Business Ethics

I was discussing ethics and their place in business with my Uncle Tony today.  We had an interesting discussion about how CEOs or other successful people in companies inevitably face a moment in their career, when they have to choose between doing something unethical or ethical.  There most likely will come a point when one is given the silver bullet that will catapult them ahead of their competition.  The ethical question is whether or not use that opportunity to get ahead or do you resist the temptation for a more ethical path.  I think life often hands us these scenarios – to lie or not, to cut in line, to say you called when you really didn’t – and it is purely up to us whether or we use those silver bullets.

I’m currently writing a paper about Steve Jobs and it makes me contemplate this subject.  I have never met the man, worked with him or anything like that to give me the knowledge to say the following, but I feel like Steve Jobs would throw someone under the bus to get ahead or be successful.  All of the articles and blogs I have read have eluded to that statement.  My uncle and I discussed Steve Jobs, and he had a good question – If Steve Jobs had it all to do over again, then do you think he would repeat what he has done?  My answer was yes.  I don’t think he regretted many things in his life.  He had peculiar characteristics and tendencies that made him a complicated, bizarre and greedy man.  I highly doubt that Steve Jobs truly was a disciple of Zen Buddhism.  It just seems so contradictory to try and find the pursuit of life and happiness, when you are some consumed with success and being the best.

In my own career, I hope to not be a CEO like Steve Jobs.  Yes he was successful, but at what cost.  As with most things I think about these days, what is the ramifications…at what cost do I get x, y or z…I may be young, but I know that your reputation, values and principles are things that you can truly own and hold close to you.  If we let those things slip away in an effort to be more successful or innovative, then we lose a lot more than we can even grasp.

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Apple and Steve Jobs: Conflicting Codes of Ethics?

I am working on a project for my Media Ethics class.  The subject of my paper is to take a deeper look at the ethics and values Apple, Inc. had versus Steve Jobs’ codes of ethics.  There has been much discussion about the difficult personality he had and the way he approached business.  As I thought about all I know about Apple and their issues in their factories and environmental issues, I wanted to look at the correlation between those events and Jobs’ own personality and ethics.

My paper will include a text analysis of Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, advertising methodology and communication to their stakeholders.  I also will look at Steve Jobs biography, statements and actions throughout his lifetime.  The man behind the juggernaut that is Apple had a profound impact upon the company.  I think the Communitarian and Utilitarian ethical frameworks will be how I look at the two entities.

Stay tuned for an update with excerpts from my paper…

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Beneath the Palaver Tree

The palaver tree is a communication method that originates from Western Africa.  It stands for group discussions, problem solving and harmony over truth.  With this communication style, time does not dominate the decisions.  Beneath the palaver tree misunderstandings were resolved and critical community issues were discussed under the direction of the village elders.  I notice some problematic things when approaching problems in this fashion.  However, I personally appreciate the fact that this method utilizes the knowledge obtained by those that are older within the community.  I have learned so much from the wise men and women that have come before me.  Their knowledge is indispensable.

Keeping the truth buried in order to maintain harmony can be detrimental.  Instead, we could take inspiration from the palaver tree and  deal with truth in a slow fashion.  Take the approach of slow versus instant resolutions.  Time can be our friend.  I have people ask me my opinion on things, and I have learned to ask for some time to think about my answer.  Generally, I come to a better conclusion, answer or opinion about things.

Bid for harmony would give you a chance to bring truth to the foreground to reach the harmony.  In the U.S., we rush to make a decision and find the “truth” or fault of individuals, companies or institutions.  Maybe we need to do less blaming and more thoughtful discussions with respect.

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Brinker Begins Advertising with a New Approach

The following is a statement released by Nancy Brinker on February 03, 2012:

“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.  The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen.  We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood.  They were not.”

I reflect back to this statement and the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle that happened a few months ago because I noticed some advertisements begin to air on television a few weeks ago.  They take on a tone that has a much more personal approach.  If I was asked  in my Media Ethics class to label what type of ethical approach Komen and Brinker were taking, then I would probably say Cosmopolitanism. ethics of care and persons as ends.  The organization took such flack about their original decision to withdraw their grant funding to Planned Parenthood that they needed to show and remind their stakeholders what Komen represents.

The advertisement is a personal message describing why Nancy Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure approximately 30 years ago.  She tells the story of her sister’s battle and ultimate loss with breast cancer.  It allows the viewers to be reminded of why the effort began and what inspired her to take on this big challenge.  While the advertisement does try to portray her in a humanistic light, it is also trying to evoke the ethical systems I stated before.  Brinker is theoretically saying that Komen was started for her sister and any other human battling with cancer.  It appears as though she was advised to take this approach to back away from the political battle that erupted and transition back to the persons as ends and ethics of care ethical framework.

