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Journal of Business Ethics

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Peace and Conflict Studies


With the last Holocaust survivors quietly passing away, one might also expect to see accountability debates slowing to a trickle. Surprisingly, however, recent years show an upswing in corporate World War II-related atonement debates. Interest in corporate participation in mass atrocity has expanded worldwide; yet what constitutes ethical corporate behavior during and after war remains understudied. This article considers these questions through a study of the French National Railways’ (SNCF) roles during the German occupation and its more recent struggle to make amends. This study demonstrates that ethical business leadership requires taking responsibility for past as well as current decisions. Most executives grappling with complex corporate histories work in isolation, in part because the scholarship on business ethics fails to provide guidance. Without such guidance, corporations often respond to accusations about their pasts with carefully crafted statements and legal strategies rather than deep expressions of moral leadership. To assist in remedying this tendency, this paper simultaneously encourages companies to engage in deeper reflection on corporate history, while urging scholars to help guide corporations through critical ethical conversations.


The version of record of this article, first published in Journal of Business Ethics, is available online at Springer’s website: