The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

To sign-up to receive the CSR Newsletters regularly during the fall and spring academic semesters, e-mail author David Chandler at

Monday, November 18, 2013

Strategic CSR - Ethics

Two big guiding principles that I picked up during my Ph.D. were, first, that life is not a dichotomy, but is continuous and, second, that life is not linear, but is curvilinear. These might seem like subtle shifts in emphasis, but when you apply them to all aspects of human behavior and interactions, they alter dramatically your understanding of how the world works. Unfortunately, most people (as I did prior to my studies) go through life as if it is both dichotomous (everything is either black or white) and linear (if a little of something is good, more of it will always be better), even if, when challenged, they understand intuitively that not to be true.
The relevance of these guiding principles to debates about CSR, broadly speaking, is we are reduced to discussions as to whether CSR is good or bad, or whether a firm is responsible or irresponsible, when the reality is extremely complex (with most people and companies being complex amalgams of both good and bad, positive and negative). Another area that this affects is our understanding of the teaching of ethics—i.e., Can ethics be taught to students (or not)?
An example that reveals the complex reality of ethics as a subject matter (irrespective of how it might be taught or even how would we know if someone has learned something from the class or not) is contained in the article in the url below. Not only does the article convey the irrationality and inconsistency of humans, but also how thinking of anyone or anything as ethical (or not) misses the point. As usual, the answer is that ‘it depends’:
“If you're shopping for a used car—or deposing a witness—try to do it in the morning. That's the implication of new research from scientists at Harvard University and the University of Utah, who found that people are quite a bit more honest in the morning than in the afternoon.”
How did the researchers discover this?
“In one experiment, volunteers assigned a simple visual perception task were given a financial incentive to cheat. Sure enough, afternoon participants cheated 20% more than did their morning counterparts. In a second trial, afternoon volunteers not only cheated more on the perception task but showed lower moral awareness. Given four word fragments to complete, including ‘_ _ R A L’ and ‘E_ _ _ C_ _ ,’ morning participants were nearly three times likelier to complete the words as ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ (versus ‘coral’ and ‘effects’).”
This reminds me of research I saw a while ago that reported that parole boards in prisons were more likely to grant parole to a prisoner if the request was considered immediately after a break (a lunch break or coffee break) than if it was considered just before that break. The explanation was that, as the board members became tired or hungry (and more irritable), their ability to approach their evaluation objectively was compromised. In the case in the article below, the explanation was similarly frustrating:
“What accounts for all this? Consistent with earlier studies of self-control, the researchers found evidence that, as the day wears on, mental fatigue sets in from hours of decision-making and self-regulation, raising the odds of transgression. ‘Unremarkable daily activities,’ the researchers write, can produce depletion that leads them ‘to act in ethically questionable ways.’”
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site:
Strategic CSR Simulation:
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at:

Ethics’ Afternoon Swoon
By Daniel Akst
November 9-10, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final