Potential Topics

Listed below are some examples of possible topics. The possibilities are virtually endless. Any topic related to business and ethics is acceptable. It is allowable to use published cases, although judges tend to respond more favorably to current issues.

*Special note on topics: In prior years, a number of teams chose topics that were more closely related to “ethics and economics” or “ethics and public policy” than to “business ethics.” Accordingly, for this year’s competition, we are asking teams to make sure that their topics relate directly to an issue faced by a company or industry.


First, teams are free to choose whichever topic you want. However, please be sure that your topic relates to a business ethics issue. Even though topics related to nonprofits, public policy or governments may have a financial dimension, this doesn’t make it a problem in business ethics.

Second, one of the most distinctive features of IBECC is the ability of teams either to identify ethical issues before anyone else has or to come up with creative solutions to persistent problems. Accordingly, I would like to encourage teams to apply their talents to two particular, ethical issues—one that’s been intractable in the U.S. (gun deaths), and an emerging global issue (the spread of “false news” via new technologies). Teams still have the option to work on any topic they choose, and working on either of these two topics won’t give a team an advantage in scoring. But these topics do represent important and interesting challenges.

Thomas White, Founder and Director, IBECC.

  1. In the last few years, more than 200 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States. This includes the slaughter of nearly 30 children in Newtown, Connecticut. In response, nearly 90% of the American public supports some sort of increased gun control. Household gun ownership in the U.S. has been dropping and is now at only about 36%. Attempts to enact legislation to address this problem, however, have failed. This raises the question of whether firearms companies might be more effective in finding a way to protect the lives of innocent people while not compromising the welfare of their companies and the rights of their customers.

    Companies deciding to take action could certainly do so under the rubric of being good “corporate citizens.” After all, from an ethical perspective, when a company sets itself up in a country, it agrees to abide by not only a community’s laws, but the fundamental ethical principles that undergird that society. Any U.S. company, for example, can reasonably be expected to respect the basic idea that in a democracy, the will of the majority should be respected. It’s also reasonable to expect that a principle of protecting innocent people from foreseeable harm should be respected. Companies in all industries regularly recognize that being ethical means going beyond simply following the laws and being a leader.

    What, then, are the ethical obligations of the companies that make up the $8 billion firearms industry? What concrete actions could they take in order to reduce the number of preventable deaths of innocent people?

  2. The last few months have shown new, troubling ethical challenges emerging for businesses in the “information industry.” Central among them is the ease with which lies, propaganda and other attempts to manipulate the vulnerable populate platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

    An article in The Economist entitled “The post-truth world: Yes, I’d lie to you,” is plain about the dangers of an assault on truth:

    “There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts more freely and with less resistance than used to be the case. Helped by new technology, a deluge of facts and a public much less given to trust than once it was, some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.”

    Read that last sentence over and over again. Technological advances have given us an “information industry” that makes it possible to widely distribute completely false information with no check whatsoever. It’s impossible to exaggerate the harm this could produce.

    Facebook has recently announced some actions, but do you think they’re strong enough? Twitter has come under fire for allowing the spread of lies and harassment. Are the “Twitter Rules” for users strict enough? Do webhosting companies have a duty to monitor the content of the websites on their servers? At the very least, do they have a duty to investigate and take actions if a complaint is filed?

    From an ethical perspective, the search for profit must be tempered by the duty to protect the importance of the truth. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to argue that businesses that facilitate the distribution of information have a duty to take action to try to prevent the spread of falsehoods–especially those aimed to sow fear, hate and distrust.

    What concrete actions can companies in the “information industry” take in order to meet their ethical obligations?

    CAUTIONARY NOTE: Please note that explorations of this issue must focus on the “business ethics” facets—not political issues. Before the internet, the main channels for the mass distribution of information via newspapers, television and radio had at least some gatekeepers (news editors and editorial boards) who would try to make sure what they reported was true. With the decline of these traditional outlets, “fake news” and the harm that can come from it are widespread. This topic asks teams to look for practical solutions to the problem of limiting the spread of falsehoods.


CEO compensation
IT, China and human rights
Downloading music and videos
“Slave insurance” and reparations
Food issues: trans-fat, hydrogenated oils
For-profit prisons
For-profit hospitals
Native American casinos
Sales incentives in the pharmaceutical industry
The price of pharmaceuticals
Internet pharmacies
Using off-shore labor: athletic shoes, garment industry, IT support, etc.
Human rights issues and international corporations, e.g., Unocal and Mynmar
Mutual fund scandals
The cost of textbooks
Stem cell research
Gas prices
California power industry
Sale of term papers, etc.
“Living Wage”
Children, advertising
E-commerce, internet and privacy
Genetically engineered foods
Courtney Love and record contracts
Drug and supplement use in professional sports (screening, impact on young, etc.)
Irradiated food
Children, violence, television (Surgeon General’s report)
Migrant farm workers
WWII corporations and slave labor
Media images of women (impact on girls)
Cost of prescription drugs
Employee rights: surveillance, drug testing, AIDS testing, privacy (e-mail, dating, health information), procedures regarding hiring and firing
Labor issues: migrant workers, minimum wage, sweatshops
Discrimination: race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation
Personal executive liability
Potentially harmful products: tobacco [cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco] (especially regarding offshore markets), alcohol, firearms [especially assault weapons], product liability (breast implants)
Violence: television shows, films, video games
Pornography: print, films, videos, Internet
Advertising: misleading and deceptive, use of sex
Abortion: clinics, RU-486 (“abortion pill”)
Professional athletics and anti-trust issues
Controversial marketing practices (e.g., “yield management” in the airlines)
Pensions and health benefits
Downsizing; mergers and acquisitions
Toys (Barbie, images of women/violence in video games)
Various issue in biotechnology: cloning, genetically modified organisms, etc.
Bribery (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act)



Amazon rain forests
Pollution: water, air (automobile industry, CFCs and the ozone layer), acid rain
Disposable products (e.g., diapers)
“Green” marketing and production
Energy: alternative forms (renewable), nuclear
Forests: old growth, endangered species
Offshore drilling
Agriculture: factory farming, pesticides
Waste: toxic, nontoxic
Biotechnology, cloning
Rights of nonhuman animals: product testing, research, food production, zoos, whaling, hunting
Fisheries (“bycatch”)