Can Businesses be Ethical? What Would this Mean?


We can all think of examples of businesses, or perhaps their senior managers, behaving badly and causing harms to wider society. The Enron scandal, excessive risk taking in the lead-up to the 2007-8 financial crash, “Dieselgate” and others spring to mind.

But can we really expect any more of businesses? Are they ethical entities? Or do they simply exist to pursue profit at all costs? Do the managers and leaders of businesses have special duties and responsibilities?

In the second half of the course we will look at the various areas in which businesses engage in controversial activities. Some of these are about fairness, such as the treatment of workers and customers. We will consider concerns about the impacts of business activities on the environment and the relationship between business and politics. The course will end with a discussion of the controversies arising where businesses take the opportunity to do business and make profits abroad.

In this short course we will draw on ethics and real case studies to consider the extent to which businesses can and should be expected to act ethically.

Programme details

Courses starts: 29 Sep 2023

Week 1: Introduction: What is Ethics?

Week 2: What’s morality got to do with it? Business and moral agency

Week 3: Who should businesses benefit?

Week 4: Responsibilities of managers and leaders

Week 5: What do firms owe their workers, and what do workers owe their firms?

Week 6: Fairness in the workplace: How should employers treat their workers? 

Week 7: Buyer beware! On advertising and sales.

Week 8: Environment, nature and sustainability. Should businesses limit their environmental impact?

Week 9: Business and politics – a bad combination?

Week 10: Business across borders: problematic opportunities?


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Doug Bamford

Doug Bamford teaches courses in philosophy and political economy at OUDCE. His main interest is in political philosophy and its application to public policy. He received his PhD in Political Philosophy at the University of Warwick in 2013. He is author of Rethinking Taxation (Searching Finance, 2014) and several papers (including articles in the Journal of Applied Philosophy and Moral Philosophy and Politics). He blogs at Doug Bamford's Tax Appeal.

Course aims

To introduce students to the ways that ethics can be applied to business activities, allowing them to come to their own considered views on these controversial issues. 

Course objectives:

  • To introduce students to ethics and the ways it can be applied to business activities.
  • To give students good knowledge and understanding of the issues that philosophers have discussed regarding business practices.
  • To give students practice in the analysis and critical assessment of controversial business practices.

Teaching methods

Students will be asked to read one or two relevant texts each week before class. Classroom sessions will consist of a mixture of activities including active lecturing, small group discussion and open debate.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • be able to recognise ethical controversies in business practices and apply ethical reasoning to them.
  • have learnt how to formulate and evaluate arguments about ethically controversial issues relating to business practices.
  • have gained confidence in expressing ideas in writing and open debate.

Assessment methods

Coursework will consist of

Either one essay of 1500 words or two or three smaller essays totalling this amount.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)