PH425      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Mr Thomas Ferretti


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, MBA Exchange, MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science, MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences and MSc in Risk and Finance. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course is about philosophical and ethical issues in the conduct of business. There is a growing consensus that businesses should not merely focus on maximizing profit while respecting the Law, they should also take on ethical and social responsibilities beyond what is required by Law. There is disagreement, however, regarding the nature and extent of these ethical obligations. The aim of this course is to give you the tools to think clearly and rigorously about business ethics and corporate social responsibility.

You will learn about different ethical theories and apply them to a variety of real-world challenges arising in business. You will also practice argumentative and writing skills that will help you express your thoughts in a rigorous and convincing way. Importantly, this course will not present you with a code of ethics, ready-made solutions or dogmatic answers. Instead, you will practice ethical reasoning, analytical skills, and critical thinking so that, towards the end of the course, you will be able to develop your own ideas and you will no longer be satisfied with simple answers to difficult problems.

The first half of the course (weeks 1-5) introduces important theories in business ethics and discusses best practices regarding executive compensations, sweatshop labour, environmental protection, and market failures. The second half of the course (weeks 7-11) applies these theories to new challenges arising in the context of emerging technologies such as value-alignment in artificial intelligence systems (AI), the protection of privacy in the information age, human and algorithmic discrimination, and the inequalities resulting from digital platforms and automation.

Topics discussed in this course include:

  • Are business executives' large compensation packages justified?
  • Is Nike wrong to subcontract their production to sweatshops hiring workers in exploitative conditions?
  • How to understand BP's environmental responsibility after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
  • Can Facebook protect free speech while using artificial intelligence in content moderation?
  • Should firms have an obligation to protect the privacy of their workers and customers?
  • Can algorithmic bias lead to wrongful discrimination in hiring?
  • Have platforms like Uber and Airbnb improved the market or have they created unfair inequalities?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of LT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will take place online.

Formative coursework

One essay of 2000 words.

Indicative reading

James Rachels and Stuart Rachels (2012) The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 7th ed., New York NY: McGraw-Hill.

Milton Friedman (1970) "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits", The New York Times Magazine.

Joseph Heath (2014) Morality, Competition, and the Firm: The Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

David Vogel (2005) The Market for Virtue: the potential and limits of corporate social responsibility, Brookings Institution Press.

Matt Zwolinski (2007) "Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation", Business Ethics Quarterly 17 (4): 689-727.

Helen Nissenbaum (1998) “Protecting Privacy in an Information Age: The Problem of Privacy in Public”, Law and Philosophy, 17(5-6): 559-596.

Cynthia Dwork (2018) “You and AI: the challenges to making machines play fair”, Royal Society Conference.

Annette Zimmermann, Elena Di Rosa, Hochan Kim (2020) “Technology can’t fix Algorithmic Bias”, Boston Review.

Diane Coyle (2017) “Precarious and productive work in the digital economy”, National Institute Economic Review 240: 5-14.

Required readings amount to about two papers per week.


Exam (40%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (50%, 2000 words) in the ST.
Quiz (10%) in the LT.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 47.1
Merit 45.7
Pass 7.1
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2020/21: 31

Average class size 2020/21: 12

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information