Business students’ attitudes toward business ethics: an empirical investigation in Vietnam

Publication Date03 August 2015
Date03 August 2015
AuthorLoan N.T Pham,Lam Dang Nguyen,Monica J Favia
SubjectStrategy,International business
Business students’ attitudes toward
business ethics: an empirical
investigation in Vietnam
Loan N.T. Pham, Lam Dang Nguyen and Monica J. Favia
Loan N.T. Pham is based
at Banking University of
Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi
Minh City, Vietnam.
Lam Dang Nguyen is
based at Bloomsburg
University of
Pennsylvania, USA.
Monica J. Favia is
Assistant Professor at
Bloomsburg University of
Pennsylvania, USA.
Purpose The purpose of this study is to examine the attitudes toward business ethics of Vietnamese
business students based on gender and the experience of having taken a business ethics course.
Design/methodology/approach A quantitative self-administered survey was conducted with a
convenience sample of Vietnamese business students at a banking university in Ho Chi Minh City,
Vietnam. This study used the 30-item Attitudes Toward Business Ethics Questionnaire (ATBEQ)
constructed by Neumann and Reichel (1987) based on the work of Stevens (1979). The Vietnamese
version questionnaire was distributed, and 282 surveys were used for analysis. An item-by-item analysis
was conducted based on gender and the experience of having taken a business ethics course.
Findings Significant differences were found on seven items based on gender and four items based
on the experience of having taken a business ethics course. However, respondents appeared to have
similar attitudes on the majority of the items.
Research limitations/implications Perhaps the greatest limitation of this study is the relatively
uneven distribution of the respondents in the sample. The sample is skewed slightly toward women who
are a bit older, fourth year or post-graduate and those who have not taken a business ethics course. In
addition convenience sampling technique reduced its generalizability. This study is important because
it supports the idea of ethics education to improve ethical decision-making of future business leaders
and that education has an effect in Vietnam.
Practical implications As business students are the main subjects of this research, it can be useful
for those involved in development of management and business education in Vietnam to have an
overview on how gender impacts business students’ ethics perception. For the executives of
multinational corporations, this study provides important information and adds support to a decision to
do business in Vietnam.
Social implications Although there may be a perception of a less than ethical climate in Vietnam
based on its Corruption Perception Index scores, it appears that Vietnamese business students in
general express an ethical viewpoint. This study emphasizes the importance of ethics education that is
culture-specific to build a strong ethical business environment that can help Vietnam prevent bribery
and corruption and achieve sustainable growth and prosperity.
Originality/value This study contributes to the attitudes toward business ethics research and sheds
light on the impact of gender and education (business ethics course) on Vietnamese business students’
ethical attitudes. There has been little research on business ethics in Vietnam. Academicians,
managers, practitioners, policymakers, government leaders and the like can benefit from the findings of
this paper.
Keywords Gender, Vietnam, Attitudes to business ethics, Business ethics course
Paper type Research paper
The reality is that public concern for unethical issues has increased with many scandals
and fraudulent corporate cases worldwide, from the infamous Ford Pinto case in the 1970s,
to Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff and more. Many authors and researchers have studied
ethics and the unethical behaviors of managers and senior officers of major firms (Clark,
2008;Crary, 2008;McGill, 2008;Desplaces et al., 2007;Gao, 2004;Klein et al., 2007;
Lawson, 2004;Cherry et al., 2003;Nonis and Swift, 2001;Ridley and Husband, 1998 and
Received 28 January 2015
Revised 28 January 2015
Accepted 28 February 2015
DOI 10.1108/JABS-01-2015-0012 VOL. 9 NO. 3 2015, pp. 289-305, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1558-7894 JOURNAL OF ASIA BUSINESS STUDIES PAGE 289
others, as cited in Mujtaba et al., 2009). Unethical issues are of particular concern in
developing countries with high Corruption Index Perception like Vietnam with a ranking of
119 out of 175 countries (Transparency International, 2014). Given the current high-profile
corporate scandals, it seems that less emphasis has been put on the overall ethical
considerations in Vietnam.
This study specifically investigates business students’ ethical perception in Vietnam for
several reasons. First, a study by Nonis and Swift (2001) showed that students who
participated in unethical behavior in college were more likely to participate in unethical
behavior at work. Sadly, Segal et al. (2013) found that between 2001 and 2010, there was
increasing tolerance among US business students for unethical and even illegal behavior,
a finding they contributed to the recession. Second, although we know quite a bit about
American business students and their attitudes and ethical/unethical behavior, we know
relatively little about business students in the international community. In 1997, Grünbaum
(1997) called for additional cross-cultural research on the attitudes of students toward
business ethics. A growing number of studies have been conducted. Grünbaum (1997)
investigated Finnish business students, Preble and Reichel (1988) researched business
students in Israel, Karassavidou and Glaveli (2006) investigated Greek students, Eweje and
Brunton (2010) investigated New Zealand students, and Phau and Kea (2007) investigated
Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Other countries have been studied, but gaps still
exist. However, the ethical attitudes of business students in Vietnam have not yet been
studied. Finally, Vietnam has become an emerging economy in Southeast Asia that attracts
a large volume of international trade and business with a more welcoming investment
environment including investment incentives, stable political environment and a relatively
low-cost labor force over the past decade (Nguyen et al., 2015b). Thus, it is necessary for
global managers and entrepreneurs to learn more about its culture, business practices and
ethical maturity of the workforce.
This paper specifically compares the attitudes toward business ethics of male and female
business students in Vietnam as well as between those who took ethics course and those
who did not.
Literature review
Ethics and corruption in Vietnam
As reported in Nguyen et al. (2015a,2015b), the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, or Vietnam
in short, is a South East Asian country with a population of more than 93 million people, of
which almost 70 per cent are in the age group of 15-64 years. With its huge economic
reform from a centrally planned economy to an open market economy, Vietnam has
emerged to become a strategic business partner with many other countries in the world.
For example, Vietnam’s trade volume with the USA increased from US$4.6 million in 1992
to over US$33 billion in 2014 (US Census Bureau, 2015). With an attractive investment
environment supported by investment incentives, stable political environment and a
relatively low-cost labor force, Vietnam will be the destination for substantial financial
investment by multinational corporations. Foreign direct investment reached US$19.2
billion within the first ten months of 2013 (IFLR, 2014). However, enthusiastic global human
resource managers and entrepreneurs are often challenged with the decision of
committing resources in Vietnam when they see the Transparency International ranking of
Vietnam and its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) scores. Figure 1 shows Vietnam’s CPI
scores from 2000 to 2014. Even though there is an increase in its CPI scores over the years
(from 25 to 31 out of the possible 100), the score in general is still very low, which indicates
that Vietnam has significant corruption issues, and if it does not deal with these issues
whole-heartedly, the country’s economic advantage and sustainability will surely be
impacted negatively.
To illustrate how Vietnam’s CPI scores compared to other countries, Table I shows the 2014
CPI scores of selected countries. As seen in Table I, Vietnam had a CPI score of 31 and

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