During the past few years, issues such as globalisation and stakeholder activism have created challenging problems for business managers. To advise managers on tough decision, ethical theories such as utilitarianism, deontological ethics and theories of justice and rights are introduced in most business ethics books and taught in management education. However, it seems that these theories are not usually explicitly utilised by managers in their everyday discussions about the ethics or morality of business decisions. Therefore, this article looks at the role of ethical theories in managers’ decision-making, and highlights the changing role of these theories in decision-making processes during the past decades.
Every moral decision-making situation forces a business manager to choose guiding principles according to which the final decision is made. Based on ethical theories, choosing the most fitting theory and following its principles might seem to be the appropriate option for a manager pondering what to do in a certain situation. However, most ethical decision-making situations are complex and sticking to one ethical principle may prove to be impossible or inadequate.