Since the Komen-Planned Parenthood firestorm, Brinker herself has taken quite a hit in the public eye.  The Washington Post reported the following information, “Nancy Brinker, founder and chief executive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, took home $417,000 in salary in 2010, according to financial documents posted on the charity’s Website, and paid 50 top executives more than $100,000 each…Brinker, who also serves as chairman of Komen’s board of directors, traveled first class on airlines with the explicit permission of the board she chairs.” — Washington Post, 02/06/2012 http://goo.gl/mGcoK.  So not only was the organization’s motives and actions called into question, but Brinker herself.  I think this is the real reason for the change of heart seen in the new advertisements.  With good PR work, Komen will most likely recover from the black mark they acquired.  With better PR, they could have most likely avoided it all together.

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1 Million 4 Anna: Through the Lens of Communitarianism and Utilitarianism

1 Million 4 Anna: Romans 12:12

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

The following are excerpts from my case study

  At the age of 16, most adolescents worry about having a date to the school dance, how many days of school are left until summer break, and traversing through the tumultuous time of hormonal development.  Most 16-year-olds do not contemplate if they will live to see their 18th birthday, withstand the next round of chemotherapy or worry about how they will look without hair.  High school student, Anna Basso, was diagnosed with stage four Ewing’s Sarcoma on Nov. 25, 2009.

On April 22, 2010, http://www.1million4anna.com was created, by the Bassos’ neighbor of ten years and owner of Firehouse advertising agency in Dallas, TX, Mark Hall.  “What came over me was this sense of helplessness, of wanting to do something,” said Hall (Ragland, 2010).  The 1 Million 4 Anna non-profit/public service campaign set out to acquire 1 million prayers for Anna and raise money to fight cancer.  “It’s an initiative born out of Mark’s belief that big ideas can make a difference, and that the power of prayer is, well, powerful – and can be life changing,” (Firehouse Agency, 2011).  The campaign created a modern day prayer chain asking people to pledge their prayers to Anna and “unite in prayer each day at 12:12…a time selected as a part of the concept to align with Roman’s 12:12,” (Firehouse Agency, 2011).  The Bible verse, Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  The concept of “12:12 allowed us to pray at the same time to show our solidarity, as Matthew 18:20 says, ‘Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with the,’” (Firehouse Agency, 2011).  The website utilized Twitter, Facebook and blogs, where “prayers were tracked through individuals’ online pledges to pray for Anna daily,” (Witkin, 2011).  Hall was commited to finding a way to let Anna know that she was not alone.  “Somewhere along the way, I said, ‘Prayer matters.’ And that was sort of the genesis of it,” Mark said (Ragland, 2010).

Upon visiting the website, the visitor will see a short statement regarding Anna and her condition and the goal of the campaign.  However, there is no overarching statement regarding the mission of the campaign to establish what its roots are grounded in.  This is an issue identified during the analysis of 1 Million 4 Anna.  The website bombards the visitor with actions one can take in an effort to pray for Anna and her battle against cancer.  In this campaign, it is apparent that the tactics override the mission of this endeavor.  While the tactics are efficient and aimed at calling upon people’s actions to help another human being, the message becomes lost in a mass of clutter.  Between tweeting, facebooking, pledging and uploading prayers, the amount of output can be overwhelming.  The one thing lacking amidst all the prayers and well wishes for Anna is the core belief behind the actions.  There is religion behind the prayers, but that is the only distinguishable grounding factor.  A mission established by the 1 Million 4 Anna campaign would unite the mass of messages in a more cohesive fashion and give direction to longterm goals of the campaign.

A possible mission statement for 1 Million 4 Anna could have been rooted in Communitarianism.  This was proposed by a Utilitarian contemporary philosopher, Amitai Etzioni.  “While mindful of human tendencies to act in self-interested ways, Communitarians believe that it is possible to build a good society based on the desire of human beings to cooperate to achieve community goals that are based on positive values,” (The George Washington University, 2010).  Communitarians also advocate faith-based organizations, arguing that “faith-based or religiously oriented approaches are inherently more effective than secular approaches in changing behavior,” (The George Washington University, 2010).  1 Million 4 Anna is trying to initiate action from others in society and change their prior behavior of not being invested in the life of another human being and to actively care about Anna Basso.  “Communitarians emphasize the role of the community as a potent “third force” in shaping the conduct and quality of both individual and collective life,” (The George Washington University, 2010).  In order to change the behavior of individuals, Communitarians propose that education may be the best tool (Andreasen, 2001, p. 32).  Education is a component that appears to be lacking in the 1 Million 4 Anna campaign.  If the Communitarian philosophy had been embraced by Mark Hall and the Firehouse team as a possible framework for the mission statement, then an education piece may have been integrated into the campaign.

