Nien-he Hsieh

Associate Professor of Business Administration, Marvin Bower Fellow

Unit: General Management

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Nien-hê Hsieh is an associate professor of business administration and a Marvin Bower Fellow in the General Management Unit. His research concerns ethical issues in business and the responsibilities of global business leaders. Professor Hsieh teaches Leadership and Corporate Accountability to first-year MBA students and to Executive Education participants in the Program for Leadership Development. He joined the faculty from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics and served as co-director of the Wharton Ethics Program.

Professor Hsieh’s research centers on the question of whether and how managers ought to be guided not only by considerations of economic efficiency, but also by values such as freedom and fairness and respect for basic rights. He has pursued this question in a variety of contexts, including the employment relationship and the operation of multinational enterprises in developing economies. Professor Hsieh also studies foundational aspects of this question, examining principles for rational decision making when choices involve multiple values that appear incomparable. In his current work, he focuses on institutional dimensions of this question. In this research, he investigates standards managers should follow even if not required by legal and public institutions, and how managers should respond when existing institutions make it difficult to meet these standards.

Professor Hsieh's work has been published in Business Ethics QuarterlyEconomics and Philosophy, The Journal of Political PhilosophyPhilosophy and Public AffairsSocial Theory and PracticeUtilitas, and various other journals. He serves on the editorial board of Business Ethics Quarterly and the executive board of the Society for Business Ethics.

Professor Hsieh holds a B.A. in Economics from Swarthmore College, an M.Phil. in Politics from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at Wharton in 2001, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Business School, and he has held visiting fellowships at Harvard University, Oxford University, and the Research School for Social Sciences at the Australian National University. 


Featured Work

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. Multinational Corporations, Global Justice and Corporate Responsibility: A Question of Purpose

    Do multinational corporations (MNCs) have a responsibility to address unjust conditions—not simply by refraining from contributing to injustice, but also by actively working to bring about a just state of affairs? This paper examines whether this question can be meaningfully addressed without having to engage two contentious debates in contemporary scholarship: the debate about the moral agency of corporations and the debate about the purpose of the for-profit corporation. Finding it difficult to avoid the second debate, the paper examines the extent to which prevailing accounts of corporate purpose (e.g., shareholder primacy, stakeholder theory, corporate citizenship) support attributing responsibilities of justice to MNCs. The paper concludes that a more promising account is one that frames the purpose of the for-profit corporation in terms of its function in allowing members of society to meet their wants and needs by coordinating labor and capital in the production of goods and services.

    Keywords: multinational corporations; global justice; corporate purpose; corporate responsibility; Human Needs; Multinational Firms and Management; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact;

  2. Voluntary Codes of Conduct for Multinational Corporations: Coordinating Duties of Rescue and Justice

    This paper examines the extent to which the voluntary adoption of codes of conduct by multinational corporations (MNCs) renders MNCs accountable for the performance of actions specified in a code of conduct. In particular, the paper examines the ways in which codes of conduct coordinate the expectations of relevant parties with regard to the provision of assistance by MNCs on grounds of rescue or justice. The paper argues that this coordinative role of codes of conduct renders MNCs more accountable for the performance of actions specified in a code of conduct than they would be without a code of conduct. This interpretation of the significance of codes of conduct is contrasted with the view that codes of conduct render MNCs accountable for performing actions specified in a code of conduct by grounding contractual obligations for the performance of such actions.

    Keywords: Business Ventures;

    Citation:

    Hsieh, Nien-he. "Voluntary Codes of Conduct for Multinational Corporations: Coordinating Duties of Rescue and Justice." Business Ethics Quarterly 16, no. 2 (April 2006): 119–135. View Details
  3. The Conspicuous Absence of Examination Questions Concerning the Great Irish Famine: Political Economy as Science and Ideology

    Keywords: Government and Politics; Economy; Science; Food;

    Citation:

    Hsieh, Nien-he. "The Conspicuous Absence of Examination Questions Concerning the Great Irish Famine: Political Economy as Science and Ideology." European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 6, no. 2 (1999): 169–199. View Details

Book Chapters

  1. Corporate Social Responsibility and Multinational Corporations

    A central question that arises from the perspective of global ethics is what standards ought to apply to the activities of multinational corporations (MNCs). This chapter surveys the contemporary theoretical literature on this question. The first section provides background on MNCs and their rise. Section two summarizes attempts to promulgate global standards for MNCs in relation to human rights, labour, bribery, and the natural environment. Section three surveys the literature on the theory and practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR)—those corporate activities and policies that are not legally mandated and are framed in terms of the corporation's impact on society. The remaining sections consider the ethical dimensions of the question. Section four introduces the debate surrounding the universality of moral standards in the context of business activity. Section five describes attempts to specify standards for MNCs that involve taking a position on two key debates in the broader literature: the debate over the purpose of the for-profit business corporation and debate about the moral agency of corporations. The sixth section of the chapter summarizes accounts that aim to specify standards for MNCs without having to take a position on the purpose of the corporation or the moral agency of corporations.

