RIGHTS: A MORAL AND LEGAL ENTITLEMENT-BASED APPROACH Rights are based on several sources of…


Rights are based on several sources of authority.21 Legal rights are entitlements that are limited to a particular legal system and jurisdiction. In the United States, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are the basis for citizens’ legal rights—e.g., the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to freedom of speech. Moral (and human) rights, on the other hand, are universal and based on norms in every society—e.g., the right not to be enslaved and the right to work. Moral and legal rights are linked to individuals, and in some cases, groups, not to societies, as is the case with a utilitarian ethic. Moral rights are also connected with duties, i.e., my moral rights imply that others have a duty toward me to not violate those rights, and vice versa. Moral rights also provide the freedom to pursue one’s interests, as long as those interests do not violate others’ rights. Moral rights also allow individuals to justify their actions and seek protection from others in doing so. There are also special rights and duties, or contractual rights. Contracts provide individuals with mutually binding duties that are based on a legal system with defined transactions and boundaries. Moral rules that apply to contracts include: (1) the contract should not commit the parties to unethical or immoral conduct; (2) both parties should freely and without force enter the contractual agreement; (3) neither individual should misrepresent or misinterpret facts in the contract; and (4) both individuals should have complete knowledge of the nature of the contract and its terms before they are bound by it.22 Finally, the concept of negative and positive rights defines yet another dimension of ethical principles.23 A negative right refers to the duty others have to not interfere with actions related to a person’s rights. For example, if you have the right to freedom of speech, others—including your employer—have the duty not to interfere with that right. Of course there are circumstances that constrain “free speech” as we will discuss in Chapter 4. A positive right imposes a duty on others to provide for your needs to achieve your goals, not just protect your right to pursue them. Some of these rights may be part of national, state, or local legislation. For example, you may have the right to equal educational opportunities for your child if you are a parent. This implies that you have the right to send your child to a public school that has the same standards as any other school in your community. Positive rights were given attention in the twentieth century. National legislation that promoted different groups’ rights and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights served as sources for positive rights. Negative rights were emphasized in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were based on the Bill of Rights in the Declaration of Independence. Currently, American political parties and advocates who are either politically to the “left” or to the “right” debate on whether certain moral rights are “negative” or “positive” and to what extent taxpayers’ dollars and government funds should support these rights. For example, “conservative” writers like Milton Friedman24 have endorsed government support of negative rights (like protecting property, and enforcing law and order) and argued against public spending on positive rights (like medical assistance, job training, and housing). As you can see, the concept of rights has several sources of moral authority. Understanding and applying the concept of rights to stakeholders in business situations adds another dimension of ethical discovery to your analysis. Louise Simms might ask what her rights are in her situation. If she believes that her constitutional and moral rights would be violated by accepting the offer, she would consider refusing to negotiate on the foreign official’s terms. The limitations of the principle of rights include:

1. The justification that individuals are entitled to rights can be used to disguise and manipulate selfish, unjust political claims and interests.

2. Protection of rights can exaggerate certain entitlements in society at the expense of others. Fairness and equity issues may be raised when the rights of an individual or group take precedence over the rights of others. Issues of reverse discrimination, for example, have arisen from this reasoning.

3. The limits of rights come into question. To what extent should practices that may benefit society, but threaten certain rights, be permitted?


"Get 15% discount on your first 3 orders with us"
Use the following coupon

Order Now