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Companies in a World of Conflict - Business Ethics - Management and Morality

July 23, 1999

These are three very different books written for different reasons and groups of readers. Norman Barry is professor of social and political theory at the University of Buckingham. Not surprisingly for a runner from that stable, his Business Ethics is written, as he himself states, "to defend a particular form of capitalism, the Anglo-American type". So the book has no particular readers in mind, but is for anyone interested in an apology for the system of market economics practised in the English-speaking world. The title is therefore a misnomer, as the contents are generally hostile to what has come to be known today as business ethics. Indeed, Barry openly claims that "ethics always runs up against economics". And he does less than justice to the City of London by repeatedly lumping together British and American forms of capitalism.

The general contents of the book include analyses of the corporation as an entity, of the ethics of the stock market (with some defence of insider dealing), of the morality of takeovers, and a discussion of the environmental problems of business. There are several short case studies of ethical problems involving large corporations.

Reading the book is hindered by Barry's overuse of bracketed insertions and the presence of numerous typographical errors. Some readers, too, may find words that are new to them, such as "catallactics" and "tuistic". Others, however, will find Barry's description of religion as "an approach which is impervious to science, to economic reasoning and to facts"deeply offensive; although this offence is confused, if not fully mitigated, by his statement on the following page that "it is clear that religious environmentalism has nothing to do with Christianity (or indeed any of the great religions of the world)".

By contrast, Patrick Maclagan, who is a senior lecturer in management at the University of Hull, has written Management and Morality as an academic book for academics. The overall perspective that he adopts "is one which emphasises the moral development of individuals in organisations", which for him is wider than commercial businesses and includes all employing organisations and professions. For Maclagan, "the key to managerial ethics is the development of individuals so that, ideally, they will possess the moral attributes required for the apprehension, appreciation and handling of ethical issues and dilemmas."

The main difficulty with this book is that it suffers from a proliferation of references to other works, with the bibliography of 17 pages containing more than 500 references. While this may give academic students a comprehensive source of references, one did wonder at times if the book had been written by a computer. It is hard to read, and contains little that seems original.

Companies in a World of Conflict is simply the published collection of papers given at a workshop organised in Oslo in April 1997 by the Royal Institute of International Affairs. It covers subjects relating to the activities of multinational companies, especially in the oil industry, varying from "Legal boundaries for extraterritorial ambitions" to "Human rights: one more challenge for the petroleum industry". The contributors are academics, environmentalists, oil executives, former public servants and officers of the RIIA. There are footnotes, but no cumulative index. The book has more potential use as a workshop reference record than for reading cover to cover.

Edmund Marshall is lecturer in management science, University of Bradford.

Companies in a World of Conflict

Editor - John V. Mitchell
ISBN - 1 85383 536 6
Publisher - Earthscan
Price - £16.95
Pages - 314

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