International Journal of Business and Social Science

ISSN 2219-1933 (Print), 2219-6021 (Online) DOI: 10.30845/ijbss


Sustainability and Social Justice
Morton Winston

In this paper I propose an ethical analysis of the concept of sustainability that links it to the moral concepts of exploitation and social justice. On this account, sustainable business enterprises are those which can credibly demonstrate that they can maintain profitability without practicing forms of unjust exploitation of either human or natural capital. Following the work of Robert Mayer, I understand unjust exploitation to consist in “a failure to benefit some disadvantaged party as fairness requires;” or, more formally, A unjustly exploits B when A gains at B’s expense, and B’s loss is undeserved because it is unfair. An important implication of this analysis of sustainability is that it requires that business practices be assessed against a relevant norm of fairness rather than just against the status quo ante. I then apply this analysis of the concept of sustainability to two sorts of corporate social responsibility issues: respect for the labor rights of employees and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I argue that the ethical value that underlies both of these kinds of sustainable business practices is the value of social justice, in particular, the ethical requirement that one treat others fairly.

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