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Processes and consequences in business ethical dilemmas: The oil industry and climate changes

This paper proposes a framework to examine business ethical dilemmas and business attitudes towards such dilemmas. Business ethical dilemmas can be understood as reflecting a contradiction between a socially detrimental process and a self-interested profitable consequence. This representation allows us to distinguish two forms of behavior differing by whether priority is put on consequences or on processes. We argue that these forms imply very different business attitudes towards society: controversial or competitive for the former and aligned or cooperative for the latter. These attitudes are then analyzed at the discursive level in order to address the question of good faith in business argumentation, i.e. to which extent are these attitudes consistent with actual business behaviors. We argue that consequential attitudes mostly involve communication and lobbying actions aiming at eluding the dilemma. Therefore, the question of good faith for consequential attitudes lies in the consistency between beliefs and discourse. On the other hand, procedural attitudes acknowledge the dilemma and claim a change of the process of behavior. They thus raise the question of the consistency between discourses and actual behavior. We apply this processes/consequences framework to the case of the oil industry’s climate change ethical dilemma which comes forth as a dilemma between ‘emitting greenhouse gases’ and ‘making more profits’. And we examine the different attitudes of two oil corporations-BP Amoco and ExxonMobil-towards the dilemma.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 591.

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Date of creation: Nov 2001
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Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:591
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. Marc Le Menestrel, 2001. "Economic rationality and ethical behavior," Economics Working Papers 584, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
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