Ethics at the Centre of Global and Local Challenges: Thoughts on the Future of Business Ethics

Steffen Böhm, Michal Carrington, Nelarine Cornelius, Boudewijn de Bruin, Michelle Greenwood*, Louise Hassan, Tanusree Jain, Charlotte Karam, Arno Kourula, Laurence Romani, Suhaib Riaz, Deirdre Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

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To commemorate 40 years since the founding of the Journal of Business Ethics, the editors in chief of the journal have invited the editors to provide commentaries on the future of business ethics. This essay comprises a selection of commentaries aimed at creating dialogue around the theme Ethics at the centre of global and local challenges. For much of the history of the Journal of Business Ethics, ethics was seen within the academy as a peripheral aspect of business. However, in recent years, the stakes have risen dramatically, with global and local worlds destabilized by financial crisis, climate change, internet technologies and artificial intelligence, and global health crises. The authors of these commentaries address these grand challenges by placing business ethics at their centre. What if all grand challenges were framed as grand ethical challenges? Tanusree Jain, Arno Kourula and Suhaib Riaz posit that an ethical lens allows for a humble response, in which those with greater capacity take greater responsibility but remain inclusive and cognizant of different voices and experiences. Focussing on business ethics in connection to the grand(est) challenge of environmental emergencies, Steffen Böhm introduces the deceptively simple yet radical position that business is nature, and nature is business. His quick but profound side-step from arguments against human–nature dualism to an ontological undoing of the business–nature dichotomy should have all business ethics scholars rethinking their “business and society” assumptions. Also, singularly concerned with the climate emergency, Boudewijn de Bruin posits a scenario where, 40 years from now, our field will be evaluated by its ability to have helped humanity emerge from this emergency. He contends that Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth) v. Royal Dutch Shell illustrates how human rights take centre stage in climate change litigation, and how business ethics enters the courtroom. From a consumer ethics perspective, Deirdre Shaw, Michal Carrington and Louise Hassan argue that ecologically sustainable and socially just marketplace systems demand cultural change, a reconsideration of future interpretations of “consumer society”, a challenge to the dominant “growth logic” and stimulation of alternative ways to address our consumption needs. Still concerned with global issues, but turning attention to social inequalities, Nelarine Cornelius links the capability approach (CA) to global and corporate governance, arguing that CA will continue to lie at the foundation of human development policy, and, increasingly, CSR and corporate governance. Continuing debate on the grand challenges associated with justice and equality, Laurence Romani identifies a significant shift in the centrality of business ethics in debates on managing (cultural) differences, positing that dialogue between diversity management and international management can ground future debate in business ethics. Finally, the essay concludes with a commentary by Charlotte Karam and Michelle Greenwood on the possibilities of feminist-inspired theories, methods, and positionality for many spheres of business ethics, not least stakeholder theory, to broaden and deepen its capacity for nuance, responsiveness, and transformation. In the words of our commentators, grand challenges must be addressed urgently, and the Journal of Business Ethics should be at the forefront of tackling them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-861
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2022


  • Capability approach
  • Climate change
  • Consumer ethics
  • Cultural differences
  • Feminism
  • Grand challenges
  • Inequality


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