Paper Assignment, Business and Consumer Ethics, Spring 2009

The paper should be 5-7 pages (double space, typewritten) and explore the ethical and/or philosophical dimensions of an issue in business and consumer ethics. The paper counts for 34% of your course grade and so it should be a significant effort. You are required to use (in some fashion) one philosophical article that we have not read in class (“outside article”). You may write on any topic you choose as long as it is a topic in business and consumer ethics, relates to the course in some way, and uses an outside philosophical article. (Below I provide some suggestions about topics.) You can choose an issue we discuss during the semester or some other topic that interests you. Don’t ignore topics from material we will discuss in the later parts of the course (if one of those topics interests you, read ahead and see if you want to write on it). Talk with each other (and me) about your ideas. Make sure you write on an issue that you want to spend some time thinking about.

A one page paper proposal is due Friday, March 20st at 1pm, in my mailbox, on the 1st floor inside 14 Glebe street. It should include a title, characterization of your topic, the major lines of argument you intend to pursue, tentative thesis, and a brief review of one philosophical article you will use in your paper (including how you will use it). Please fully reference this article: Provide the author’s name, title of the article (or chapter if in a book), title of the journal or book it appears in, the date of publication, and page numbers. The paper is due on Friday, April 10, 1pm, 1st floor mailbox inside 14 Glebe street. Staple the paper description (with my comments) to the back of the final paper, and keep an extra copy of the final paper for yourself.


1.          This paper should be a philosophy paper in which you focus on evaluative issues (e.g., Should businesses be required to go beyond the law and act ethically even if it involves loss of profits? Should managers respect employee privacy?) or conceptual issues (What counts as deceptive advertising? What are property rights and what do they entail?). The focus should be on providing reasons, arguments, and evidence for your claims. Ask: What is the right policy or action and then explain why you think this.

2.          Tie your paper into the course in some way. The paper must show that it was written by someone who took this course. In particular, if an assigned article has bearing on your topic, you must discuss what it says about it and your response. (For example, you should not write about employment at will without at least briefly discussing what Werhane and Maitland have to say about it and how their views relate to yours).

3.          At least one outside (not assigned in the course) philosophical reading is required for this paper. (The simplest way to find such an article is to use a philosophical article from our text that has not been assigned for the course.) I suggest looking for articles in the following journals, all of which are carried on line by our library (search under periodicals): The Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics Quarterly, Business Ethic: A European Review,, Electronic Journal of Business and Organization Ethics, Journal of Business Systems, Governance and Ethics, Business and Society Review. You can also use the reference called “Philosophers Index” which lists by subject, title, and author most philosophical articles that have been published. You can find it under “databases” on the library main page (and the link is You also might take a look at this short set of articles I’ve put together: (see course webpage at the top)


Although I want you to find and use an outside philosophical article, don't get bogged down on this dimension of the paper. The paper should focus on your own ideas; the outside reading is meant only to help stimulate your own thinking.

Possible Paper Topics for Business Ethics

(Papers are not limited to these topics! Shape the topic in your own way.)


1.           Most of the class readings on which students have given oral presentations provide good issues that could be turned into paper topics.

2.           Look at the material under miscellaneous on the class web page for ideas.

3.           One place to look for possible paper ideas is Randy Cohen, New York Times “The Ethicist”

              a.           Google Randy Cohen The Ethicist or try the link below


4.           Ethical issues concerning hazardous waste in globalized business

5.           Business ethics and climate change

6.           Business ethics and alternative transportation (see the video “Who Killed the Electric Car” available in College library)

7.           Ethical issues pertaining to the business of selling babies, see articles by Debora L. Spar,

8.           Concept of a fair or living wage: Should businesses be required to pay workers a wage they can live on? How does this relate to the minimum wage. One might also focus on the international dimension to this issue: Do multinational corporations have obligations to pay foreign workers a living or fair wage? How are these to be specified? Are these obligations the same as they are to American workers?