    Keywords: multinational corporation; corporate social responsibility and impact; Multinational Firms and Management; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Standards;

    Citation:

    Hsieh, Nien-he, and Florian Wettstein. "Corporate Social Responsibility and Multinational Corporations." Chap. 18 in The Handbook of Global Ethics, edited by Darrel Moellendorf and Heather Widdows. Durham, UK: Acumen Publishing, 2014. View Details
  2. Can For-Profit Corporations Be Good Citizens? Perspectives from Four Business Leaders

    This chapter serves an epilogue, turning to ask practitioners how they would answer the question, "Can for-profit corporations be good citizens?" In reflecting on their answers, the chapter puts forward an account that grounds the purpose and responsibilities of for-profit corporations in their role in enabling productive activity that allows members of society to meet their needs and wants. This account is contrasted with prevailing accounts in scholarly literature (e.g., shareholder primacy and stakeholder theory) that frame corporate purpose and responsibility in terms of whose interests the corporation is meant to serve. One area of comparison concerns a central activity of citizenship, which is participation in the political and legislative processes.

    Citation:

    Hsieh, Nien-he. "Can For-Profit Corporations Be Good Citizens? Perspectives from Four Business Leaders." Chap. 16 in Corporations and Citizenship, edited by Greg Urban. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. View Details
  3. Multinational Enterprises and Incomplete Institutions: The Demandingness of Minimum Moral Standards

    Multinational enterprises (MNEs) operate across countries that vary widely in their legal, political, and regulatory institutions. One question that arises is whether there are certain minimum standards that ought to guide managers in their decision making independently of local institutional requirements, especially when institutional arrangements are incomplete. This chapter examines what follows if managers recognize two kinds of duties of forbearance in their decision making that are commonly held to be among the most minimal of moral duties: the duty not to harm and the duty not to violate the liberty of others. The chapter concludes that the standards for MNEs may be more demanding than what the minimalist nature of duties of forbearance initially would suggest.

    Keywords: Multinational Firms and Management; Decision Making; Standards;

    Citation:

    Hsieh, Nien-he. "Multinational Enterprises and Incomplete Institutions: The Demandingness of Minimum Moral Standards." In Business Ethics. 2nd ed. Edited by Michael Boylan, 409–422. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. View Details
  4. Multinational Enterprises and Corporate Responsibility: A Matter of Justice?

    Keywords: Multinational Firms and Management; Ethics; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Lawfulness;

    Citation:

    Hsieh, Nien-he. "Multinational Enterprises and Corporate Responsibility: A Matter of Justice?" In Morality and Global Justice: The Reader. 1st ed. Edited by Michael Boylan. Boulder: Westview Press, 2011. View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Governance and Sustainability at Nike (A)

    Two members of Nike's executive team must decide what sustainability targets to propose to Nike's CEO and to the corporate responsibility committee of Nike's board of directors. Set in 2012, the case traces the evolution of Nike's approach to environmental and social concerns from its origins in student protests against labor conditions in the supply chain in the 1990s through the development of a board-level corporate responsibility (CR) committee in 2001 to the creation of the Sustainable Business & Innovation (SB&I) strategy in 2009. In this context, Hannah Jones, Nike's VP of SB&I, and Eric Sprunk, VP of Merchandising & Product, are working to finalize the company's next round of sustainability targets for presentation to the CR committee. When Nike signs on to the Roadmap to Zero, a Greenpeace-inspired initiative to eliminate the discharge of toxic chemicals into the water supply by 2020, the company's target-setting process becomes more complex. Jones and Sprunk must decide whether to recommend that Nike dial back other sustainability goals to meet the zero toxics challenge, modify its commitment to zero toxics, or find another solution.

