Human resource management deals with manpower planning and development related activities in an organization. Arguably it is that branch of management where ethics really matter, since it concerns human issues specially those of compensation, development, industrial relations and health and safety issues. There is however sufficient disagreement from various quarters.
There are different schools of thought that differ in their viewpoint on role of ethics or ethics in human resource development. One group of thought leaders believes that since in business, markets govern the organizational interests and these interests are met through people, the latter are therefore at the highest risk. They believe that markets claim profits in the name of stakeholders and unless we have protocols, standards and procedures the same will develop into a demon monopolizing markets and crushing human capital; HR ethics are become mandatory.
There is another group of ethicists inspired by neo-liberalism who believe that there are no business ethics apart from realization of higher profits through utilization of human resources. They argue that by utilizing human resources optimally, there is more value creation for the shareholders, organization and the society and since employees are part of the society or organization, they are indirectly benefited. Nevertheless ethics in human resource management has become a perennial debate of late!
Discussions in ethics in HRD stem from employee relationships and whether or not there can be a standard for the same. Employee rights and duties and freedom and discrimination at the workplace are issues discussed and covered by most texts on the topic. Some argue that there are certain things in employment relationship that are constant others disagree with the same. For example, right to privacy, right to be paid in accordance with the work (fair compensation) and right to privacy are some areas that cannot be compromised upon.
The kind of market system affects business and HR ethics; the latter thus becomes negotiable. In occupations where the market conditions do not favor the employees it is necessary to have government and labor union interventions in order to control the possible exploitation. In free market system, employees and the employer are almost equally empowered, negotiation create win win situations for both the parties. Government or labor union interventions become harmful.
Globalization has brought about the concept of globalizing labor, trade unions have started to decline and the role of HR as such in issues like employee policies and practices has become a debatable topic. In fact many people are of the opinion that HR is nothing but an arm of the stakeholders through which major strategic and policy decisions are divulged geared towards profit making!
Thought there can be no single opinion on ethics in HR that is convincing. Market in itself is neither an ethical institution nor unethical and no policies and procedures alone cannot govern and align markets to human well being. However the requirement of such policies and procedures can also not be denied. In lieu of this HR ethics should take care of things like discrimination (sexual, religion, age etc), compensation, union and labor laws, whistle blowing, health and safety of the employees etc.