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A friend of mine working for a business recently claimed that his business was

A friend of mine working for a business recently claimed that his business was bribing a petty government official involved in the audit of their government tax/duties accounts because the government official was demanding a bribe. He managed to reduce the bribe amount to half or even less. My question is this: Is it right for him to take a high moral ground compared to the bribe taker? His argument is that like pollution, corruption is required to be reduced and since he managed to reduce the bribe amount, he did the right thing morally and ethically speaking. I argued that my friend is as much an accomplice in the ethical wrong doing as the bribe giver(the business) and the bribe taker(the petty government official). My friend seems to be stuck on the "pollution analogy" and feels he has done a great act by reducing the bribe amount like reducing the "pollution". Can you expose ethical issues invoved in the above?

Well, it might be that your friend is right to feel happy with what he has done since the system of bribes is so commonplace within the culture that it is inevitable and has to be accepted as just another business expense. That would not be to approve of bribes but to acknowledge its ubiquity. What he should be pleased about is not taking the high moral ground but in reducing his costs from what they would otherwise have been.

I recently decided to change jobs; I had to go through a lot of interviews at

I recently decided to change jobs; I had to go through a lot of interviews at various competing firms. In order to keep my job search secret from my current employer, I had to make (often false) excuses to leave work early / take long lunch breaks / take afternoons off work. Was it ethically wrong to do this?

I don't see a serious ethical problem with taking a long lunch break, assuming you worked a little longer at the end of the day as needed. Nor is it wrong to take an afternoon off, assuming you properly advised your employer to give him/her a chance to book is as a half-day of vacation. So the only plausible candidate for wrongdoing here is the dishonesty of your excuses.Such dishonesty might be justifiable in three ways.

First, it might be that, in the context of your work environment, it is generally understood by employers and employees alike that such dishonesty is standard practice (much like assault is standard practice in a boxing match).

Second, it might be that the particular employer you lied to had forfeited any claim to your honesty. S/he might have done this by lying to you, for instance, or by acting wrongly toward other employees who had honestly reported that they were seeking new jobs.

Third, it might be that your dishonesty was necessary to achieve some greater good. For example, you urgently need a higher salary to provide adequately for your children. This higher salary can come either through a promotion from your current employer or through a new job. Telling your current employer that you are interviewing for other jobs would reduce your chances for promotion and thereby jeopardize your children's welfare (in the event that your job search fails).

If none of these justifications applies, then, I would think, it was indeed wrong of you to offer false excuses.

Today you can read a lot about ethical and unethical doing and specially about

Today you can read a lot about ethical and unethical doing and specially about companies that do act unethically or unfair. For a public person it's not always easy to determine if such accusations are righteous or not. My question: Is it unethical to invest in shares of companies, whose reputations are not that good because they are accused of repression of employees or groups (or supporting such repression), exploitation of nature and human, etc.?

An interesting and very timely question. It seems to me that it breaks down into several parts.

First, we need to ignore the problem that what one person believes is unethical corporate behaviour another believes is appropriate competitive behaviour. For example, much of the current trend in ethical investing stems from religious groups, many of whom refuse to invest in companies that produce alcohol, as well as those that produce and sell arms to oppressive regimes. Many would for good reasons count the latter as a more important oversight than the latter. Let us assume that we are all agreed that behaviour X (using your example, treating the workforce in some particular way) is unethical.

Second, your question assumes that if a company were in fact guilty of X, then that alone would preclude investment in it. However, corporate activities are complex; one might be inclined to take a holistic view of their activities and ignore one thing because of activities you feel are generally beneficial in other areas. Relatedly, many ethical investment fund managers look for responsible behaviour relative to the industry (e.g. within arms manufacture, which companies are doing most to ensure responsible use?).

Third, there is the problem of evidence and proof. Of course, one should always interrogate the provenance of the accusation and thus the quality of the evidence. But more significant that this is that within criminal law there seems general agreement that the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' is a good one. But, there are at least three differences. (i) We are not speaking here of criminal law but of ethical judgements. Accordingly, it might be appropriate to apply different procedures. (ii) Because of the complexity mentioned above, it may be years if ever that adequate evidence surfaces. (iii) We are speaking of investments by private individuals. You have the right to invest or withdraw your investments for any reason you choose, which is quite unlike the ability of the legal system to imprison.

Let's assume, then, that one has taken into account the first and second points above (is it really unethical? and is that company 'on the whole' for good?). On that basis, there might be a good case for the conclusion that not investing, on the back of an evidenced but as yet unproven unethical behaviour, is the proper course of action.

I was recently pulled into an office at work with a couple of loss prevention

I was recently pulled into an office at work with a couple of loss prevention agents and they proceeded to let me know that they are talking to all managers about what exactly their role is. I am a manager at a very big retail brand. After we discussed what exactly their role is (which I already know), I felt like they were getting to something. They suddenly started talking about trust and how the company trusts all of their employees, sometimes that trust is broken when some employees decide to steal. I got very uncomfortable and asked what this is about and they let me know that a week previous $20 dollars was missing out of our petty cash and that they have me and another person who was our lead cashier. Any manager that opens the store must count petty cash with our lead cashiers, so there are always two people present. They proceeded to ask if I have ever taken any money from the company or put anything in my pocket. I said absolutely not. I have no reason to steal. They said that they have video. I...

