Ethics in Business 2nd assignment

What are the relevant facts?

Artifact is a company which sells ethnic art. Darren is an employee, working for this company as an importer. A customer, Mr. Fredrick Stigler, reaches the company and intends to make a huge sale of woven baskets that are made by Punas Native Americans. The shape, pattern and colour of these baskets denote symbols of important events in the tribe’s long history. The customer is willing to make a huge order only if changes are made in the pattern, color and shape of this basket to meet the demands of his customers. Mr. Darren, as being a Cultural Anthropologist, knows that societies are weakened when the basic cultural symbols are changed. Darren is the only middleman to deal with the Punas. His boss is asking him to go and convince the Punas to bring changes in their woven basket.

What are the ethical issues?

Darren is confused whether to go and convince the Punas to make this deal. Being a bachelor of anthropology, he is aware of the fact that many civilizations are weaken when they have changed their basic symbols. His conscience is reluctant to do this. On the other side, he is concerned over the fact that if he does not make this deal, it would lead to bad relationship with his boss and may also result in a demotion or firing.

Who are the primary stakeholders?

The stakeholders include the Punas, who sells ethnic art to Artifacts, Darren, who acts as an intermediary between Punas and Artifacts and have to make a decision, the boss of Artifact Mr. Sam Freeman, who hopes to get a huge profit from this deal and Fredrick Stigler, who is the art gallery owner and expects to make profit by selling those baskets of Punas.

What are the possible alternatives?

  1. Darren may convince the Punas to make changes by telling nothing about the harm that may be caused to their culture by changing the pattern of the basket.
  2. Darren may directly refuse to convince the Punas
  3. Darren may tell a lie that the Punas people have refused to make this deal
  4. Darren may tell the Punas the consequences that might occur to their culture due to changes and then try to make a deal by paying them higher price or through other compensation

What are the ethics of the alternatives?

There are various kinds of approaches to judge actions. These approaches are constituted by moral philosophers by determining ethical standards. The ethics of the possible alternatives are analyzed below with the help of various important relevant ethical approaches:

Utilitarianism: Manuel G. Vleasquez, in his book Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases nicely define Utilitarianism as “a general term for any view that holds that actions and policies should be evaluated on the basis of the benefits and costs they will impose to the society.” (VELASQUEZ, Manuel G., 2007). It means that a correct action is one which will produce the greatest benefits or the lowest net cost. This approach suggests selecting those actions that have the maximum benefit for the maximum number of people (FISHER, C M et al., Feb 2009).

When one analyzes the given case from inside the bubble of Utilitarianism, it feels that Darren should convince the native people of Puna to bring changes in the basket because that would result in the greatest utility to the greatest number of people. At one side, we have the weakening factor of Puna culture and Darren’s unsatisfied conscience while on the other side, we have the monetary benefit in huge amount to Artifact, the art gallery owner Mr. Fredrick Stigler, Darren himself and the Punas workers. The later seems to have more weightage and the greatest amount of utility, thus Darren should convince them to do the deal, as per Utilitarianian approach to ethics.

Utilitarian principle assume that benefits produced by an action may be measured in units of utility and the sum of negative and positive units of utility may determine whether to go with an action or not. However, there are also noneconomic goods such as love, freedom, health, and even culture and these economic goods are also considered valuable because they lead to other good things. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine the units of utility of such noneconomic goods and utilitarian approach is therefore more applicable to economic goods. Some experts believe that this approach is unable to deal with moral issues related to rights and justice.

Kantian: Immanuel Kant developed an ethical theory for determining moral rights. It says that there are certain moral rights and duties that every person have, regardless of any utilitarianian benfits that the exercise of those rights and duties may provide for others (ANSCOMBE, Elizabeth). His theory is based on “Categorical Imperative” which states that “everyone should be treated as a free person equal to everyone else” (Philosophy Lander, 2009).

Kants has provided two ways to formulate this moral principle – the first formulation incorporates two criteria for deciding what is morally wrong and what is morally right. These criteria are universaliability and reversibility (VELASQUEZ, Manuel G., 2007).

By universalibility, it means that an action is right morally in a situation if the person’s reason for doing so is a reason that he/she would be willing to have every person act on. By reversibility, it means to considering yourself to be subjected to that given action on a given situation (FISHER, C M et al., Feb 2009). It basically focuses on inner motivations rather than consequences of actions. It is concerned more about why the person has chosen to do so.

