Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Legal Studies & Business Ethics

First Advisor

Brian Berkey

Abstract

The phenomenon of greenwashing receives significant public and academic attention. So do the related practices of bluewashing (regarding involvement with the United Nations Global Compact) and the use of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as mere window dressing. The first essay in this dissertation provides a conceptual and ethical analysis of these practices. It also criticizes some frameworks for using CSR as a tool for increasing a firm’s economic performance. If CSR is to be taken seriously, rather than dismissed as a marketing gimmick at best or a veil for corporate malfeasance at worst, then we cannot endorse CSR decisions being reduced to considerations of economic performance.

On what basis should CSR decisions be made and evaluated? That is the research question that motivates this dissertation’s second essay. I argue that any normative framework for CSR decision making must be based primarily on ethical considerations (as opposed to considerations of firm financial performance). As one possible such framework, I introduce effective altruism, a recent academic and social movement that advocates using strong evidence and rigorous analysis to increase the positive impact one makes through altruistic acts. Effective altruism provides a plausible framework for making and evaluating CSR whose main purpose is to benefit other people. However, there are other types of CSR that implicate alternative moral considerations—related to harms, rights violations, moral reconciliation, and reciprocity—that effective altruism does not capture.

How do we distinguish between ethical and unethical ways of pursuing profit? The Market Failures Approach to business ethics purports to provide an answer to this question. In the third essay of this dissertation, I argue that it fails to do so. This failure stems from its reliance on Pareto efficiency as a core ethical principle. Many ethically “preferred” tactics for seeking profit cannot be justified by appeal to Pareto efficiency. I argue that, rather than Pareto efficiency, we should look to the value of wealth creation to understand the ethical constraints on how market actors may pursue profit.

Share

COinS