I don't know what your legal rights are. If you are interested, you should consult a lawyer. However, I can understand your outrage and humiliation. As you tell it, their accusation was false and lacked probable cause. They also lied in the course of interrogating you, apparently with the hope of eliciting a confession, rather than as part of a good faith investigation. If it were me, I would follow the issue up with my supervisor or by filing a formal grievance. It sounds like you deserve an explanation and a formal apology. It sounds like the company needs to rethink its understanding of various aspects of due process. If I didn't get a satisfactory reply, I would think seriously about looking for a new position in another firm with a solid track record of fair and honest dealing with employees.

I've enjoyed a number of the answers posted on the site (I subscribe to the RSS

I've enjoyed a number of the answers posted on the site (I subscribe to the RSS feed). They've been insightful, and have cleverly fleshed out some problems which, on the surface, seemed banal or excessively broad. This question is the latter. Lately I've been wondering if it's possible to institutionalize ethical conduct. That is, in any bureaucratic entity (a business, government, religion, or otherwise) can you effectively create moral rightness inherent to the organization? It seems (in the absence of any thorough research on my part) that prevailing attitudes about morality put individual agents at the heart of the matter, but I was curious if there are any well-grounded dissenting opinions. The reason I ask is that I'm operating a small business, and would like to craft its orchestrating documents (articles of organization, business plan, etc.) as conscientiously as possible. -Jeremy Wilkins

In regard to the political organization of a society, your question has been extensively and fruitfully debated for centuries, for instance in Plato's Republic, in the Federalist Papers, and in Rawls's work. The discussion shows that social rules, practices, and institutions exert great influence on character and conduct. Ethical conduct is more likely when ethical standards are clearly formulated and discussed, when there is transparency and accountability in decision making, when counter-moral incentives are restrained or suppressed, and when ethical considerations are routinely integrated into decision making processes. In regard to the organization of a business, similar desiderata apply. So, yes, structural design is important, and you do well to pay as much attention to it as you do. Still, this does not show that prevailing attitudes about morality are wrong to put individual agents at the heart of the matter. You are such an agent, and, without your thoughtfulness, your business will not be well designed. Moreover, a culture of selfishness and corruption may render meaningless even the best-crafted rules or governing documents. Such documents are one crucial component of a corporate culture which must be sustained also by people working together at the firm who must, for the most part at least, understand and share your commitment to operating the firm in an ethical way.

If I own something that is essential for other people to live, like medicines,

If I own something that is essential for other people to live, like medicines, and I know that I have made it impossible for them to afford it, am I responsible for their death?

Yes you are. Your decision to deny others access to the life-savingdrug has led to their death. But how serious is your responsibilityfrom a moral point of view? That depends on the circumstances. Perhapsthe medicine was in short supply and you needed what you had for yourown survival or that of your family. In this case, I think you didnothing wrong. Or perhaps the medicine was in short supply and youchose to give it to those who could pay you the most. This way ofrationing your supply is not beyond moral criticism, but at least yourdrugs saved as many people as possible and so your conduct did notincrease the number of deaths beyond what was unavoidable.

Nowconsider drug companies in the real world. They patent their medicinesand then enjoy exclusive rights to sell them at monopoly prices, whichcan be 400 times higher than the marginal cost of production. There aregeneric producers in developing countries which produce much cheaperversions of the same drug for sale to the poor. But the largepharmaceutical companies and their governments, through treaties andlaw suits, are working very hard and quite successfully towardsuppressing the production and sale of generic versions of drugs stillunder patent. Millions are dying as a result.

The justificationoffered for such conduct is that inventor firms have a right to theirintellectual property in the invention of a new drug. If the right hereinvoked is the legal right, it won't settle the issue, which is whetherthe creation and enforcement of such legal rights is morallyjustifiable. Is there then a moral right to exclusive ownership ofintellectual property? Think about it: If you and your partner hadinvented the Tango, would it have been wrong for any of the rest of usto copy your dance without your permission? And, if you believe thereis such a moral veto right, do you think it would have the exact same20-year expiration date as is enshrined in patent law? Most defendersof patent rights would not make such extravagant claims. They wouldinstead appeal to the social utility of the patent system, whichencourages the development of new medicines. But this appeal runs afoulof the fact that the majority of humankind cannot afford drugs underpatent. By suppressing poor people's transactions with themanufacturers of cheap generic drugs, our governments andpharmaceutical companies are causing many of them to die for the sakeof gains (incentivizing drug development) that benefit only to the rich.

Mustwe then, in order give the poor access to new medicines at competitivemarket prices, take away the incentive to develop new drugs? We mustindeed take away THIS incentive: monopoly pricing powers. But we canstill incentivize drug development in other ways, for example throughan arrangement under which governments would reward inventor firms inproportion to the health impact of their invention. Under such ascheme, we taxpayers would pay some money to drug companies for any newand effective medicines they invent. But we would also benefit throughlower prices for drugs and medical insurance, because any newlyinvented drug could immediately be produced by generic manufacturers,so that its price would be just slightly above its marginal cost ofproduction.

Because such alternative schemes for incentivizingthe development of new drugs are readily available, we are indeedmorally culpable for killing millions of people in the developing worldby making existing and effective life-saving medicines unaffordable tothem.

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