Skip to main content

The Responsibilities and Role of Business in Relation to Society: Back to Basics?

  • Nien-hê Hsieh (a1)

In this address, I outline a “back to basics” approach to specifying the responsibilities and role of business in relation to society. Three “basics” comprise the approach. The first is arguing that basic principles of ordinary morality, such as a duty not to harm, provide an adequate basis for specifying the responsibilities of business managers. The second is framing the role of business in society by looking to the values realized by the basic building blocks of contemporary economic activity, i.e., markets and firms. The third is making explicit the basic institutions that structure the background against which business operates. The aim is to develop a plausible framework for managerial decision making that respects the fact of value pluralism in a global economy and that fosters meaningful criticism of current business practices while remaining sufficiently grounded in contemporary circumstances so as to be relevant for managers.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Responsibilities and Role of Business in Relation to Society: Back to Basics?
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Responsibilities and Role of Business in Relation to Society: Back to Basics?
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Responsibilities and Role of Business in Relation to Society: Back to Basics?
      Available formats
Hide All
Anderson Elizabeth. 1993. Value in Ethics and Economics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Applbaum Arthur. 1999. Ethics for Adversaries. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Arnold Denis and Harris Jared, eds. 2012. Kantian Business Ethics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Bentham Jeremy, 1789. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Reprint of the 1823 edition, 1907.
Besson Samantha, 2015. “The Bearers of Human Rights’ Duties and Responsibilities for Human Rights: A Quiet (R)evolution?” Social Philosophy and Policy 32 (1): 244268.
Brenkert George, and Beauchamp Tom. 2009. “Introduction.” In The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics, edited by Brenkert George and Beauchamp Tom, 3-20. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Black Leeora. 2013. The Social License to Operate: Your Management Framework for Complex Times. Oxford: Sedition Publishing.
Bowie Norman. 1999. Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective. Oxford: Blackwell.
Ciepley David. 2013. “Beyond Public and Private: Toward a Political Theory of the Corporation.” American Political Science Review 107 (1): 139158.
Coase Ronald. 1937. “The Nature of the Firm.” Economica 4 (16): 386405.
Cowton Christopher and Crisp Roger, eds. 1998. Business Ethics: Perspectives on the Practice of Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Crane Andrew, Matten Dirk, and Moon Jeremy. 2008. Corporations and Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crawford Matthew. 2009. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin Press.
Crisp Roger. 1987. “Persuasive Advertising, Autonomy, and the Creation of Desire.” Journal of Business Ethics 6 (5): 413418.
Davis Ian. 2005. “The Biggest Contract.” The Economist, May 26.
De George Richard. 1993. Competing with Integrity in International Business. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dierksmeier Claus. 2016. Reforming Economic Ethics: The Philosophical Foundations of Humanistic Management. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Donaldson Thomas. 1982. Corporations and Morality. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Donaldson Thomas, and Dunfee Thomas. 1995. “Contractarian Business Ethics: Current Status and Next Steps.” Business Ethics Quarterly 5 (2): 173186.
Donaldson Thomas and Dunfee Thomas. 1999. Ties That Bind: A Social Contracts Approach to Business Ethics. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Dubbink Wim and van de Ven Bert. 2012. “On the Duties of Commission in Commercial Life. A Kantian Criticism of Moral Institutionalism.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (1): 221238.
Dunfee Thomas. 2005. “Do Firms with Unique Competencies for Rescuing Victims of Human Catastrophes Have Special Obligations? Corporate Responsibility and the AIDS Catastrophe in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Business Ethics Quarterly 16 (2): 185210.
Dunfee Thomas. 2006. “A Critical Perspective of Integrative Social Contracts Theory: Recurring Criticisms and Next Generation Research Topics.” Journal of Business Ethics 68 (3): 303–28.
Freeman R. Edward, Harrison Jeffrey, Wicks Andrew, Parmar Bidhan, and de Colle Simone. 2010. Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Freeman Samuel. 2007. Rawls. London: Routledge.
Friedman Milton. 1962. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Friedman Milton. 1970. “The Social Responsibility of Business Is To Increase Its Profits.” The New York Times Magazine, 13 September.
GE Foundation. 2012. “Common Core State Standards Receives Largest Corporate Investment to Date with GE Foundation $18 Million Commitment.” Business Wire, February 1.
Hansmann Henry, and Kraakman Reinier. 2004. “What is Corporate Law?” In The Anatomy of Corporate Law: A Comparative and Functional Approach, by Kraakman Reinier, Davies Paul, Hansmann Henry, Hertig Gérard, Hopt Klaus, Kanda Hideki, Rock Edward. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 119.
Hartman Edwin. 1996. Organizational Ethics and the Good Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hartman Edwin. 2013. Virtue in Business: Conversations with Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hayek Friedrich. 1945. “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” American Economic Review 35 (4): 519530.
Hayenhjelm Madeleine, and Wolff Jonathan. 2012. “The Moral Problem of Risk Impositions: A Survey of the Literature.” European Journal of Philosopy 20 (51): 2651.
