Monday, November 26, 2012

Ethics: Where are we now?


How has my ethical reasoning changed?  If I may say so, I usually practice good ethics at home and in the workplace.  The past few weeks of this course has elevated my thinking and given me practical steps to ensure that my actions and decisions are ethical.  I was not sure how concrete this study would be, but the tangible theories and models really have shown me that ethics is more than just a clear conscience.  In the broadest sense, there is a method to the madness!  The truths that we have learned can certainly be used in real world situations.  Currently, I am unemployed but I definitely can see how these things would have been useful in my past.  

I know that they apply to my present, as the other day I was with friends discussing something that happened in a restaurant.  One person ordered all you can eat pancakes and shared them with everyone at the table.  According to the establishment, they are meant for only one individual.  According to my friends it is a cheap way for a group to continue eating until they are full.  I sternly disagreed.  My thinking before the course would have been that it was wrong because it breaks the rule, however, I now see that there is an element of trust being broken between the restaurant and the customers.  I explained to them that it was an unethical thing to do because it made them lie to the waitress – whom was suspicious of what they were doing – and used the ethical principle of duty-based ethics that stands on the concept that some actions are inherently wrong – deceiving the waitress – and that actions are ethical to the extent that it would be alright if they became the standard for everyone – having one person order all you can eat to feed a large group. 
I know, it may not seem like a big deal but things like this have always gotten to me and now I have the rhetoric to support my claims.  Ethics is important and what I learned in this course are things that I should and will apply in and out of the business world.  These are tools for life.    

CASE STUDY 1 – Following Facebook

Adrian Smith won his case because the company’s decision was illegal and unfair.  I find it interesting that a company can try to use a comment made outside of the office on a privately hosted webpage as ammunition for disciplinary actions.  There was not a breach of contract or misconduct according to the Justice.  In reality this should have not gone so far.  Britain has laws granting free speech and an employee has the right to make statements about his personal feelings outside of work.

This does, however, set a precedent for employees to be held liable for personal thoughts and beliefs expressed that are contrary to equality policies or the employer’s stance on a particular issue.  As Mr. Smith states “ ‘Something has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain, where an honest man like me can be punished for making perfectly polite remarks….I am fearful that…there will be more cases like mine’”.  This should be a lesson to both employees and employers.  Unfortunately, employees have to be overly cautious even when it comes to private and polite personal statements.  There is less room for polite personal comments and more enforcement of political correctness.  Employers, in the mean time, should not be too eager to promote equality at the risk of undue alienation.  

I would not have punished Smith for his comments.  Any negative effects of his comments should have been directed towards him, not the company.  His comments were of a personal and private nature.  It is not up to the company to judge those actions and measure them according to company standards.  There are occasions when personal expressions can affect our professional lives, but this was not one of them.  It seems like the company simply wanted to make an example and show that they support the movement towards socially embracing gay marriage.      

CASE STUDY 2 –  A Tweet too Far

This case, the issue over the tweet made by an employee at Cinnamon, takes us into a completely different area of company-employee relations.  The previous case did not merit disciplinary actions.  The comments were made of on a private webpage and were polite in nature.  The comments made by the employee at Cinnamon were on a public page, using a company account, and used expletives in reference to a specific customer.  The nature of the comments was offensive, despite the intention of being in jest, and made using a company account which reflects the organization’s voice and opinions.  In this case the personal comments definitely overlap into his professional life and needed to be addressed by the company.

According to the article, the employee was disciplined and an apology was issued.  This was the correct course of action in my opinion.  If I were a business professional, I would have probably done the same thing.  The employee did need to be disciplined for using the company account to offend a customer which in the process reflected poorly on the company.  I would have also issued an apology to the customer and reassured the public that his comments were not sanctioned by the organization.  The addition of advising other restaurants to be more prudent about their social media use was something that I may not have thought about but think to be a great step towards renewing the company’s positive reputation.  

Companies should learn that allowing employees access to company social media accounts is risky and should be tightly monitored, perhaps comments should be reviewed and approved before they are posted.  Employees should take note that speaking wildly on behalf of the company is not acceptable and will have repercussions.  This case is a warning and reminder to all of us. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Honesty then Responsibility

When businesses and the communities they are in work together there are innumerable benefits for both.  There is an opportunity for sales growth, a healthier population, safer children, and happier employees just to name a few.  Corporate social responsibility and its various models are formal institutionalized ways to accomplish these goals.  It is a great concept with poor legislative possibilities.  By that I mean that it would be difficult to create legislation forcing companies to engage in certain practices deemed socially responsible.  The only exception being environmental and health regulations, it would be a legislative nightmare – at least in the United States – for the government to have such an invasive role in private businesses.  

The most pressure and call for change is coming from the consumers.  The initial challenge was to do something and give back to the community by being socially responsible.  Corporations that are already engaging in corporate social responsibility are now being challenged to truly transform.  The changes must be long term commitments to which the corporations are sincerely dedicated.  Caroline McCarthy’s commentary about the way some companies front social responsibility by flimsy green initiatives but still hold to practices and processes that negatively impact the community and/environment is where the consumer conversation is headed.  People are noticing that in many cases the commitment to socially responsible behavior is not genuine.  In the age of rapid communication and transparency, the sheep’s clothing is being ripped off of the wolf so to speak.  Corporate contradictions are being noticed by the consumers.  