“In exchange for these prayers and this dedication we would get what we want – our friend, cousin, niece, sister, our daughter healthy and active and able to resume her normal teenage years, so rudely interrupted by this hideous disease,” (Firehouse Agency, 2011).  It is admirable to want such a thing for other people, but these are things that are out of control of mere humans.  The part of that statement that is most bothersome is “we would get what we want.”  The ethicality of the campaign, 1 Million 4 Anna, was called into question after statements like the one above.  Emmanuel Kant, Philosopher who discussed morality, raitionality and what he dubbed the Categorical Imperative, argued that “moral philosophy addresses the question, What ought I to do?, and an answer to that question requires much more than delivering the fundamental principle of morality,” (Johnson, 2010).

The story of Anna Basso is not a unique one, unfortunately.  Every day, many children and adults are suffering from diseases like cancer.  However, it is interesting how so many people around the world were encouraged to “care” about her and her battle.   Hopefully, the family and friends of Anna Basso feel some sort of peace with the journey they embarked upon not too long ago.  While things may appear as a great idea, it is necessary to strip away the emotional attachment in order to see the truth.  1 Million 4 Anna may not have been as self-less and wonderful as hoped, but for a short period of time a little girl that was suffering smiled.

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Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

The New York Times ran an article challenging individuals to tell them why it’s ethical to eat meat.  My professor asked us to give this question some thought and give our opinion.  I’m honestly a bit stumped by the question.  I think it may not just involve ethics, but morality as well.  I think if one values health, then eating meat is a necessity.  In my humble opinion, it is those who have a well-rounded diet that are the most healthy.  Vegetarians have to eat protein substitutes in order to acquire the iron and protein they need.  On the other side of that debate, it can be argued that if I value life of another being then I wouldn’t eat meat.  I can tell you one thing, if I was required to go out and kill the meat I wished to eat then I would probably be a vegetarian.  Most likely, I couldn’t do it.  I believe this is so because my human survival does not really depend upon me killing that animal.  We now have other people breed, raise, kill, clean and ship our meat to us.  It is easier to say we love meat, when we don’t have to do the dirty work.

If we look at this from a morality viewpoint, then the conversation would take a different direction.  According to Dictionary.com, a moral is something “of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong.”  This definition would allow us to infer that our opinion about the morality or ethicality of eating meat would depend upon our upbringing.  I am accustomed to eating meat.  It has become a learned way of life and taken on a life of its own.  Humans are predators.  We are, after all, animals ourselves.  As with most things these days, we have gone beyond that point of balance.  Today, we are eating more meat than we actually need.  Ethically and morally, it may not be sustainable to continue on this path we are continuing on.

 

Here is a link to the NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/tell-us-why-its-ethical-to-eat-meat-a-contest.html

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Apple’s Success – A Double Edged Sword

Apple has been on an upward trend for at least a decade.  However, all these innovations have had their positive and negative implications upon societies.  The positive is that Apple has been pushing the boundaries of what is invented.  The iPhone, iPad and Mac computers have changed the way we communicate on a daily basis.  The technology is constantly improving and making it easier than ever to utilize it to the fullest.  The stock price for Apple has been going through the roof and recently they announced they are giving small dividends to stockholders.  The change of hands from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook has spurred this change in mentality of Apple.  I like the fact that Apple is sharing the wealth, but there is always more to do.

A few negatives have to do with the factory conditions concerns brought to light at the beginning of 2012 and the balance of technology usage in our lives.  Apple paid for the report on the conditions of their factories in China, after a few of the workers committed suicide.  The balance of technology is another concern.  Apple is so integrated into all of our lives, which allows us to be connected at all times.  Again, I think of Aristotle’s philosophical ideas of balance.  We are losing our ability to maintain balance in our lives and disconnect from the constant barrage of messages.

After discussing Apple and Steve Jobs in class today, a few more things have formulated in my mind about who they are…

  To me, they are a company that has established effective marketing.  The marketing has created an element of hype that is associated with all Apple products and software.  They claim to strive at making their customers’ lives better, but I suspect that is not necessarily the case.  Apple has hit their stride and are raking in the money.  Until the recent death of Steve Jobs, the company has been sitting on a rather large nesteg of money and refused to give dividends to stockholders.  The new CEO, Tim Cook, has decided to start giving those dividends to stockholders.  He is also visiting the factories in China to see what happens there and the conditions.  The report about the conditions at their Foxconn factory was released today.  I need to read it, but from what I have seen the results are not pretty.