Heath Joseph. 2004. “A Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics.” In The Invisible Hand and the Common Good, edited by Hodgson Bernard, 69-89. Berlin: Springer.
Heath Joseph. 2006. “Business Ethics Without Stakeholders.” Business Ethics Quarterly 16 (4): 533557.
Heath Joseph. 2007. “An Adversarial Ethic for Business: Or When Sun-Tzu Met the Stakeholder.” Journal of Business Ethics 72 (4): 359374.
Heath Joseph. 2013. “Market Failure or Government Failure? A Response to Jaworski.” Business Ethics Journal Review 1 (8): 5056.
Heath Joseph. 2014. Morality, Competition, and the Firm: The Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heath Joseph, Moriarty Jeffrey, and Norman Wayne. 2010. “Business Ethics and (or as) Political Philosophy.” Business Ethics Quarterly 20 (3): 427–52.
Herzog Lisa. 2013. Inventing the Market: Smith, Hegel, and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2000. “Moral Desert, Fairness and Legitimate Expectations in the Market.” Journal of Political Philosophy 8 (1): 91114.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2005. “Rawlsian Justice and Workplace Republicanism.” Social Theory and Practice 31 (1): 115142.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2008. “The Normative Study of Business Organizations: A Rawlsian Approach.” In Normative Theory and Business Ethics, edited by Smith Jeffery, 93-117. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2009. “Does Global Business Have a Responsibility to Promote Just Institutions?” Business Ethics Quarterly 19 (2): 251273.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2010. “Efficiency and Rationality.” In Finance Ethics: Critical Issues in Theory and Practice, edited by Boatright John, 65-85. Hoboken: Wiley.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2011. “Multinational Enterprises and Corporate Responsibility: A Matter of Justice?” In Morality and Global Justice: The Reader, edited by Boylan Michael, 185-210. Boulder: Westview Press.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2013a. “Multinational Enterprises and Incomplete Institutions: The Demandingness of Minimum Moral Standards.” In Business Ethics, 2nd edition, edited by Boylan Michael, 409-422. Hoboken: Wiley.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2013b. “Multinational Corporations, Global Justice and Corporate Responsibility: A Question of Purpose.” Politeia 29 (111): 129147.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2013c. “Work.” In The Routledge Companion to Social and Political Philosophy, edited by Gaus Gerald and D’Agostino Fred, 755-64. New York: Routledge.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2015a. “Managerial Responsibility and the Purpose of Business: Doing One’s Job Well.” In Ethical Innovation in Business and the Economy: Studies in Transatlantic Business Ethics, edited by Enderle Georges and Murphy Patrick E., 95-118. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2015b. “Should Business Have Human Rights Obligations?” Journal of Human Rights 14 (2): 218236.
Hsieh Nien-hê. 2015c. “The Social Contract Model of Corporate Purpose and Responsibility.” Business Ethics Quarterly 25 (4): 433460.
Hsieh Nien-hê. Forthcoming. “Corporate Moral Agency, Positive Duties, and Purpose.” In The Moral Responsibility of Firms, edited by Orts Eric and Craig Smith N.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hussain Waheed. 2012. “Corporations, Profit Maximization and the Personal Sphere.” Economics and Philosophy 28 (3): 311331.
Jensen Michael. 2002. “Value Maximization, Stakeholder Theory, and the Corporate Objective Function.” Business Ethics Quarterly 12 (2): 235256.
Kim Tae Wan. 2014. “Confucian Ethics and Workplace Rights.” Business Ethics Quarterly 24 (4): 565594.
Kim Tae Wan and Strudler Alan. 2012. “Workplace Civility: A Confucian Approach.” Business Ethics Quarterly 22 (2): 557–557.
Klein Paul. 2012. “Three Ways to Secure Your Social License to Operate in 2013.” Forbes, December 28.
Koehn Daryl. 1995. “A Role of Virtue Ethics in the Analysis of Business Practice.” Business Ethics Quarterly 5 (3): 533539.
Lane Melissa. 2005. “The Moral Dimension of Corporate Responsibility.” In Global Responsibilities, edited by Kuper Andrew, 229-250. New York: Routledge.
Lichtenberg Judith. 2010. “Negative Duties, Positive Duties, and the ‘New Harms’.” Ethics 120 (3): 557578.
Logsdon Jeanne, and Wood Donna. 2002. “Business Citizenship: From Domestic to Global Level of Analysis.” Business Ethics Quarterly 12 (2): 155187.
Luetge Christoph, and Mukerji Nikil, eds. 2016. Order Ethics: An Ethical Framework for the Social Market Economy. Berlin: Springer.
Mandeville Bernard. 1732. The Fable of the Bees: or Private Vices, Publick Benefits. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Reprint of the 1924 edition.
Martin Dominic. 2013. “The Contained-Rivalry Requirement and a ‘Triple Feature’ Program for Business Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 115 (1): 167182.