    Keywords: Nike; Hannah Jones; Mark Parker; Phil Knight; Philip Knight; Eric Sprunk; Jill Ker Conway; Phyllis Wise; Don Blair; sustainable business and innovation; SB&I; Flyknit; DyeCoo; Footwear; Athletic Footwear; Apparel; Athletic Apparel; sustainability; Greenpeace; Detox campaign; Dirty Laundry; Water; Water Use; Water Pollution; Water Resources; Corporate Responsibility Committee; Decision Choices and Conditions; Decisions; ethics; fairness; Globalized Firms and Management; Multinational Firms and Management; Globalized Markets and Industries; governance; corporate accountability; corporate governance; Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Innovation Leadership; Innovation Strategy; Goals and Objectives; Management Practices and Processes; corporate social responsibility and impact; Performance; Alignment; supply chain; Organizational Change and Adaptation; judgment; board of directors; board committees; environmental and social sustainability; footwear industry; Decision Choices and Conditions; Decisions; Ethics; Fairness; Globalized Firms and Management; Multinational Firms and Management; Globalized Markets and Industries; Governance; Corporate Accountability; Corporate Governance; Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Innovation Leadership; Innovation Strategy; Goals and Objectives; Management Practices and Processes; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Performance; Alignment; Supply Chain; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Judgments; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Asia; China; United States; Oregon; Portland;

    Citation:

    Paine, Lynn S., Nien-he Hsieh, and Lara Adamsons. "Governance and Sustainability at Nike (A)." Harvard Business School Case 313-146, June 2013. View Details
  2. A Framework for Ethical Reasoning

    A practical framework for evaluating the ethical dimensions of a proposed course of action for managers and executives.

    Keywords: Decision Making; Ethics; Values and Beliefs; Framework; Corporate Accountability; Leadership; Social Enterprise;

    Citation:

    Sucher, Sandra J., and Nien-he Hsieh. "A Framework for Ethical Reasoning." Harvard Business School Background Note 610-050, January 2010. (Revised December 2011.) View Details

Other Publications and Materials

    Research Summary

  1. Overview

    Professor Hsieh’s research concerns ethical issues in business and the responsibilities of global business leaders. His work centers on the question of whether and how managers ought to be guided not only by considerations of economic efficiency, but also by values such as fairness and freedom and respect for basic rights. He has pursued this question in a variety of contexts, including the employment relationship and the operation of multinational enterprises in developing economies. He also studies foundational aspects of this question, examining principles for rational decision making when choices involve multiple values that appear incomparable.
  2. Multinational Enterprises and Corporate Responsibility

    Multinational enterprises, especially those operating in developing economies, face wide-ranging demands to help persons whose basic needs are unmet. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, are asked to provide access to life-saving therapies to patients in countries whose health-care systems do not provide for them, and apparel companies are pressured to require their suppliers to pay above-market wages to their workers.

    In much of the debate, the answer to the question of whether managers have a responsibility to help meet these needs has turned on views about the nature and purpose of the for-profit corporation. To advance the conversation, Professor Hsieh addresses the question of responsibility in a manner consistent with a range of views about the corporation and without having to settle longstanding debates about such matters as shareholder primacy. The approach he takes is to start with widely accepted standards of minimally required conduct, such as a duty not to harm, and to examine what such standards require for the decisions of managers.

  3. Managers and Employees: Justice at Work

    The employment relationship represents another significant area for managerial decision making. While much of what managers and employees owe one another depends upon mutual agreement, not all of the terms can be specified in advance. Given these conditions, what are the responsibilities of managers? Professor Hsieh pursues this question by extending the influential work of Harvard political philosopher John Rawls. Professor Hsieh concludes that on the issue of managerial discretion, Rawls’s theory of justice is far more demanding than previously recognized. In his research, Professor Hsieh explores the implications for managerial responsibility as well as for the organization of work and economic institutions.

  4. Incommensurable Values and Rational Decision Making

    Rational decision making is widely thought to require comparing alternatives with respect to a single measure of value. Accordingly, asking managers to consider values in addition to economic efficiency has been criticized on the grounds that doing so violates the requirements of rationality. In this more foundational area of his research, Professor Hsieh examines possible responses to this criticism. One response is to recognize that seemingly incomparable alternatives are in fact comparable. Another response is to reconsider the role that comparisons play in rational decision making. A third response is to acknowledge that what appear to be considerations of economic efficiency may in fact reflect other values instead, such as equality or fairness.