The ‘‘ethics’’ of being proﬁt focused
S. Mercia Selva Malar
Purpose – This paper seeks to emphasise the importance of ﬁrms being responsible to society.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper examines ﬁrms’ omissions and commissions in the various
functional areas of management while they focused on proﬁt. Examples of such omissions and commissions
are also discussed. Support from businessmen and authors who share such a viewpoint is mentioned
Findings – In the long term, ﬁrms that are socially responsible are successful.
Practical implications – Practising social responsibility consciously, ﬁrms can make the world a better
place for all people. It can be beneﬁcial for the entire society.
Originality/value – Omissions and commissions arising out of being proﬁt-focused are the author’s
original contribution. The paper is of value to researchers and practitioners of corporate social
responsibility and business ethics. Firms need to understand that they cannot succeed and excel for
long if they neglect stakeholders other than shareholders.
Keywords Corporate image, Corporate social responsibility, Business ethics, Proﬁt
Paper type Viewpoint
Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great, said:
Contrary to business school doctrine, we did not ﬁnd ‘‘maximizing shareholder wealth’’ or ‘‘proﬁt
maximization’’ as the dominant driving force or primary objective through the history of most of
the visionary companies. They have tended to produce a cluster of objectives, of which money is
only one – and not necessarily the primary one (Collins, 2001).
The actions of ﬁrms abiding by the principles of ethics and morality are spontaneous, and
based on the universal truth of enduring values. Therefore no law can enforce ethics and
morality being incorporated into businesses. Ethics and morality in business today are
superﬁcial terms. Firms try to show that they are ethical and moral, but in reality they fail.
There is a more lip service being paid to ethics and morality than actually acting ethically and
morally. There are several theories that emphasize the purpose of the business. Milton
Friedman’s dictum, ‘‘The purpose of business is business’’, is held dear by most ﬁrms. It is
this theory which gives rise to the thinking that proﬁt alone is the necessary focus of
business. The theory that portrays shareholders as the only group to be considered by the
managers in decision-making concerning business is again a lopsided view of the
accountability of business. Even when businesses follow some ethical standards they follow
them with the purpose of improving their image and further enhancing their proﬁts. With
increased awareness of the need for ethics and greater pressure from various quarters of
society, there is greater deterioration and erosion in ethics and morality in the corporate
world today. Firms are more driven by the numbers, by the bottom line. Though it is not wrong
to focus on this, and it can be justiﬁed from all perspectives of business, getting carried away
and focusing on proﬁt alone is against ethics and moral principles.
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY JOURNAL
VOL. 4 NO. 1/2 2008, pp. 136-142, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1747-1117 DOI 10.1108/17471110810856901
S. Mercia Selva Malar is a
Professor at SCMS Cochin,