The Corporate Conscience

The interviews gathered here are with those who are or have been involved with corporate America--primarily as managers; the companies represented have tried to deal with ethically sensitive issues in a responsible way, according to author David Freudberg.

Is it possible for a corporation to modify strictly financial considerations by ethical concerns and still remain viable in a competitive economy? While some of the interviewees explicitly maintain that ethical business, at least in the long run, leads to financial success, it is clear that the effort can be trying for morally mature executives. In spite of this undercurrent, not one of the interviewees questions the legitimacy of a competitive economy, although Kenneth N. Dayton, former chairman of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation, does offer a proposal to encourage shareholders to behave more as owners and less as speculators.

The advantage of interviews is the immediacy of give and take. However, while Freudberg at times asks probing questions, at other times he does not, and so the interviewees sometimes engage in exposition rather than conversation. Nevertheless, the interviews are interesting and engaging as they stand. While they do not provide an orderly exploration of business ethics, and while they barely address broader economic (and hence political) considerations, they show how some corporations, operating within a competitive market economy, have tried to incorporate ethics into the way they conduct their business.