Business Ethics Summary Essay
I have chosen to evaluate the following rules of ethics as they apply to the world of business: utilitarianism, moral rights and the justice rule. In this paper, I will define each approach and provide the strength and weakness of each as well as compare and contrast the theories I have chosen.
When employed in the use of making business decisions, the goal of utilitarianism is to maximize the greater good for the greater group of people or on the contrary, minimize the negative effects of a decision experienced by a group of people. (See essay by John Stuart Mill, Utilitarism, 1863) While it forces you to consider how the actions of a business could affect its employees, consumers, shareholders, etc., the problem is that it is often very difficult to give value to and measure the benefits of a decision versus any negative result of said action. As an example, you could look at a business’ decision to outsource jobs on a global level.
The decision to outsource would benefit the business, shareholders and consumers if it increases the company’s profit margin. However, this decision would no doubt result in layoffs of domestic employees which would also affect that community. Although the business may dislike the effects of outsourcing on the community, they have to consider certain outcomes resulting from resident production such as the bankruptcy or liquidation of the business.
The utilitarian approach is being used in current issues such as why healthcare should be limited to certain individuals based on their age, diagnoses, etc. For instance, some might reason that healthcare provided by the United States should spend less money on individuals who, with or without treatment, may only live a few months and redistribute that money to individuals who if they receive treatment, could live for several years or even decades.
The act of maintaining and/or protecting the basic and absolute rights and privileges of the people affected by the decision making process is deemed the rule of moral rights. Therefore, under the moral rights approach, an ethical decision cannot be made that restricts one’s rights to freedom, life, personal well-being, property, privacy, freedom of speech and a free conscience. In essence, it’s the application of the Golden Rule. (See Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804) The positive aspect of this approach is that the company would constantly strive to uphold the rights, safety and health of its employees, shareholders, consumers, etc. The downside of this approach is that sometimes a business or company has to pick and choose which one of those groups they are going to guard.
A person’s morals are influenced by religion, family, friends, and life experiences and are shaped by what is right or wrong as defined on a deeper, individual personal level. When there is a conflict between an employee’s moral values and a company’s code of ethics, it can be challenging to decide the best course of action.
A monumental example of the implementation of proper moral conduct would the crisis suffered by the medical products company, Johnson & Johnson, in 1982. It was discovered that several individuals in the Chicago area had from taking Tylenol that had been laced with the poison Cyanide. Since it was believed that the contaminated product was limited to the Chicago area, Johnson & Johnson were informed by a government agency that they were not required to take any actions.
However, Johnson & Johnson felt that it had a moral obligation to their consumers, so they immediately pulled all supplies of Tylenol capsule products in the United States. This action costs Johnson & Johnson over $150 million dollars, but the loss was temporary and within months Johnson & Johnson had regained their position as leader of the pain relief market. Further, Johnson & Johnson only enhanced their reputation of being a highly ethical establishment.
The justice rule applies when an ethical decision equitably distributes benefits or rewards and reproof among a group of people. An example of the justice rule approach is providing equal pay and benefits to employees who share similar skill levels, rates of performance and responsibilities regardless of gender, race or religion. While the idea of the justice rule is simple, it is rarely implemented consistently. One would be hard pressed to find a single business in which some form of favoritism or discrimination towards employees does not exist.
Favoritism gives benefits to some people without a justifiable reason for singling them out and discrimination imposes burdens on people who are no different from those on whom burdens are not imposed. Such examples of favoritism and/or discrimination in the workplace would include taking credit for another’s work, blame shifting, inequitable distribution of the work load, promotions given to those less competent. Certain double standards always exist such as there are fellow employees who come in late, miss deadlines, and make mistakes, but they get the same raise as you.
The Utilitarian Rule, Moral Rights Rule and Justice Rule are all comparable in that they seek to prevent unethical practices and promote general well-being for all parties. However, there are considerable differences between them. The Utilitarian Rule is based on what type of outcome will benefit the majority while the Moral Rights Rule also known as The Golden Rule is centered around the intention of the rule meaning if the intention is moral and good then most likely the outcome will be moral and good. The Utilitarian Rule disregards the Justice Rule as it is quantitative and not interested in the injustices that may befall select individuals as long as the majority benefits.