Mas-Colell Andreu, Whinston Michael, and Green Jerry. 1995. Microeconomic Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McMahon Christopher. 2013. Public Capitalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Mill John Stuart, 1863. Utilitarianism. London: Parker, Son & Bourn, West Strand.
Néron Pierre-Yves. 2010. “Business and the Polis: What Does It Mean to See Corporations as Political Actors?” Journal of Business Ethics 94 (3): 333352.
Néron Pierre-Yves. 2016. “Rethinking the Ethics of Corporate Political Activities in a Post-Citizens United Era: Political Equality, Corporate Citizenship, and Market Failures.” Journal of Business Ethics 136 (4): 715728.
Néron Pierre-Yves, and Norman Wayne. 2008a. “Citizenship, Inc.: Do We Really Want Businesses to Be Good Corporate Citizens?” Business Ethics Quarterly 18 (1): 126.
Néron Pierre-Yves, and Norman Wayne. 2008b. “Corporations As Citizens: Political Not Metaphorical.” Business Ethics Quarterly 18 (1): 6166.
Norman Wayne. 2011. “Business Ethics as Self-Regulation: Why Principles that Ground Regulations Should Be Used to Ground Beyond-Compliance Norms as Well.” Journal of Business Ethics 102 (1): 4357.
Norman Wayne. 2014. “Is There ‘a Point’ to Markets? A Response to Martin.” Business Ethics Journal Review 2 (4): 2228.
Nussbaum Martha. 2000, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Post James. 2002. “Global Corporate Citizenship: Principles to Live and Work By.” Business Ethics Quarterly 12 (2): 143153.
Parfit Derek. 1984. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Peterson Martin, ed. 2015. The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Porter Michael, and Kramer Mark. 2011. “Creating Shared Value: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility.” Harvard Business Review 89 (1/2): 6277.
Ravitch Diane. 2013. “Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards.” Diane Ravtich’s blog, February 26.
Rawls John. 1999. A Theory of Justice, revised edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.
Rawls John. 2001. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, ed. Kelly Erin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.
Raz Joseph. 1986. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Raz Joseph. 1995. Ethics in the Public Domain: Essays in the Morality of Law and Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Robyns Ingrid. 2005. “The Capability Approach: A Theoretical Survey,” Journal of Human Development 6 (1): 93117.
Rotherman Andrew. 2012. “Can GE Help Bring Common Core Standards to Life?” Time, February 1.
Sandbu Martin. 2007. “Valuing Processes.” Economics and Philosophy 23 (2): 205235.
Scherer Andreas, and Palazzo Guido. 2007. “Toward a Political Conception of Corporate Responsibility: Business and Society Seen from a Habermasian Perspective.” Academy of Management Review 32 (4): 10961120.
Scherer Andreas, and Palazzo Guido, eds. 2008. Handbook of Research on Global Corporate Citizenship. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Sen Amartya. 1993. “Capability and Well-being.” In The Quality of Life, edited by Nussbaum Martha and Sen Amartya, 30-53. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Skocpol Theda. 2016. “Politics Symposium: Why Political Scientists Should Study Organized Philanthropy.” PS: Political Science and Politics 49 (3): 433436.
Smith Adam. 1776. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Reprint of the 1976 edition.
Smith Jeffery. 2014. “Corporate Social Purpose and the Task of Management.” In Corporations and Citizenship, edited by Urban Greg, 57-73. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Smith Jeffery. 2016. “Efficiency and Ethically Responsible Management.” Journal of Business Ethics. doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3175-x.
Solomon Robert. 1992. Ethics and Excellence: Cooperation and Integrity in Business. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sorell Tom. 1998a. “Beyond the Fringe? The Strange State of Business Ethics.” In The Ethics of Organisations, edited by Parker Martin, 15-29. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Sorell Tom. 1998b. “Armchair Applied Philosophy and Business Ethics.” In Business Ethics: Perspectives on the Practice of Theory, edited by Cowton Christopher and Crisp Roger, 79-95. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stout Lynn. 2012. The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Thompson Dennis. 2005. Restoring Responsibility: Ethics in Government, Business, and Healthcare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Waldfogel Joel. 2007. The Tyranny of the Market: Why You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Wempe Ben. 2008. “Four Design Criteria for any Future Contractarian Theory of Business Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 81 (3): 697714.
Wempe Ben. 2009a. “Contractarian Business Ethics Today.” In Normative Theory and Business Ethics, edited by Smith Jeffery, 73-92. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Wempe Ben. 2009b. “Extant Social Contracts and the Question of Business Ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 88 (Supplement 4): 741750.
Wettstein Florian. 2009. Multinational Corporations and Global Justice: Human Rights Obligations of a Quasi-Governmental Institution. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Wettstein Florian. 2010. “For Better or Worse: Corporate Social Responsibility Beyond ‘Do No Harm.’” Business Ethics Quarterly 20 (2): 275283.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 55
Total number of PDF views: 288 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 753 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 11th April 2017 - 24th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.