Highlights:
Top 10 Business Ethics Stories of 2018
The #MeToo movement continued to make waves, and names like Weinstein and Spacey and CK continued to make headlines. Attention was focused on Hollywood, but went far beyond into the corporate world as well — Google employees walked out over the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims. Those who teach courses on ethics and social responsibility are now faced with how to include #MeToo in the Classroom.
The Volkswagen emissions-falsification scandal continued to make the news. That story is not exactly new—it made our 2015 list— but echoes of the scandal persist, three years later. See our piece on Who Will Punish VW? and also this one: Volkswagen’s Ex-CEO Indicted.
Not surprisingly, leadership issues and in particular the role of the CEO continued to make headlines. There were, for example, (and continue to be) serious questions about leadership at Facebook. See: Facebook, Accountability, and Leadership. But see also Musk, Marijuana, and the Obligations of a CEO and Should CEOs Speak Up on Social Issues?
Artificial intelligence continued to be a worry. In some cases, the worry is acute, as when Self-Driving Uber Kills Pedestrian. But the concerns about AI were more general, and interest was broader. See, for example: AI Ethics According to Accenture: The Algorithm as Citizen. And even Silicon Valley workers were worried about AI. See: Silicon Valley Employees and Moral Objections.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest and most persistent theme of 2018 was the growing politicization of tech workers in Silicon Valley. Here are a handful of stories we highlighted:
- Google Employees’ Ethics, and the Pentagon
- Google Employees vs Business of War
- Google Collaborating With China’s Repressive Government?
- “Dragonfly” Brings Google Into Conflict With Employees
- Turning Down a Job at Facebook (Because: Values!)
Another top theme had to do not with the power of products, but with deceiving customers about products. See, for example, any or all of the following:
- Can Ad Copy Be False but Not Misleading? If So, Is That OK?
- Witchcraft Fraud
- If Mountain Dew Spiked Isn’t Spiked Should It Be Called “Spiked”?
- Manipulating Restaurant Customers
- Manipulating Consumers With Prices that End in “.99”
- Oh, and also: Can Believing in Your Products Be Unethical?
Racism continued to make the news in 2018, not surprisingly. Starbucks closed 8,000 stores for a full day so that employees could participate in racial sensitivity training. Other stories involving racism included: Refusing Service at Chipotle and Woman fired for wearing corn-row braids to work.
The weirdest story of the year was surely the ‘fad; (was it really a fad) that saw teenagers Eating Detergent Pods for the benefit of friends and YouTube. As product safety stories go, you can’t get much weirder than that.
We were also happy to see some attention being paid to the ‘dull,’ internal issues faced by companies that want to do well at ethics. Business ethics, as a topic of serious investigation, isn’t just about scandals and headlines. In this regard, see: Listening, to Build an Ethics-First Employee Culture and Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey and Why “Let’s Try Harder” Is a Bad Strategy for Safety and Should All Large Companies have “Ethics Officers?”
That pretty much sums it up for 2018. If you’ve got a favourite Business Ethics or Corporate Social Responsibility story of your own from 2018, be sure to post a comment below!
Great article. The Volkswagen emissions scandal illustrates a situation many professionals may find themselves in. Having to choose between the financial interests of their employer and complying with regulations and legal requirements imposed by the government.