Business, Values, and Law: Forging a New Dialogue

August 30, 2011

The financial crisis of 2008 exacerbated an environment of mistrust for business practice in the global economy. Much of the public and the political class questioned business leaders’ commitment to integrity, transparency, and ethical behavior. Many called for increased government regulation to check business practices that might be harmful to the common good culminating with the enactment of the Dodd-Frank reforms, some of the strictest legislation to date. At the same time, corporations voluntarily embraced platforms of sound and honest governance, corporate social responsibility, and internal ethical practices.
In this project, Doyle Undergraduate Fellows researched various forms of CSR, government regulations, and legal reforms that affect the business world. They found that while government regulations are effective to a point, shareholders, investors, customers, and employees are also able to influence company decisions, and personal values, education, religion, and work experience strongly influence business leaders and affect their decisions. Whether business leaders are acting out of their own ethical convictions or are simply responding to external pressures, their companies adapted to the current climate with the implementation of socially responsible policies and programs.

It seems that the crisis caused many actors to reconsider their assumptions regarding the rights of regulators, consumers, shareholders, and investors and the responsibilities of businesses as active participants in society. Profit-maximization may still be the primary goal for most companies, but many are carved out space for other concerns, and even finding ways in which both goals are achievable. This report highlights several of these strategies and ensuing complexities in the new business market.

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