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What draws the line for what is ethical CI for you?  The Harm Rule, Gut Check, The CHIP model?  Any stories which changed your opinion?

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Hi David,


A question that is continuously asked when it comes to Intelligence Studies in Business. 


Step 1: Ethics VS Legal. Step 2. International dimension


Most answers start by separating between Ethical and Legal. So, if it is illegal the answer is clear, even as laws change from one country to another. Of course Ethics also change from one country to another. And, at first glance, the correct positions here seems to be the same, namely to respect the ethics which country you are in. However, that is more problematic. E.g. H&M may respect the ethics where they produce clothing, like in Bangladesh or India, but are often criticized by their consumers in whatever country they are, e.g. in Sweden or Spain, for being unethical according to their national standard of ethics. It may be issues like labor practices (hours, salaries, conditions, age etc.). 


Step 3. Theoretical (Philosophical) dimension


Ethics is a part of the study of Philosophy, so most answers comes out of there. As such Business Ethics is mainly an applied field. Same with Ethical problems in Intelligence Studies. There are numerous philosophical positions, but some of the more common are:


1. The Christian/Western position: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do onto you.

2. The Humanist position: To treat each individual with integrity and respect.

3. The Utilitarian: Do what causes the most happiness to most (which may be difficult to calculate) 

4. The Individualist/Egoist position: Do what serves you best (in the long run, or the short)


Most of these positions demand that you try to put yourself in other peoples' shoes, which may be a more or less difficult thing to do. Or, you do not put yourself in other peoples' shoes, but think of your own interests. That is of course easier. 


Step 4. Discussion, in light of an Awareness of different Ethical Cultures


Ethical problems are seldom straight forward and need to be discussed. Moreover, employees tend to do as their bosses do, as they set what becomes the Company Culture of Ethics. It also very much depend on the  industry you are in. E.g. the arms business have a different Ethical Culture from the Pharmaceutical industry which again has a different culture from the industry of voluntary work. Different industries attract different kinds of people.  


Step 5. The position (or the non-position)


At the end of a discussion we basically have two choices, we can take a positions, for ourselves and for the company (which is not necessarily the same thing. Notice that if the difference is too great this may be a reason to change jobs by itself) or we can avoid to take a stand, or take a non-stand consciously. Most of us avoid taking a stand, and if we take one we change it frequently, mostly  depending on the situation at hand. This can also be a stand, an adoptive stand, but it can also just be an excuse. The advantages with having secularism in the West is that people are allowed to think what they want. Of course it could also be argued that a disadvantage is that it become easier not to take any stand at all. 


So, where or not you call it Harm Check, Gut Check etc,. it basically all comes back to these major doctrines. I think also that it is important to do so, not to be confused and lured by the fashion of management terms. I also think that it is just as important to start a discussion as it is to reach conclusions.


The exercise should be led by someone who can bring structure to the discussion. 


Have a good summer!





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