Ethics at work : Two essays on the firm's moral responsibilities towards its employees

Sammanfattning: Essay I analyses a sample of corporate codes in the Swedish banking sector. The purpose is to investigate the codes’ ethical status. Are they consistent with the values of fairness or are they instead at a risk of harming the employees? With regard to employees, eight of the nine codes in the material were found to (a) focus one-sidedly on their duties and responsibilities, (b) lack statements regarding their value to the firm, while carefully stating the importance of several other stakeholders, (c) have an anonymous or authoritarian tone, (d) say little regarding the substantial reasons why certain behaviour is forbidden or expected; some of the codes also (e) contained problematic freedom restrictions. The empirical investigation of code content and design leads us to the normative issue of whether such a design can be unfair and risks harming the employees. Departing from the values of equality, reciprocity, care and respect, eight of the nine codes are found to be at risk of being in conflict with these values. The socially responsible firm, which avoids risking employees’ welfare and self-respect, must consider rewriting such corporate codes.Essay II seeks to provide a richer moral assessment of the transactions, offers and working conditions in the labour market. Some of the most influential accounts have focused on either the act of consent (Nozick), the background conditions (Peter) or the quality of the offers (Olsaretti). I argue that all these aspects are ethically relevant and necessary to make agreements morally justified. This leads me to the conclusion that (a) unreasonable offers remain ethically flawed regardless of employees’ consent and adequate background conditions; (b) the mere act of consent is, nonetheless, ethically valuable; (c) there exist different kinds of demands, affected differently by whether they are properly consented to. Then, in a well-ordered liberal democracy (which constitute the necessary background conditions), to ascertain whether a firm’s offers and working conditions are morally sound, we need to know both their quality (how reasonable they are) and whether they have been properly consented to. A firm ends up with three moral responsibilities: (i) not to exploit the workers’ disadvantaged position in the labour market, which requires that they are offered only reasonable proposals, (ii) to inform employees in the contract situation of all the relevant aspects and working conditions associated with the job, thereby enabling proper consent, and (iii) once the worker is employed, to only implement working conditions of the kind that are possible to justify and consistent with treating the employees as persons.

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