Definition of Ethical Criteria in Business

‘Care of the Relational Quality of the Decision-Maker’

Businessman taking notes © Pxhere

Dr. Alejandro Fontana, Professor of General Management and Executive Control at the University of Piura, Peru, shares with Exaudi’s readers this article entitled “Care of the Relational Quality of the Decision-Maker: A Key for Ethical Evaluation in the Business Realm.”

In a previous article, I analyzed the need to incorporate the ethical dimension in the strategic formation of a business leader. To recognize that one works for people and with people broadens the vision on the criteria and alternatives when deciding. And this facilitates the sustainability and permanence of the business.

Still valid in many countries is a business focus based on the maximization of profits for shareholders. This focus stems from a mechanistic conceptualization of the human person, regarding him only as a mere consumer. From this perspective, the object of all economic interaction is fulfilled with the satisfaction of a need: material, physical, cognitive, and affective. However, our daily experience enables us to see that in the exchanges of material goods, immaterial goods are also conveyed. So, for example, in the sale of a utensil not only is the utensil exchanged for an amount of money but the utensil is accompanied also by other goods or failing that, of the absence of them, as are cooperation, gratitude, honesty, knowledge or desire of service.

This reality is the one that the document “Considerations for an Ethical Discernment of the Present Economic and Financial System” contemplate to affirm that the human person is a being of relationships and, therefore, cannot be reduced to a mechanistic or individualist conception. From the moment of our birth, we are already inserted in an amalgam of relationships: we are grandchildren of grandparents and we have uncles, nephews, brothers, and cousins. As Professor Sellés comments, every human being is a child.

Then, when it’s about the exchange of economic goods that characterize business activity, the business quality cannot be evaluated without taking into account also the intangible goods that are conveyed in such an exchange.  To measure the result only by the economic benefit means to reduce the scope of the business activity. Or as Professor Rivera comments, business management can only be considered human when its decision-makers pay attention to the impact that their business decisions have on their quality as persons (2019).

To give an example, a business activity characterized by a disadvantageous asymmetry of information of the counterpart is not an ethical action. Such action is a violation of the relational honesty of the decision-maker. The impact on the relational quality thus becomes the measure of evaluation of the ethical quality of the economic action. From this conceptual presupposition of the human person, the document of the Sacred Congregation mentioned earlier offers a definition of morality for the economic and financial context that is extremely useful and enlightening: all equipment and resources used to increase its capacity of allocation are morally admissible if they are not directed against the dignity of the person and take into account the common good” (No. 13). Care of the relational quality is specified by the impact of the decision on the common good, that is, the impact on the whole of conditions that enable the person to be more a human person. Conditions that are usually formulated by exterior aspects, such as economy, security, education, access to work, spiritual search, but which always have the characteristic of being a human good with a communal dimension: it’s a good of all and of each one in particular (In Search of a Universal Ethics, No. 4.1).

In this connection, and by way of example, actions that generate an economic profit but which at the same time produce strong inequalities; profits resulting from economic exchanges that take advantage of an asymmetry of information; those that generate an environmental degradation; those that create social insecurity; or those that are the product of fraud cannot be cataloged as ethical actions.

Paying attention to the relational quality of the decision-maker makes it possible to evaluate with greater objectivity and facility the ethical quality of the business activity. Therefore, economic progress should be measured by the quantity and efficacy of the benefits, the quality of life it produces, and the social extension of the wellbeing it spreads: and wellbeing that cannot be reduced to material aspects (No. 11).


 Considerations for An Ethical Discernment of the Present Economic and Financial System (2018), Document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development.

In Search of a Universal Ethics: New Perspective on the Natural Law (2012), International Theological Commission.

Rivera, C.A. (2019) How Can We Empower a New Generation of Business Leaders through Ethical Management Education? Journal of Character Education, 15 (1), 39-52.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester