Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Taking an ethical oath is fine, but we need more than words

October 2009

Student pledges need to be backed by a formula for teaching CSR in business schools, says Jeremy Moon

Periodically, when corporate irresponsibility has reached a new pitch, the spotlight turns onto the role that business schools have played in promoting such poor behaviour. So it is now, with suggestions that many of the people who have been most to blame for the current crisis were MBA graduates from some of the most prestigious schools.

Students at Harvard Business School, perhaps trying to repair some of the reputational damage, have sought to commit themselves to an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath associated with graduating doctors. Their MBA oath takes a stakeholder perspective, promising that ‘I will safeguard the interests of my co-workers, customers and society’.  

The cynics might feel this is something of an adolescent knee-jerk reaction (and MBAs at most US schools are a lot younger than many in European schools). But let’s take it at face value. There appears to be a greater interest in sustainability among the ‘next generation’ and our own research into the adoption of CSR education in Europe suggests student demand is one of the key factors in its growth.

One worries, however, about a graduation commitment alone as a basis for the future of ethical management.  After all, the Hippocratic Oath is founded upon a searching period of education and training precisely to instruct and encourage doctors to do no harm.

How then should responsible management education be taught? One model may be a four-fold approach that focuses more on business-society relationships that are vital for long-term sustainability.  This would consist of:
  Concepts and frameworks, such as ethics, legitimacy, responsibility, stakeholders, sustainability, and strategy
  Evidence-based teaching, making use of aggregate data, case-studies,and practitioner speakers
  Techniques, such as those connected with accounting, reporting, assuring and stakeholder strategies
  Engaged pedagogies, such as film, facilitated role play and internships.

These four concepts provide a framing and a language; evidence can inform strategy-building and evaluation and provide a currency; techniques can inform the doing; and the engaged pedagogies can raise awareness of responsibility in organizations. This should perhaps be viewed not as a formula but as a balanced diet.  If we can get the diet right, then maybe we will be able to treat a business school education more as a formative period for responsible management than simply a ticket to a job.

Jeremy Moon is director of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School

Jeremy Moon | Global | Ethics

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