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Posts Tagged ‘Competitive Practices’

Corporate Ethos from the Top-Down

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick issued an apology and stepped down from his position as Chief Executive Officer after a video surfaced of him getting in an argument with his personal Uber driver and then shortly telling the man that some people don’t like to take individual responsibility.

This incident represented yet another stain on the company in a trail of sexual harrassment, discrimination, and pushing the envelope in legal and ethical boundaries. It also raises the question of how much the individual morality or personal ethics of a leader affects the corporate ethos or environment of the business culture. The ethos, or corporate climate, also winded up having an impact on the entire tech start-up industry itself, as evidenced by the avalanche of sexual harrassment revelations this week. Uber has also been found in violation of intellectual property laws and local/international driving regulations. My college mentor always mentioned that it’s naturally much easier to bring people down (e.g. from a chair) than to hoist them up. So it is with individual morality in an environment of corporate depravity.

 

Philosophy of Phantasy Phootball

XLIX Ethics

With all this hoopla and outcry over the last few moments of the Superbowl, a casual observer could be led to believe that something (even of moral or ethical import) went seriously wrong.  Talk radio was abuzz assigning blame and finger pointing to the now-infamous “call” ( the Seattle Seahawks’ final offensive play was overanalyzed myriad ways. As a lifelong Hawks fan, it’s easy to look at the wrong end of a 28-24 Superbowl result, and cry “foul.” We wish to blame officials, coaches, coordinators, and/or other players or appeal to the zebra suits or a higher power for assistance in overturning the results. But the decision wasn’t a moral move, and definitely not an ethical one–even though it seems as if something went drastically awry.   The play could be described at best as unwise, and at worst foolish. Even the coaches and players ultimately assumed personal responsibility (see Russell Wilson’s and Kam Chancellor’s response in particular: http://www.fieldgulls.com/…/seahawks-players-react-to-super…

I’m sad (and probably tasted a small portion of what it felt to be a Green Bay Packers devotee a couple weeks ag0 in the NFC Championship; but the Seattle Seahawks will be back in the big game again. Or at least they ought to be . . .  See y’all in San Francisco next year. But when the emotions die down, we will realize that we failed to capitalize on a good play call against a goal line defense (designed to stuff the run (Marshawn), and Malcolm Butler made a mad play (deserving the MVP keys of that truck).  Congratulations to the New England Patriots for winning one of the greatest championships in recent memory. It was a classic battle  truly deserving of the term Super Bowl.

The Maquiladora Option [Part I]

Our guest for Monday Morning is Ms. Jennifer Walton—President of uniform and apparel maker GOT Mfg. The current post highlights a recent interview on international labor courtesy of Skype; a future post consists of Ms. Walton’s responses to subsequent student questions during a business ethics course.

Monday Morning Business Ethicist [MMBE]: You operate Mexican maquiladora(s) for major U.S. sporting good brands. What are maquiladoras? Can you compare and contrast these factories with their Asian and South American counterparts.

Ms. Jennifer Walton [JW]: Mexican Maquiladoras are factories exclusively owned by foreign companies. Mexico does not own any part of these ‘shells’ or possess any fixed assets. While products technically could be sold in the host nation, everything produced at the plant naturally returns to the original country; otherwise duties and taxes are assessed. These arrangements are distinct from the partnerships and subcontractors one finds in the East and other manufacturing countries.

MMBE: How has the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] affected your business?

JW: NAFTA is beneficial for employees and our suppliers. Those against NAFTA do not (or refuse to) understand that many American companies compete in a low-margin market. Not only would we need to move our operations from Mexico to Asia, we would no longer be able to buy our American materials and pay the high union wages in the United States without NAFTA.

MMBE: How is international business done in Mexico?

JW: Foreign firms are highly regulated, constantly audited and fined, and are seen as cash cows for the government. Although Mexican companies are subject to the same laws, they emphasize ‘loyalty’ relationships and are less regulated with the Peso.

MMBE: Is the actual threat of drug cartel violence analogous to the stereotypical image of Californians always experiencing earthquakes and Midwesterners constantly dealing with tornadoes?

JW: The threat is definitely real. The violence heard on the news is usually a battle over territory between cartels. Kidnapping Mexican executives (as a business) is a billion dollar industry. Two years ago, I hired Israeli guards due to the cartel’s infiltration of the security industry. I still keep them currently on the payroll; the workers expect them around—whether in the Mexican factory or Maquiladora.

MMBE: Why choose Mexico (with the significant higher costs) over other places in the world?

JW: Maquiladora workers are backed by the Mexican government and embrace a family-oriented working environment. This stability brings efficiency and lower costs in the long run. Also, if something goes wrong, Mexico is a short drive and the country poses less of a communication barrier. You have more control.

