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Wong, PW 2006, 'A study of business ethical practices in Australian organisations: a multiple case study', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright PW Wong 2006


In view of the latest corporate collapses globally, the purpose of this thesis is an attempt to investigate and to theorise how managers make decisions when faced with an ethical dilemma.

Philosophers over the years have proposed different moral theories. For example, Kantian’s Categorical Imperative (O’Neil 2001, Peters, 1971) suggests that there are laws that should apply universally. However, its principles are too abstract to guide action, in that it does not provide a detailed set of instructions for following them. Others such as Baier, (2001) suggest that people behave to satisfy their own self-interest. The literature review shows that there is no consensus to define what constitutes ethical behaviour. Kohlberg (1981) divides childhood moral development into six stages. He theorises that greater moral development will be related to the highest social responsibility of an individual. Lagon (2000), Seabright and Moberg (1998), Logsdon and Yuthas (1997) extrapolate Kohlberg’s model to incorporate into organisational and individual moral development.

Based on the literature review, research questions were developed. The research methodology is qualitative, based on the realism paradigm using a case research design (Yin 1994). Face to face interviews were conducted with fourteen participants using critical incidents and the findings were triangulated using a semi-structured focus group.

The research data analysis is based on grounded theory proposed by Glaser and Strauss (1967). The findings confirm that there is no single theory or approach to business ethics. The findings indicate that a person’s ethical behaviour changes when his/her self-interest is affected. Whilst participants believed that business and ethics can be reconciled, most agreed that they can only be reconciled if the individual’s interest or business profit is not affected.

Based on the findings, a new model is proposed in an attempt to theorise an individual’s business ethical behaviour and his/her ethical decision making process.

This research also identifies important areas that require further research. These are:

• Conflicts between personal values and business values

• Should ethics be taught? And if so how?

• Should an ethical programme be developed and incorporated in a company’s strategic plan?