Ethical Theories Applied to Enron
Ethical Theories Applied to EnronPrescriptive Approaches to Ethics at Enron
Enron was a global energy firm that filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. The firm’s senior managers had engaged in fraud for an extended period through a scheme in which partnerships owned by the managers could receive payment for goods and services never provided to Enron. In addition, the firm’s external auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, was complicit in the fraud by knowingly certifying false financial statements as accurate. Arthur Anderson participated in the fraud because the firm did not want to risk losing lucrative consulting contracts from Enron, which created a conflict of interest situation (Miller, 2004). The events leading to the collapse of Enron can be analyzed using the ethical frameworks suggested by consequentialist theory, deontological theory, and virtue ethics. Such an analysis can provide an explanation of the failure of Enron’s directors, mangers, and auditors to adhere to their ethical duties to the shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers of the firm.
Consequentialist theory suggests that an act is ethically wrong if it results in consequences deemed wrong or harmful by the majority of people in a society (Hooker, 2002). The consequentialist theory requires assessing the actual consequences of the act, which includes both direct and indirect consequences. It also requires using some type of evaluative norm for determining whether the consequence is beneficial or harmful. The theory is prescriptive because the evaluative norms are used to guide whether individuals should perform or avoid an act. To apply the theory, there must be general agreement in a society as to the nature of the evaluative norms. The theory also suggests that the ethics of each situation should be determined according to the specific circumstances without reference to an absolute legalistic or moralistic standard.
One consequentialist approach is utilitarianism, which examines an act on the basis of the...