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Legality, ethics and shaming in the times of COVID

When law tends to fall behind the pace of evolution of society, ethics need to take a leading role. Despite flying still being a legal, though excessively regulated activity, people are questioning, whether it is ethical to continue flying.

Published : 10.02.2021

In a world where information is considered outdated within just a few months from publishing, where fake news makes headlines and can destabilize countries, law tends to fall behind the pace of evolution of society. It is in such situations in which ethics need to take a leading role.

A good example of where ethics have been much needed is the current worldwide scenario where the pandemic has overtaken our normal lives. The lack of proper contingency plans addressing the current pandemic-related challenges has certainly impacted many business sectors; not only from the crisis management point of view, but also from how the legal framework would need to adapt in such a case.

Needless to say, the aviation industry has been one of the most impacted industries, with European governments taking different standpoints towards how to regulate the arrival of air passengers to their airports. Nowadays, despite flying still being a legal activity (excessively regulated though), people are questioning, whether it is ethical to continue flying.

Most likely we have all heard about morals and ethics since we were kids, yet, I decided to look for some scholar literature to expand the understanding of such complex concepts.

Morals and ethics are not based on fixed sets of rules

Shao et al., (2008) argue that morality is inherently social, and it is based on interactions between members of society. The moral development of the individuals is affected by the perception of third parties on what it is believed to be good or bad. Moral identity affects the individuals’ day to day actions on how they act.

According to Johnson (2015), the ethics serve as fundamental principles of human conduct. While managing organizations, leaders are often challenged with ethical decisions and unethical behaviors that can either be part of the culture or part of the individuals. Senior leaders influence ethical or unethical conduct of followers by embedding their expectations and assumptions into manifestations of ethical or unethical culture that drives the organization (Schein, 2010).

Framework of law and the ethical dilemma

Due to the fast-changing conditions in businesses all over the world, with severe competition, disruptive technologies and instantaneous communications, the organizations need to consider that their success depends on quick reactions to market changes and environment changes. That may sometimes prompt the management to unethical practices that can end up in better results or target accomplishment, but at the same time compromise the ethical culture of the organization.

According to Boatright and Smith (2017), business activities take place within a framework of law and therefore the laws may be understood as the set of rules to run the business activities. So, does this mean that by adhering to the laws and regulations we are being ethical?

One view argues that the rules apply to everyone and must be followed to ensure a proper functioning of the business activities between different partners whereas ethics are personal opinions that show how the individuals choose to act.

The other view argues that ethics and law are related to each other and are an important part of business activities. The main difference is that law provides precise and detailed rules, unlike ethics, that are less precise and can lead to many different interpretations.

It is due to lack of unified interpretation that the ethical dilemma arises. There are as many interpretations and therefore ethical standpoints as human beings exist; hence, it gives room for people who are in support of flying (as long as taking all necessary safety precautions) as well as people who challenge the ethics of flying.

Aviation does not only now face environmental flight-shaming but also COVID-19 flight-shaming.

Further reading

  • Boatright, J., & Smith, J. 2017. Ethics and the code of business (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
  • Gomez-Mejia, L.R., & Balkin, D.B. 2002. Management. USA: McGraw-Hill.
  • Johnson, C. (2015). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: casting light or shadow (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  • Schein, E. H. 2010. Organizational culture and leadership (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
  • Shao, R., Aquino, K., & Freeman, D. 2008, October. Beyond moral reasoning: a review of moral identity research and its implications for business ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 18(4), 513-540.