This chapter discusses the duty-based moral philosophy of one of Europe’s most influential philosophers, Immanuel Kant. Kantian theory places a great deal of emphasis on intentions, human reason, and freedom, and the chapter explores some implications that these themes have for business practice. Some ways in which Kantian theory might help us to identify our duty in business situations are also explored. The chapter ends by applying these insights specifically to ethical evaluation of labour standards in offshore production.
Kant’s Moral Philosophy
1. Imagine two companies: one gives money to local charities because it is good PR to do so; the other gives money to local charities because its employees think they have a duty to help local people. How would Kant rate the ethicality of these contrasting reasons for giving money to charity?
2. Imagine a third company, which gives money to local charities because lots of kind, generous people work for it. How would Kant rate the ethicality of this company against the other two?
3. Why did Kant think it is better for humans to act on reason than to act on sentiment?
Identifying Duty: The Categorical Imperative
4. What is an imperative?
5. What is the difference between a categorical imperative and a hypothetical imperative?
6. Give an example of how Kant’s formula of universal law might help businesspeople to identify their duty.
7. Give an example of a business treating a supplier purely as a means to the end of making profit.
8. Give an example of a business treating a supplier as an end in their own right as well as treating that supplier as a means to making profit.
9. How might a businessperson apply Kant’s formula of universal acceptability to evaluate the ethicality of a proposed action?
10. What is the difference, in Kantian theory, between a perfect duty and an imperfect duty?
Kantian Ethics Theory Applied to Labour Standards in Offshore Production
11. What is offshoring?
12. Why might businesspeople have an imperfect duty to be considerate to those who make their products?
13. How might Kant’s formula of universal law help businesspeople to identify their perfect duty to the people who make their products in an offshore factory?
14. How might Kant’s formula of the end in itself help to identify their perfect duty to offshore employees?
15. How might a company apply the formula of universal acceptability to evaluate the ethicality of the labour practices in its offshore factories?
This BBC page about duty-based ethics contains a discussion of Kantian theory and provides links to associated BBC audio and written resources.
This links to a Guardian article, which discusses whether working conditions in Bangladesh factories have changed since the Rana Plaza disaster. The article provides a basis for considering whether companies whose clothing is produced in these factories are responding to the duties that consideration of the categorical imperative would entail.