Kant’s categorical imperative holds that everyone should be treated as a free person equal to everyone else. His formulae under this imperative are (1) never do something unless you are willing to have everyone do it, and (2) never use people merely as means, but always respect and develop their ability to choose for themselves. This imperative is believed by many to be the reason behind moral rights, such as food, clothing, shelter, work and medical care; freedom from injury or fraud, freedom of speech, expression, and privacy; and preserving the institution of contracts.
With regard to business, Friedman (1970) held that the only social responsibility of business is to use its resources to increase its profits without deception or fraud. Freeman’s (1994) separation thesis states that business and ethics can be separated such that “business” decisions have no moral content, and “moral” decisions have no business content. Stieb (2009) holds that owners, employees, and society are “stakeholders” and should all be involved in the decision making process; they are also all responsible for the impact of their decisions.
It’s been obvious in recent history that all too many corporate CEOs have taken the separation theory literally, and at the expense of the moral side. It seems to be too commonly accepted that there is an inherent conflict between business and morality, which I believe most people know is not necessarily true, but is used as an easy out to avoid the cost or the effort to incorporate ethical considerations into business decisions. Ideally, Kant’s first formula would be a good basis upon which to base most, if not all, decisions.