9.           Sustainability, environmental responsibility, and business

              a.           An analysis of Interface corporation and its founder Ray Anderson; what lessons about business ethics and sustainability can we learn?

              b.           See articles by Paul Hawken or his book The Ecology of Commerce

              c.           Joseph DesJardins, Business, Ethics, and the Environment: Imagining a Sustainable Future Prentice Hall 2007.

              d.           What makes a business green (environmentally friendly)? Do businesses have obligations to be green? Why or why not?

              e.           Do businesses have responsibilities to go beyond what the law requires to protect the environment? A critique or defense of Norman Bowie’s article on this subject.

              f.            Ethical issues about pollution

10.         Advertising ethics: Distinguish between ethical and unethical advertising. Possible issues to consider:

              a.           What counts as deceptive/misleading/unfair advertising. The ethics of such advertising.

              b.           Whether or not ads can and do manipulate and undermine people’s autonomy; The dependence effect: How ads do or do not control our desires and lives.

              c.           Advertising and privacy

              d.           Advertising that does not deceive but is still inappropriate

              e.           Freedom of speech and advertising; does regulating advertising compromise advertisers freedom of speech? (Our editors have an article on this topic in another book.)

              f.            Ethical issues in advertising’s treatment/depiction of women.

              g.           Should there be any limits on where ads should go; places ads don’t belong? Why or why not?

              h.           Ethics of green marketing and greenwashing

              i.            Ethical issues in advertising to children; . How it can (or can’t?) be done properly

              j.            Advertising in schools

              k.           Ethical issues in selling products to children

11.         An analysis of Friedman’s article and a defense of it against the editors’ criticisms

12.         Ethical evaluation of child labor in the developing world by U.S. corporations: For one article on this topic, see

13.         Do businesses have social responsibilities to the communities in which they are located?

14.         An analysis of Carr’s views on business ethics (perhaps including evaluation of the poker analogy) and comparing with the article on the course webpage by Bhide and Stevenson, "Why Be Honest if Honesty Doesn't Pay"

15.         Goodpaster and Matthews on corporate social responsibility: criticisms or support

16.         Why corporations do (or do not) only have negative duties and no positive duties

17.         Ethical and philosophical issues in product liability law (possibly considering the McDonald’s coffee burning case and the suit about how fattening the food is)

18.         Do Americans consume too much? Why it does or doesn’t matter. More generally, the ethics of consumption

19.         Consuming because others consume: The rationality and irrationality of consumer behavior.

20.         Finding an alternative to the mass consumption society.

21.         Do consumers have obligations to buy American?

22.         Ethical issues in marketing and selling products in the non-industrialized world (See Brenkert article at end of course)

23.         Ethical (and unethical) types of tourism, including and analysis and critique of ecotourism.

24.         Universal human rights and business practices overseas (See Donaldson article at end of course). Are different ethical standards applicable in different cultures? (See Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.)

25.         Green consumerism, prospects and ethics.

26.          An evaluation of the claim that consumers have an obligation to consume in a way that protects the environment (“green consumerism”) or that do not support unfair labor practices. (See Juliet Schor on ereserves)

27.         Ethical issues concerning treatment of women in the workforce (e.g., equal pay issue or see Shultz’s article).

28.         Ethical issues in drug testing in the workplace

29.         Genetic screening in the workplace, insurance industry ethics, and business hiring policies

30.         Employment at will versus due process

31.         The ethics of selling dangerous produces (e.g., guns, drugs)

32.         Accounting ethics

33.         What should be owned? Importance and limits of property rights (e.g., patents, land). For one dimension, see Boomer vs. Atlantic Cement Company (p. 435)

34.         Plant closing ethics; ethics of closing U.S. factories and moving work overseas. See Levis shrinks article.

35.         Ethics and workplace safety. How much risk is permissible? Can wages compensate for risk (up to a point?)

36.         What is greed? Are many ethical lapses in business tied to greed? Is it sinful to be “filthy rich?”

37.         Ethics of executive salaries

38.         The ethics of insider trading.