South-Western - Management  
Study Says Bioscience Firms Formalize Ethical Decision-Making
Topic Ethics and Social Responsibility
Key Words Ethical leadership, ethical decision-making
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News Story

Bioscience firms face many ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day operations, from the development of genetically modified food to the creation of transgenic animals to produce drugs, for example. Because these businesses are operating on the edge of ethics every day, they have developed formalized systematic approaches to ethical decision-making that other industries can study and learn from.

Jocelyn Mackie, who led a study into the bioscience companies’ ethical techniques, says that research has uncovered five interrelated approaches to addressing ethical issues. These techniques can be summarized as follows:

  1. Ethical leadership: most companies report a commitment to ethical leadership that begins at the CEO or founder, and is then reinforced by executives of the company. In large companies, whole departments are devoted to ethical issues.
  2. External expertise: several companies used external consultants to provide ethics expertise not available within the company. Others used advisory boards to provide guidance on specific issues like medicine, law, or religion.
  3. Internal ethics mechanisms: Some companies consider candidate’s values as part of the screening process when hiring. Others have ethics incorporated into their performance reviews. Many of the companies have some form of formal education and discussion forums to reinforce ethics within the company.
  4. External ethics engagement: More than half of the bioscience companies in the study require business partners to match their ethical approach. Most firms also engage in open discussions with stakeholders on ethical issues.
  5. Ethics evaluation and reporting mechanisms: a few companies have a formal format for reporting to stakeholders on their ethical commitments. This is an area that many are still developing.
Companies not only want to do the right thing, maintaining visibly strong ethics is important to the company’s reputation and bottom line.


Why is a visibly strong system for ethics so important to companies in today’s business climate?


How can other industries apply what bioscience firms are doing with ethical decision making to help them to improve their own techniques?


The article states that some of the bioscience firms have started taking candidate’s values into consideration when they are hiring. Others have included ethics on performance reviews. What are some specific ways that ethics might be measured in these two situations?

Source “Study Says Bioscience Firms Formalize Ethical Decision-Making,” Food Chemical News, April, 10, 2006, v48 i9 p.9.
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