Should Business Have A Conscience?

I've had the conversation with a few different people about businesses paying their rightful tax.

This subject is interesting to me because we're small business and we meet our tax commitments without attempting to reduce that commitment through loopholes or other means, whereas, as we continually hear, many large companies use obtuse structures and tactics to significantly reduce what they need to pay.

I don't think that's right. I think companies operate within society, and only succeed because society works, and so the company owe the society in which they operate and make profit, and should pay their share back into it, to help keep it working.

But some people, in defence of the actions of those companies, say to me that it's up to the government to close the loopholes and, as long as the company isn't actually breaking the law, they should take advantage of any opportunity.

And that is a fair challenge I think. But I'm not sure I agree.

To stop companies doing that kind of thing requires specific laws to be set to rule out the practices which make it possible. That's time consuming and by its nature is reactionary. By the time the laws have been passed, more than likely the clever people who help companies lower their tax burden will have found clever new ways to do so that don't fall foul of the new legislation.

So I wonder whether companies should act like a part of our society by choice. Shouldn't they operate with a conscience?

Conscience is loosely defined as a moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour.

As individuals, we are expected to behave morally and with a conscience. So why not business?

The argument against seems to be that business only has a responsibility to it's shareholders and to making profit. But is that right? A business isn't a person, but it is created by people and run by people. Should it not be expected to have the same responsibilities as a person?

At the moment it seems that people can start companies, and run them, but once it up and running, the company is an entity that is not judged by the same values that a person would be.

What do you think, dear reader, should business have a conscience – or is that just idealistic, hippy nonsense?


  1. Optimism, in general, is hippy nonsense. Here's my take (which has worth equal to but not greater than an opinion):

    The tax structure was created by politicians, most of whom are lobbied for by shells that are created by corporations. Those loopholes? Self-installed. Unless and until we simplify the tax code – flat corporate tax, flat personal tax, done – there will always be these kinds of loopholes. A company's conscience is its stockholders. It is not a person, contrary to legal definition in the US – and is has no soul, no morals, and no goals other than the manufacture of profit.

    Expecting a corporation to have a conscience would require a lack of stockholders, an ownership with a socially just approach, and fewer politicians in general.

    I agree that everyone should pay their fair share (and I do mean everyone). I won't go into what I believe that fair share is, and I certainly think that the problem with most corporations is politics (and vice versa).

  2. I don't think they should have one or the other. It's more a case of one corporation having a conscience, while another one might not.

  3. I"m with you on this SS. Why should corporations get away with behaviour that would be unacceptable for individuals?

  4. At least if a business is out to make profit with no conscience then I know I'm being lied to.
    With a conscience, who knows?
    They never will, so it's academic.