The Battle is on!

Imagine you are a cardiologist in an academic hospital. Four of your patients are waiting on a donor heart, but unfortunately you only have one heart. The patients vary in terms of age, general health condition, urgency and social status. Which patient would you choose based on your own normative grounds, based on an assessment of pros and cons of your direct medical colleagues and based on what you think the hospital’s ethical committee would decide?


It’s just one of the ethical dilemmas that was discussed during the Business Ethics session, part of the Sustainability & Business Ethics module of MaastrichtMBA, given by Prof. Dr. Harry Hummels. Prof. Hummels holds a chair in Ethics, Organisations and Society at Maastricht University and one in Social Entrepreneurship at Utrecht University School of Economics. For nearly twenty years he also held senior management positions in the financial sector, was a senior advisor of United Nations project UNOPS and represented the Global Impact Investing Network in Europe. At present he is a member of various boards and advisory committees. He has published on various topics regarding social entrepreneurship, corporate responsibility, business ethics, including two cookbooks!

Ethical puzzle

In a lively session Prof. Harry Hummels explained the definitions of ethics, morality, values, norms & standards and responsibility. Students presented real-life examples of business ethics in their companies. To name just a few: how to act when a colleague makes a (possible unintended) racist remark? How to draw the line between bribing/corruption and respecting local values and habits? How can a private company influence the sustainability dialogue, and how can you make a difference in society when government isn’t playing its part?
The discussions made clear that companies and institutions are constantly challenged with issues relating to ethics and responsibility. Although some challenges can be pretty straightforward, they can also be extremely complicated and difficult to solve. Prof. Hummels provided the students with a tool to analyze each ethical puzzle with eight questions: what is the core moral problem, who are the stakeholders, who is/are answerable, what information is needed, what arguments (pro and con) can be brought forward, what is your conclusion and how do you feel about it (have you given the circumstances taken the best decision possible).

The Battle: Bhopal case

This tool came in handy during ‘the Battle’, in the second part of the session. Prof. Hummels: “The Battle is a new element of the Business Ethics session. The students are divided into two parties and a third group played the role of judge. They all had to prepare a case, not knowing beforehand which party they would represent during the battle. The case was the infamous Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, still considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. It concerned a gas leak incident in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India pesticide plant in Bhopal. Over 500.000 people were exposed to a highly toxic gas, killing thousands of people and injuring hundreds of thousands. One group of students represented Union Carbide, the other group the Indian Public Prosecutor’s Office. Both parties had to opportunity to plead their case, the other party was allowed to ask questions. After hearing the arguments, the judges had to decide which team had presented the strongest arguments.”


Participative learning

“Not only is this a fun way to discuss a case (and to try to outsmart fellow students) it also proves that it’s worthwhile to delve into both sides of an ethical discussion”, Prof. Hummels states. “Before we started, all students agreed that Union Carbide was guilty. However, as the discussions went on, they learned that the matter – even in this case – is a little more nuanced. Of course, Union Carbide was guilty and had to take responsibility, but the Indian government had made some serious mistakes as well, for instance, building a new residential area close to the factory. By handling the case in such a thoroughly prepared and interactive manner, the students are invited to think for themselves, learn to listen closely to others and bring their own experiences to the discussion as well. This kind of participative learning is very effective and a great addition to traditional classroom teaching.”

Responsible Leadership and ethical values

Martijn Antzoulatos, manager International Trade Compliance EMEA at Rockwell Automation in Rotterdam: “I really liked the Battle as it is a very playful, yet educational way of experiencing ethics in practice and shows how the same facts can be used to support different viewpoints and narratives. The main takeaway for this session as a whole is that ethics are always there; everything is about making choices and your choices determine who you are. When you talk about Responsible Leadership, you imply authenticity and ethical behaviour. If we dare to go back, as people, as leaders, to our true core, I believe that all of us intend to do what is right. Leading or supporting transformative change to create a tomorrow’s world that has more attention to social justice, care for the planet, and sustainable solutions overall, IS the right thing to do, and very much touches our ethical values.”



This article displays the student insights and experiences of our On-Campus MBA Sustainability & Business Ethics module of the Responsible Leadership & Sustainability elective. Our On-Campus track has an on campus learning format and is part of the executive modular part-time MaastrichtMBA programme. The programme has a Triple Crown accreditation and is aimed for professionals with at least 5 years of working experience.

Download Brochure