International recognition for Henley research

5 February 2016

International recognition for Henley research

A Henley faculty member has recently achieved international recognition for a research based case study focussed on the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Henley Business School has recently achieved international recognition in research-based case study learning.

Dr Kleio Akrivou, Associate Professor of Business Ethics and Organisational Behaviour at Henley, has been informed that a case study she co-authored with Dr Ian Hunter of the University of Auckland Business School has become one of the top ten most popular cases internationally, according to the European Case Clearing House.

The case study, ‘BP and the Gulf Oil Disaster: Making Tough Choices’, is based on real historic events relevant to BP and the gulf oil disaster. In a fictional scenario, students confront an ethical controversy. It explores social-situational pressures especially salient in ethically weak organisational cultures that expect employees to act as spokespersons and to stand for firm interests to minimise the risk of lawsuits. As soon as employees start to think or feel that employers’ requests are seriously breaching their personal and professional integrity, there is a clear moral dilemma. Carlos, the character in the case study, is a promising expert in the area of environmental sustainability and responsibility; beyond his role inside the firm he maintains a few external social and civic roles and is well known and trusted for his genuine adherence to his values, professionalism and his integrity. However, given the pressures the employer faces due to the recent oil spill, higher-up executives make a controversial moral demand on Carlos, seemingly leaving him no choice but to carry out these instructions as he is contractually obliged to do.

In this piece of work, the authors explore the ethical dilemma(s) regarding the relationship between large institutions/firms and a key stakeholder group – their own managers and employees. It further examines research-related questions linked to Dr Akrivou’s research on integrity, descriptive ethics and virtue, such as:

  • How can individuals act ethically when facing moral dilemmas that involve loyalty to larger organisations, a concern for their co-workers and employers, and their integrity?
  • How can individuals resolve integrity challenges that involve a conflict between their moral obligations and their narrower roles as professionals, between their employee roles and their broader personal, social and civic roles?
  • How can a personal propensity for virtue and moral maturity help face such complex moral demands?

Should we assume that any institution has a legitimate claim of ownership over the employees it employs? What are the ethical theory objections to the idea of ownership of humans and other living beings? Is it not in the interest of the broader society to empower and trust persons’ acting on the basis of personal integrity and their broader professional and human values?

The case study enables the experiential exploration by students of descriptive ethics, whereby ethical controversies involving personal integrity and professional ethics sit alongside narrow business and economic valuing and related expectations of compliance. This method of teaching is based on experiential learning and ethical debate and contemplation.

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