The second formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative is about considering every human being as free rational person. It emphasis on respecting each person’s freedom and developing person’s capacity to freely choose the aims to pursue (VELASQUEZ, Manuel G., 2007) He prohibits to use a person as merely a mean for accomplishing one’s own interests (LAFAVE, Sandra, 2006).

The Kantian theory has been criticized heavily as being vague. It has been criticized of unclear categorical imperatives, conflict of rights and for some mistaken moral conclusions (Home Sprynet, 2005) (HUEMER, Michael, 1993).

Applying Kantian approach to this case, one may conclude that Darren should not convince the Punas to bring any change without informing them about the truth that only he knows as being an cultural anthropologist. Darren would probably not want that everyone in this world would not tell the truth before making a deal. For example, a laptop seller should not hide any fault from the purchaser such as the fact that the laptop overheats and restarts after every 2 hours due to faulty cooling fan inside. In the similar manner, the Punas must also be informed about the consequences of changes in the woven basket.

Judging the case from Kant’s second categorical imperative again suggests that Puna council must be informed about the consequences that might be caused by bringing the changes to the basket and they should be allowed to take a decision according to their own will.

Theory of Justice and Fairness: This concept emphasize that individuals who are similar in all respect should be given equal treatment, it does not matter if they are dissimilar at other irrelevant respects and those who are dissimilar in a relevant respect ought to be treated dissimilarly, in proportion to their dissimilarity”  (John Rawls on Justice, 2002) (VELASQUEZ, Manuel G., 2007).

This approach suggests that Darren should first disclose the consequences that may happen due to changing the pattern and shape of the basket because it is their right to know the truth. On the other side, if the deal is made, Punas should be compensated for the possible loss that might occur to their culture. They should also be compensated for the short time they are getting to produce a large amount of basket.

What are the practical constraints?

It will be hard for Darren not to make a deal with Punas or directly refuse as he may then have bad relationship with his boss. It will cause huge monetary losses to many parties.

What action should be taken?

Darren cannot ignore the fact that refusal to convince the Punas will lead to bad relationship with his boss. Further, he knows that it would cause a huge loss to Artifact and lose an important customer, Mr. Fredrick Stigler.

He also knows that the pay that the Puna workers will receive might bring positive changes in their social life, culture and society at large. Having more money means more spending, more economic activities in their area and thus more investment. Thus, the money might bring happiness for them in many ways.

He also knows that if the deal happens, his company would get some huge amount of profit and his boss would be happy with him and eventually he might get a promotion.

Keeping all these facts in consideration, it will not be wise not to make this deal. Therefore, it is suggested that Darren should make this deal in a wise manner.

First of all, Darren should contact Mr. Stigler to talk about bringing such changes that simultaneously makes the customer happy and don’t deviate any cultural values of Punas. In case it is not possible, then Darren must tell Punas what he knows when cultural symbols are changed. Let’s make the deal transparent to avoid future problems; after all, Artifact has to manage its image.

Then onward, Darren may also talk about the compensation that may be provided for making changes in their basket.

In summary ask yourself could I defend this action in the face of exposure by the Financial Times?

As mentioned earlier, the deal will be made with Punas in a transparent manner, by exposing the truths that Darren knows. That is why, I believe I can easily defend myself in case Financial Times expose any such issue.

References:

  • A Critique of the Kantian Ethics. 2005. [online]. [Accessed 20 November 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: < HYPERLINK http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/kant1.htm >
  • ANSCOMBE, Elizabeth. California State University. [online]. [Accessed 11 November 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: < HYPERLINK   http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/Kantian%20Ethics.htm >
  • FISHER, C M, Colin FISHER, and Alan LOVELL. Feb 2009. Business Ethics And Values: Individual, Corporate And International Perspectives. Prentice Hall.
  • HUEMER, Michael. 1993. A Critique of the Kantian Ethics. [online]. [Accessed 20 November 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: < http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~owl/kant1.html >
  • John Rawls on Justice. 2002. [online]. [Accessed 20 November 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: < HYPERLINK http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/johnrawl.htm >
  • Kantian Ethics. 2009. [online]. [Accessed 11 November 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: < HYPERLINK http://philosophy.lander.edu/ethics/kant.html >
  • LAFAVE, Sandra. 2006. Kant’s Ethics. [online]. [Accessed 20 November 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: < HYPERLINK http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/Kant_eth.htm >
  • VELASQUEZ, Manuel G. 2007. Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases. India: Pearson Education.
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