MGF5020 - Business Ethics in Global Environment

Interview with Michelle Greenwood, Associate Professor

Teaching team: Fahreen Alamgir, Lecturer; Jeremy St John, Lecturer

Can you tell us a bit about how your teaching is relevant to the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Management (PRME)?

A main objective of our teaching is that students should explore what they believe to be the purpose of business and the values and assumptions embedded in these various purposes. We encourage students to come to their own understanding of what they see to be the role and responsibilities of business, and the values that they believe should be pursued. We do this by developing critical analytic skills of students and through student led research teaching. We expect students to engage with real world problems, be aware of social and political issues, and to think about their own impact on the world.

Which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) your unit addresses and it what ways? Provide examples of learning activities, initiatives and assessment tasks.

Our curriculum touches on all 17 Sustainability Development Goals either directly or indirectly. Particularly central to the topics we cover are four goals: (8) decent work and economic growth; (10) reduced inequalities; (12) responsible consumption and production; and (16) peace justice and strong institutions

Why do you think business students today need to understand more about the role and impact of business in working towards a more sustainable and inclusive local and global economy?

There are two main interrelated reasons why business students today need to understand more about the links between business and sustainability and inclusion. The first is the growing reach and power of businesses and business actors. It may seem trite but it is true that even the smallest of business, the most seemingly minor of economic decisions, can impact human and non-human life on the other side of the globe, such is the interconnectivity and dominance of our market economies. The second is that despite, or perhaps because of, the interconnectivity and dominance of corporations, many approaches to business are narrowly focused on short-term profit or long-term shareholder value. In sum, business students need to develop awareness and skills with regard the dynamic and complex relationships between business and society.

What kind of reception do you get from students when you discuss these types of issues with them?

Business students vary in their responses to being confronted with the idea that one day they may be held accountable for human rights abuses in their supply chain. In general there are three responses: (1) students mouth the words of “ethics” and “responsibility” with minimal reflection as they think this is we want to hear; (2) students respond with arguments for a narrow view of the roles and responsibilities of business, that is being to promote shareholder value, which rely on the effectiveness of market mechanisms; (3) students are stopped in their tracks and realise there are alternative and critical alternatives to the dominant paradigm regarding business and its relationship to society. As academics promoting critical analytical thinking, it is the first scenario that we find most disappointing as the student is unlikely to go away with convictions, let alone any courage.

What would you like to do or see in the future in terms of teaching of responsible management, either in the units you teach or more generally?

Much research and debate has gone into the question of whether business ethics education should be in dedicated units or interspersed throughout all units, with strong consensus that we should do both. Hence, we would like to see more time and resources being put into teaching responsible management in the form of compulsory core units (e.g. corporate social responsibility); compulsory specialist units (e.g. financial advisor professional ethics); and throughout other units (e.g. ethical issues in financial risk management). We believe that the university should be (and currently is) leading responsible management education by actively supporting and encouraging its staff, students and alumni to be social and political agents of change, and that the business school should do likewise.