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Kurzweil’s Theory – 2045

One keynote speaker at the 2012 South by Southwest unveiled a thought provoking theory about the year 0f 2045.  Raymond Kurzweil reveal that through his study of data, there will come a point in time when computers will become intelligent.  Not just intelligent, but become more intelligent than humans.  Computers are getting faster and faster by the day, so it is logical that at a certain time they will surpass humans in capabilities.

Kurzweil believes that when is theory becomes a reality, “humanity — our bodies, our minds, our civilization — will be completely and irreversibly transformed.”   He predicts that this moment is approximately 35 years away.  One thing is for sure, the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011 will occur at this moment. The name of this transformation: the Singularity.  2045: The Year the Man Becomes Immortal, according to Raymond Kurzweil.

Just interesting food for thought…

If this time is imminent, then it makes me wonder if it behoves humanity to continue on this path.  Do we stop before something life this becomes a reality in order to preserve our species?  Or…Do we continue to pursue more in technology.  This reminds me a bit of the book, “Hamlet’s Blackberry,” where the main discussion is balance between technology and human interaction.  I can see the importance of that line of thought intersecting with Kurzweil’s.  It will be interesting to see where this pursuit of faster and smarter technology takes us all.

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Kony2012 – Powerful and slightly Dangerous

Last week, there was a viral video spreading across the social media outlets like wild fire.  The not-for-profit organization, Invisible Children, became an overnight sensation on the Internet with close to 75 million views on YouTube alone and 80 million views on Facebook and Twitter, in just five days.  The creators of the video, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole, sought to film the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord who has been in power for many years.

My Facebook and Twitter pages were littered with the Kony2012 logo, and I wasn’t sure what it was all about.  It was a busy day, so I did not have time to spend 27 minutes watching the video everyone was raving about.  Social Media was talking about it and then it was covered on ABC Evening News with Diane Sawyer.  I did not share this video with any of my friends.  After I watched the video, I found it a bit reminiscent of a TOMS propaganda video.  Videos like this now make me suspicious.  It plays at our heart strings, as it is intended to do.  I have been to Africa and know that there are indeed atrocities Americans would cringe at seeing.  However, I also know that these issues are not new.  They are not something that can be solved with endorsements from Oprah and Angelina Jolie.  Awareness is powerful, I agree with that fact.  Organizations can abuse the power of social media and lure unsuspecting do-gooders  into a frenzy over change and bringing justice to those wronged.

There are many that see this rapid sensationalized hype to be a worrisome side effect of social media.  Social media is a powerful tool and can quickly distribute news across the globe.  One blogger expresses concern that these types of things spread throughout social media downplay the serious issues at hand and “encourages meaningless ‘slacktivism’ instead of real action,” said blogger Mathew Ingram.  There are more questions to ask before one supports this activist group by liking, tweeting and sharing with all your contacts.

I have seen many examples of people and organizations utilizing social media to reach the large audiences they are seeking.  Before these viral campaigns are attempted, I would really love for the individuals to take their blinders off, stop drinking the Kool-Aid and discuss all the possible conversations that could ensue after one acts.  I applaud people for standing up for what is right.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not supporting violent dictators and their tactics to maintain power and legitimacy.  They are despicable, power hungry and need to be stopped.  My concern is that people lack the ability to stay grounded amidst a flood of buzz and sensationalism easily generated with the use of social media.

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What do Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Maher and Laura Schlessinger Have in Common…?

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Maher and Laura Schlessinger are all famous recent talk-show hosts, who offend but escape relatively unscathed.  There is heated media attention for a few days, but then the attention dies down.  The advertisers of the shows threaten to withdraw their sponsorship in light of the comments or actions made by the host.  While advertisers may appear to leave, they more often simply move to the sidelines.

We recently watched a few clips from Bamboozled and discussed what rationalizations people make to justify an action or comment(s).  A few of the rationalizations were:

  • Let the audience decide
  • Don’t be too serious
  • It’s just fun
  • Who put these critics in charge and made them the cultural police?
  • Who determines what is … offensive, racist, sexist, obscene…?
  • It’s a Satire
  • If they can’t take a joke, “F” ‘em.”

Some say the best defense is offense.  Well, rationalizations are defense.  Rationalizations are flak, which is when someone or an organization throws out junk to pull off a primary purpose.  It amazes me how quickly the public and advertisers will forgive indiscretions of celebrities.  They generally show no remorse because they know they don’t have to.  They can offend, issue a whitewashed apology and move on relatively easily.  Advertisers still want to make money, viewers still thrive on drama and therefore the cycle will continue.  Let’s all just ignore the fact that it is ethically and morally wrong to continually offend other individuals.  It lacks some of the foundational principles, which many people and organizations should possess.  

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