SOAS University of London

School of Finance and Management

Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

Business ethics may sound like a contradiction in terms. After all, businesses are supposed to make money and that’s pretty much it. But making money isn’t everything, it may come at a cost to the people working in the business, the environment and, potentially, even the long-term viability of the business.

Those running businesses are aware of this and are constantly trying to strike a balance between simply extracting cash and doing other things which ensure that the business can continue to function into the future.

As the world globalises and resources deplete, these issues have become more complex. Businesses have to engage with societies with different structures, norms and cultures in a way that they may not have done previously. The speed of information transfer means that problems may be geographically far away but news spreads fast.

In short, it’s potentially a confusing mess. This module aims to help understand the elements of the problem by looking at the relationship between business and ethics, and exploring the role of organisations in society, as well as their responsibility to society.

The module combines academic thinking about business ethics and corporate social responsibility with real-world case studies to help students think through the complex problems of business ethics and consider how ethical principles could influence management decisions. The types of real-world problems studied include business decisions’ effect on climate change, on depletion of natural resources, on employee welfare, and on the welfare of local and wider communities. This involves balancing the interests of shareholders against those of other stakeholders and balancing short term against long term interests. The module critically evaluates corporate social responsibility strategies and concepts of the firm as an organisation of stakeholders.  The importance of transparency, the role of whistleblowers, and the nature of bribery are also discussed. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

An understanding of:
• Principles of ethics
• Ethics and the role of the firm.
• Ethics and firms’ management structure and strategy.
• The relation between ethical principles and individuals’ decisions in management
• Critical evaluation of concepts of business ethics
• Applying ethics in problem solving through case studies

Scope and syllabus

The module covers problems of business ethics on the basis of principles and in their application to case studies using the following syllabus as a guide:

1. Basic principles of ethics: three traditions of thinking about ethics.
2. Applications of the three principles to contemporary moral problems
3. Ethics and the nature of the firm: profit maximisation vs stakeholder theories of the firm
4. Application of stakeholder theories to case studies
5. Corporate strategy and climate change: principles
6. Corporate strategy and climate change: case studies
7. Corporate strategy and natural resource depletion: principles
8. Corporate strategy and natural resource depletion: case studies
9. Corporate strategy and pollution: principles
10. Corporate strategy and pollution: case studies
11. Ethical dimensions of hiring, firing and human resources: principles
12. Ethical dimensions of hiring firing and human resources: case studies
13. Corporate social responsibility: principles
14. Corporate social responsibility: case studies
15. Critical evaluation of transparency and accountability: principles
16. Critical evaluation of transparency and accountability: case studies
17. Ethics, law and regulation: principles
18. Ethics law and regulation: case studies

Method of assessment

This module is assessed by a combination of written coursework and examination. Other forms of assessment may also be used.

Suggested reading



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