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Corporations and justice

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S118-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

For the past half century, there has been a large controversy within academic business ethics, in legal scholarship, and in the larger public about the role that corporations should have in addressing social injustices. Do corporations have a moral obligation to conduct business in a way that reduces poverty, racial inequality, other unjust economic and social inequalities, and unjust threats to the environment? Or should for-profit corporations focus on making money and leave solutions of these social problems to governments, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals?

There are related but distinct controversies about corporations’ moral duties of transactional and relational justice. One important question is whether financial agreements or employment contracts can be wrongfully exploitative despite being fully consensual and beneficial to all parties. This question is distinct from the question whether corporations have a duty to promote distributive justice. Transactional unfairness is arguably possible in society with a just economic system, and fair transactions are presumably possible in a society with an unjust distribution. There are also important questions about the extent of firms’ moral obligation to avoid pollution, to refrain from discrimination, to treat employees fairly, and to respect the democratic process. These moral obligations may require more than obeying the relevant law.

Much of the literature on business and justice is framed in terms of the responsibilities of for-profit corporations in particular. Many but not all of the claims business ethicists defend about corporations also apply to for-profit businesses that are not corporations, such as partnerships. The philosophical literature on business and justice focuses on normative questions. There is an important literature in psychology on the empirical question when people are most likely to perceive a corporate practice as unjust.

Citing this article:
Hughes, Robert and Alan Strudler. Corporations and justice, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S118-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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