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Ethics are the set of moral principles that guide a person's behavior. These morals are shaped by socialnorms, cultural practices, and religious influences. Ethics reflect beliefs about what is right, what is wrong, what is just, what is unjust, what is good, and what is bad in terms of human behavior. They serve as a compass to direct how people should behave toward each other, understand and fulfill their obligations to society, and live their lives.
While ethical beliefs are held by individuals, they can also be reflected in the values, practices, and policies that shape the choices made by decision makers on behalf of their organizations. The phrases business ethics and corporate ethics are often used to describe the application of ethical values to business activities. Ethics applies to all aspects of conduct and is relevant to the actions of individuals, groups, and organizations.
In addition to individual ethics and corporate ethics there are professional ethics. Professionals such as managers, lawyers, and accountants are individuals who exercise specialized knowledge and skills when providing services to customers or to the public. By virtue of their profession, they have obligations to those they serve. For example, lawyers must hold client conversations confidential and accountants must display the highest levels of honest and integrity in their record keeping and financial analysis. Professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association, and licensing authorities, such as state governments, set and enforce ethical standards.
The concept of corporate social responsibility emphasizes ethical behavior in that it requires organizations to understand, identify, and eliminate unethical economic, environmental, and social behaviors.