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Why Saying “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Good Enough: The Ethics of Corporate Apologies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2015

Daryl Koehn*
University of St. Thomas
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The number of corporate apologies has increased dramatically during the past decade. This article delves into the ethics of apologies offered by chief executive officers (CEOs). It examines ways in which public apologies on the part of a representative (CEO) of a corporate body (the firm) differ from both private, interpersonal apologies, on the one hand, and nation-state/collective apologies, on the other. The article then seeks to ground ethically desirable elements of a corporate apology in the nature or essence of the corporate apology itself. It explores the largely ignored roles played by the speaker’s ethos and audience pathos in genuine or ethical apologies and suggests that attention needs to be paid to the problems posed by “role contamination,” context, and other overlooked factors. The reception by the actual audience of a given apology is a highly contingent matter. Ethicists should concentrate, therefore, on what makes a proffered apology, in principle, trustworthy and not merely efficacious for a given audience.

Copyright © Society for Business Ethics 2013



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