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Posts Tagged ‘Employment and Labor Issues’

Elysium: Immigration and the Ethics of Inequality

In the 22nd century, the privileged few live on a luxurious, disease-free, space habitat called Elysium (2013) while the masses reside within a planet Earth rampant with socioeconomic inequality.  At the same time, an alliance between big business (military-weapons supplier Armadyne)  and totalitarian government fosters exploitative workplace conditions.

Should everyone have access to the benefits/privileges of Elysium?  The film advances a populist ideal that everyone ought to have the freedom and right to live in Elysium (inside a world devoid of death, disease, or war, without borders nor boundaries). But is this position correct? Illegal immigration is obviously against the law but perhaps we need to look toward ethics to give us reasons why it is wrong. Making a distinction between universal human rights and the privileges/ responsibilities of citizenship (that belong with membership in particular groups, territories, and countries) might help, – e.g., consider the American right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness that goes along with the obligation to follow U.S. law.

Monday Night Considerations

A recent Monday Night Football [MNF] matchup featured a suffocating Seattle Seahawk defensive performance (8 sacks in the first half) and a grinding second-half comeback by the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, a replayed disputed last-second touchdown reception dominated the national airwaves for the next five days. Fortunately, this football game can be redeemed by discussing the business ethics of officiating.

In moral-decision making, similar choices produce different consequences because of contextual considerations; some actions are termed morally lucky or unlucky. For instance, a drunk driver coming home from the football game scrapes the side of a tree while another runs over a pedestrian. The first driver is the beneficiary of moral luck and public disapproval; the second driver is morally unlucky and receives outrage and disgust. It does not matter that their act of swerving in the street is exactly the same and certain circumstances (an innocent bystander walking outside) remains out of their control.

Likewise, this alleged mistaken call during MNF not only results in a morally unlucky finish for the officials but also produces the perfect unethical storm because of its timing [end of game], exposure [a nationwide football audience on Monday night], and context [replacement officials replacing striking referees]. If this call took place in another quarter or at least not during the final drive, if the game was played along with many others on Sunday, and/or if the contest was officiated by a regular NFL crew, the moral outrage would be muted or at least not have risen to this level of hyperbole. That particular call was not the only error Monday evening. Pundits acknowledged a series of gaffes throughout the game on both sides that could have changed the outcome at any given point.

What this football game shows is that non-ethical considerations (i.e. timing, exposure, context) affect how we view the morality of a given act. We hardly ever judge actions on ethical merit alone.

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Consider the financial impact of this moral decision: US$ 300 million shifting from those who bet on the Packers to those wagering on the underdog Seahawks.

Disclosure: The Monday Morning Business Ethicist is a long-time fan of the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Your Employer Will Be Watching

The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen ‘chooses’ to fight in a mandatory made-for-reality battle of have nots. In the real-world, government agencies ask for social network passwords from prospective applicants with little to no resistance. Farces of freedom pervade both arenas of financial inequality.

The young movie heroine notes that even ‘the 99%’ have their pecking order and that weaknesses come with the privileges of money and status: “That the Careers [tributes] have been better fed growing up is actually to their disadvantage, because they don’t know how to be hungry.”

Yet well-off citizens in the two Capitols (with readily available consumer goods) maintain a competitive advantage to resist forms of their respective oppression. Panem children put their names a few extra times in the death lottery to feed their families; applicants on the lower end of the reality spectrum understand what it takes to survive but ‘willingly’ give up privacy rights in the process hoping for benefited positions. These modern human resource games (cf. the Roman Colosseum) illustrate the consequences of socioeconomic inequality in societies with too much time on their hands.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the authoritarian measures taken on FaceBook to protect national security and the corporate ethos. Freedom of privacy was temporarily restored by the stopgap of a collectively outraged public. Can anyone stop the consequences of economic disparity found in the Hunger Games and our real world? Does society . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . have time . . . 3 . . . 2 . . .for a sequel? . . . 1

 

Racial Slurs are a Matter of Ethical Context

ESPN’s use of the headline “Chink in the Armor” (describing the New York Knicks’ first loss with Asian-American, NBA point guard Jeremy Lin in the starting lineup) illustrates that ethics, while not relative, is certainly contextual. The cliché technically means weakness or flaw, but the term “Chink” is also a racial slur for Chinese-Americans (cf. using a “niggardly” reference for a selfish African-American basketball player). In the wake of “Linsanity,” puns were proliferating without regulation until a moral mishap forced corporate backpedaling and new industry standards. Former network sports editor Anthony Federico appeared to lack malicious intent with this Medieval phrase. However, the context of his oversight and implicit association of his “incite” shows that bad etymological choices can result in unemployment. The bottom line is that Federico was not fired for racism, but for making a poor editorial decision that potentially cost huge amounts of goodwill with key audiences in the United States and Asia for ESPN and parent company Walt Disney .

Consider Saturday Night Live’s sublime parody on our nation’s double standard on race and political correctness and the Daily Show’s satire on a “Lingrown toenail . . . during Black History Month.” While both sketches contained jokes and insults against Asian-Americans throughout their segments, purer purposes and comedic context provided the needed justified protection for administering racial smears.

Granted many find it unjust when minorities freely use these pejorative terms among members of their own race. Is there a double standard when a Caucasian cannot mention the word Nigga(er) and/or Chink when so many African-Americans do in greetings and in popular music, or when a younger Jeremy Lin identifies himself as ChiNkBaLLa88 on his Xanga account? It isn’t that ethics is relative (right for one group but wrong for another), but rather contextual. Minorities use these monikers with a mutual understanding that the words are not historically loaded or racially charged but accepted with affection and respect as opposed to their original meanings. For some, the co-opting of these derogatory words and phrases represent a way to master what was formerly enslaved. For others, it represents a way to deal with past pain. Whatever the solution, ethical context matters.

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.

Exploitation in District 9

In District 9 (2009), the stated public objective for the Multi-National United (MNU) Corporation is transferring 1.8 million aliens to District 10−a relocation camp 240 km outside Johannesburg. The unstated private goal for this weapons manufacturer is discovering how to use the aliens’ inaccessible, technologically-advanced firepower.

Although paralleling Avatar (2010) in form by featuring a corporate-backed paramilitary brigade and a human who becomes “one of them,” the protagonist is pitiful and flawed. Unlike James Cameron’s pièce de résistance, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is neither black, white, nor blue. Allusions to apartheid from the South African locale and references toward racism through speciesist language permeate the film.

When MNU discovers that Wikus Van De Merwe’s metamorphosis allows him to wield alien weapons, upper management immediately decides to use this valuable, personal, business artifact against his will. Business exploitation (see Jeremy Snyder’s work on sweatshop labor) is either expressed through a sense of unfairness per economic transactions (as exhibited by the systematic oppression found in the 24 hour eviction notices or market-driven cat food scams) or a lack of respect/dignity as in Van De Merwe’s metamorphosis case. MNU’s anti-Kantian treatment of the project manager as a means only to harvest his organs and replicate his powers repulses the audience. However, If the fate of civilization were dependent on using employee body parts for the greater good instead of an end-profit motive, would a utilitarian argument justifying exploitation be ethical?

In light of corporate exploitation, are employees only inherently valuable by what they can extend or offer an organization? Do they have any personal rights on the clock, or are they completely at the mercy of their employer’s will while paid for their services? It is interesting to note that at the point of Van De Merwe’s highest value to his company, he also found himself most exploitable.