Corporate business ethics can be seen as a sub-discipline of applied ethics. It focuses on the moral and ethical implications or problems commonly found in the business environment.
Business ethics takes the philosophical and theoretical principles of ethics and applies them to the corporate setting. It also takes the common business practices and examines whether they are ethically right or wrong. Business ethics is also often used in the corporate environment to promote social values that do not necessarily have an economic gain for the company.
The study, discussion, and practice of ethics in the corporate environment can be seen as vital to the successful operation of modern day businesses. While it may not make money for a business, the study of business ethics can have major implications on how businesses behave and how they interact with their adjacent communities.
Most large corporations do have a code of ethics that explains what is expected of employees, as well as provide general guidelines on how to handle common work-related ethical issues. The ultimate goal of the corporate code of ethics is to ensure that employees are more ethically aware and apply the company's key ethical principals consistently.
Some companies go even further than just having this information in print. They also conduct ethics training seminars where their employees get to participate in discussions and case study role-playing. This type of training can do a lot to help the company avoid catastrophic ethical issues.
There are some critics who may have issues with business ethics and do not readily support corporate policies that dictate how employees should behave when ethical issues occur. Other critics, again, point out the fact that in some companies, there is a major difference between the corporation's official ethics code and the way day-to-day business is carried out.
This implies that the company's ethics policy is either neglected, or merely serves as a tool to market the company to the general public. Some of these critics believe that the primary purpose of some companies' corporate business ethics, is to make the company look good in the eyes of the general public, so as to limit any liability should the company be faced with legal issues surrounding ethics.
Some again, believe that corporations should trust their employees to make ethical decisions on their own without the aid of corporate policies.
A number of large businesses have also appointed an ethics officer whose job is to advise the Chief Executive Officer on the ethical implications of various business-related activities. The ethics officer would also be responsible for ensuring that the code of ethics is adhered to, and rid the company of any illegal practices or questionable activities.
This trend of stronger emphasis on corporate business ethics came about due to the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which became law in the USA in response to several high profile corporate ethical wrong-doing cases.