MMBE: Is the disparity between laborer wages and the price of an NFL jersey justified?

JW: Everyone in the supply chain wants their piece of the profit pie. The negotiation process with big companies is brutal, and sometimes we sacrifice a run as a loss leader. Honestly, I would not tell the workers the price of an NFL jersey. Americans are willing to pay that price; it’s simple supply and demand.

MMBE: Any final reflections on business ethics?

JW: Reality doesn’t tend to be ethical and you need to hold your ground. If you belong to an unethical company, that black mark will follow you.

The ‘Customer’-Physician Relationship

Medicine is subtly shifting from an emphasis on what is ideally best for the patient to an environment where hospitals are marketed from survey results and physicians are instructed on how to encourage customers to check the ‘Excellent’ box when rating their care. The danger in primarily viewing a patient as a consumer is that well known adages like ‘the customer knows best’ can gravitate toward motivations based primarily on the profit motive rather than the apparent benefits of collaboration, patient voice, and better service.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant reminds us to ask whether we are treating persons (customers) as a means to some end (profits) or as ends themselves (patients). When push comes to shove at medicine’s financial margins, decisions tend to lean toward monetary gain. Efficiency and profits are needed components of every venture (even Kant says not to use people as a means only but as a means as well as an end). Yet this move from taking care of patients to customers—while promoting friendlier hospital environments—may be damaging to the health care system in the long run.

The Hippocratic Oath has been condemned for promoting a ‘guild-like’ environment and its ancient author set aside in the hope of adopting the examples of other tightly managed industries (ironically, some business academics call for managers to take on the guild-like professionalism of the medical field). While some combination of treating patients as a means and as an end is probably acceptable, it seems that the customer/consumer metaphor is being adopted wholesale.

To Hippocrates, a physician’s first consideration was to use his/her art for the patient’s well-being—a re-emphasis that can benefit all stakeholders. Otherwise, this move to make the medical environment more patient-friendly has the potential to make it ultimately more vulnerable.

Written in conversation with Cory Wilson, M.D.

Inception and the Unpopularity of Big Business

In Inception (2010) the audience ends up rooting for Cobb, the industrial spy, versus empathizing with Fischer, the undeserved mark of an “anti-heist.” It is one part contemporary worship of the movie star (DiCaprio) and another part distrust of big business. In today’s economic climate, the thief/deceiver garners more sympathy than a corporate CEO. Add in a tortured protagonist who wants to leave his job, clear his name, and return to his family, and you have a recipe for what philosopher David Hume described as an unfair battle between emotions and logic. The end justifies the means, the movie audience embraces a prospective con−and in a short skirmish, the passions win every time.

In the context of our global economy, the film brings up a question of whether certain lines of work are inherently unethical. Are there honorable ways of conducting oneself as a member of the mafia, a prostitute, or a corporate spy? Is redemption possible within these professions or only upon its departure?

Some argue that levels of corporate espionage could be ethical according to extensions of game theory. Entire branches of the electronics and computer industry provide equipment for industrial spies. Despite legal prohibitions, businesses using secret agents and technology seem to bear no more shame than nation-states. The relative lack of prosecution under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and Economic Espionage Act (1996) disguises the widespread prevalence of underground activity.

Others believe that companies walk a fine line between more socially acceptable forms of competitive intelligence and corporate espionage. From this vantage point, a vocational catharsis may result from realizing that the possibility of ethical espionage only exists in dreams.

For an expanded version of this post, see my chapter on “Honor and Redemption in Corporate Espionage” found in Wiley-Blackwell’s book Inception and Philosophy: Because It’s Never Just a Dream (November 15, 2011).

The Book is Eli

The Book of Eli (2010) details one man’s post-apocalyptic trek to protect a book few people want and most cannot even read. The remarkable twist lies not only in what Eli could not do but also in what he eventually accomplished while meditating on the text. It is why Eli could truthfully tell Lombardi toward the end of the film that he had the book in his possession, having hid its words in his heart.

The often lonely trek through a moral wasteland is a fitting descriptive metaphor for many individuals in the marketplace. For some, the continual need for guidance and direction to navigate ethical quandaries is necessary amid personal failure and triumph. Others use this image as a backdrop for the unique rules of corporate competition (cf. the game of poker). Whether Eli’s quest ought to exist as a universal business paradigm is a question needing constant contextual consideration.

Eli describes what commerce was like . . . before the contemporary economic system of wasteland backpack bartering replaced it:

(We) had more than (we) needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw away things people kill each other for now.

While material excess is often associated with free market economies, the Hughes brothers are not targeting capitalism. Abuse, waste, and overage are no strangers to devotees of socialism and command oriented systems. Rather, the directors’ fingers point at our collective reckless relationship toward conserving our resources.