Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 41, Issue 1, Spring 2022

Geert Demuijnck, Patrick Murphy
Pages 59-92

Retail Practitioners’ Views vs. Ideal Theoretical Positions Concerning Ethical Business Practices with Garment Suppliers

The paper analyzes managers’ stance toward the ethical responsibility of those who work for multinational garment retailers. Most are charged with the social compliance policies affecting relationships with subcontractors. This study is based on interviews conducted with major European and American retailers. Our research question is: what is the normative stance of our respondents? We find that they reject the ideological way in which the normative debate on sweatshops has been conducted by business ethicists during the last decades. These executives’ implicit conception and scope of their moral responsibility is much more in line with Iris Young’s (2006) conception of ‘political responsibility’. This managerial ethical position has not been adequately captured by earlier writings on this topic. In general, the managerial ethical framing of issues like child labor, minimally decent labor conditions, a living wage, etc. is at odds with how these issues are usually treated in the philosophical debates around sweatshops. Examining both visions allows us to better grasp the pragmatic normative stance of business practitioners as well as the dynamics of social compliance policies. In the conclusion, we draw both management lessons and research implications for more ethical interactions with suppliers.