I am not sure exactly where or how BP’s corporate social responsibility strategy failed.  What is clear, however, is that there was a false sense of security.  They were under the guise that by making commitments and creating a green image, a change had been made when there was not much substance behind it.  From what I read there was not an in-depth strategic plan in place, or in the very least, not one that anyone in the corporation was fully committed to executing.  The reality that accidents happen should prepare us for the inevitable.  The BP case shows us that when something does happen, corporations will be put to the test and their true colors will show especially when taking responsibility comes down to them parting from resources and money.  There is nothing wrong with a company holding back from being socially responsible as long as they do not pretend to be so.  Eventually it will be put to the test and I would prefer to know that a company was honestly out for profit and not the people, than walk around thinking that they care about my community when they really do not.  Let's practice honesty, then we can tackle responsibility.         

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Consumers Causing Chaos

Both of the cases brought against food giant, McDonald’s seem to be frivolous on the surface.  Hot coffee and obese children are not things that most people would take before a judge.  After reading about the cases I do not believe that McDonald’s is at fault in either case.  

The woman asked for hot coffee.  An employee did not dose her with the cup, she spilled it on herself.  In the case of McDonald’s causing childhood obesity, again, the parents willingly fed the children the company’s food.  McDonald’s only claims to use fresh ingredients, not healthy ones.  From where I stand both cases are not an issue of product liability but consumer responsibility.  The other day, I went into a shop and ordered a cup of hot tea.   It was so hot I could not even pick up the cup.  I asked the barista to give me another cup to take some of the heat from my fingers and ice cubes to cool the scalding tea.  As the consumer, we have to be responsible and not place hot products on or near our skin.  It is also not a good idea to handle food or drink in a vehicle, moving or otherwise, which is what the plaintiff did.  

With regard to childhood obesity, the parents are ultimately responsible for what their children are eating.  McDonald’s ads are not deceptive, but people make assumptions of their own volition.  The ads claim freshness and taste not health and wellness when it comes to their food.  Consumers have to understand that eating food that is fried, especially deep fried, is not healthy.  Consumers also need to be aware that eating the same foods over and over is not a balanced diet.  

The only issue that I can take up with the food corporation with regard to the issues at hand is the need for McDonald’s to stop marketing to children and young adults whose discernment is not fully developed.  Children are vulnerable to manipulation but parents, the adults, ought to know better. McDonald’s has done a lot in recent years by putting healthier – not healthy, healthier than older items – on the menu and including the caloric intake for each item.  They do not have to provide such information but are doing the ethical thing, as they are fully aware of the national obesity epidemic.  It is a socially responsible step in the right direction.       


Devan, A. (2010, August 27). McDonald's and Product Liability Lawsuits. Retrieved November 8, 2012, from Yahoo Voices:

Obama, V. (2010, January 5). Liebeck V. McDonald's Restaurants or "McDonald's Coffee Case". Retrieved November 8, 2012, from Yahoo Voices:

O'Brien, G. (2011, May 31). Marketing to Children: Accepting Responsibility. Retrieved November 8, 2012, from Business Ethics: The Magazine of Corporate Responsibility:

The Actual Facts about the McDonald's Coffee Case. (1996). Retrieved November 8, 2012, from the Lectric Law Library:

Wald, J. (2003, February 17). McDonald's Obesity Suit Tossed. Retrieved November 8, 2012, from CNN Money:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Should I...Shouldn't I

First I will talk about the decision from a deontology style.  I do want to tie in the decision making model from the previous week.  The first step tells me to identify the facts.  From a deontological perspective, the facts are that my bank needs me to commission an advertising firm for a special project, the best prices are at Large Promotions, and my bank’s public relations firm has a positive working relationship with Large Promotions.   

The next step asks what my ethical values are and how they frame the situation.  There are universal laws that speak to some things be inherently wrong regardless of consequence.  Ethically, it is questionable for me to have been working with my spouse’s company and continue to do so, especially without my department’s foreknowledge, even if they offer the best deal.  Deontological thinkers would agree that actions are ethical to the extent that one would be willing for his choices to become a universal law.  I would not accept the practice of work partnerships between spouses because it creates unfair disadvantages for competitors.  My reputation, along with my spouse’s reputation, is at stake if it is later found out that my spouse owns the advertising firm in question.   

The decision making process continues by looking at the available alternatives.  My options are to contract Large Promotions or go with another advertising firm that may charge higher prices.  Thinking as a deontologist, I would have to disregard the consequence of paying more for advertising if it means making an ethical choice to avoid being accused of nepotism.  I would discuss this with my spouse and explain that I would have to reveal that my spouse owns Large Promotions and while doing that communicate to them that despite my personal relationship with its owner, the company offers great work at the best market price.   Using the deontological perspective, I would have to decide to give the aforementioned information to my team and opt out of the final vote.  If the decision were solely up to me, I would have to not choose my spouses firm and pay more to contract another advertising agency’s services.  

Now I will go through the decision making process as a utilitarianism advocate.  The first step would elicit that same response as the facts have not changed, so I will just to the second step in the process.  What are the ethical issues involved?  The only issue that may arise given the facts of the case is that my department does not know my spouse owns Large Promotions.  I need to be truthful and open with this information.  In utilitarianism we have to consider the consequences.  Holding back this information could put my job at risk from accusations of nepotism or choosing personal gain (because the spouse will benefit financially) over company interests.  

The next step in the process requires me to consider the alternatives.  According to utilitarianism I could choose any alternative that does the greatest good for the number of people.  Choosing to give the account to Large Promotions does the most good for the company, myself, and my spouse.  The company would get the best price allowing them save money on a quality service.  I would benefit my accomplishing my task.  My spouse would benefit financially through the business arrangement.  Because Large Promotions has a positive history working with my bank and offers quality work for the best available price, this is justifiable.  The final step is to make a decision.  I would let them know that the company is owned by my spouse.  My spouse’s company would be the best choice even if they were not the owner.  Following utilitarianism I would decide to work with my spouse's company because everyone – the company, myself, and my spouse, will benefit and no harm is done.