Corporate beneficence and COVID-19

Daniel T. Ostas*, Gastón de los Reyes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the motives underlying corporate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis begins with Thomas Dunfee’s Statement of Minimum Moral Obligation (SMMO), which specifies, more precisely than any other contribution to the business ethics canon, the level of corporate beneficence required during a pandemic. The analysis then turns to Milton Friedman’s neoliberal understanding of human nature, critically contrasting it with the notion of stoic virtue that informs the works of Adam Smith. Friedman contends that beneficence should play no role in corporate settings. Smith, by contrast, emphasizes the need for prudence, beneficence and self-command in all human endeavours. The article then uses these competing frameworks to reflect on a published survey of 145 corporate responses to COVID-19. In many of these responses, the benefit to a non-financial stakeholder is clear, while the financial consequence to the firm remains nebulous. This supports the contention that during a pandemic, beneficence provides a more complete explanation of many corporate actions than the profit motive alone. The article contests Friedman’s Chicago School profit imperative and goes beyond Dunfee’s SMMO by endorsing the more full-throated embrace of beneficence and stoic virtue found in the works of Smith.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-26
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Human Values
Issue number1
Early online date24 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • beneficence
  • Adam Smith
  • social contract theory
  • corporate responsibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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