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Question:

You are asked to imagine yourself as an ethics consultant to the CEO of a major smartphone manufacture. You have been asked to write a report answering the two questions at the end of the case.

Case Study

Imagine that you are an ethics consultant to a multinational company that makes smartphones. You also make the operating system that the smartphones run.

You are based in the USA but your phones are used by tens of millions of people, across every country in the world.

In the grips of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the government of the USA has approached you to ask for help to access the phones of those who have died of the virus. The government believes that the phones will help them to trace the contacts of those who have spread the virus to others and therefore to minimise the further spread of the virus.

In response to this, civil rights groups are expressing concern about the fact that giving the government a so -called back door key to access one phone in this way will allow the government (and potentially hackers) to access every phone using this same system. They argue there are serious privacy concerns.

The software architects point out that it is not possible to unlock only one phones in this way, rather the change would have to be made so that all smartphones using the company’s operating system could be accessed using this same method.

Meanwhile, users and lawyers in other countries are concerned that some governments will use this newfound access to identity and persecute their critics and those who are organising to expose human rights abuses by governments and by multinational companies operating in their countries. You also happen to know that this very smartphone company has been accused of human rights abuses in its own supply chain in some of these countries.

The CEO has come to you to ask for your advice with two main questions (below). What would you advise her in response to those questions?

1 What is the right thing for the company to do here? What would each of the three normative theories we have covered in class (utilitarian, Kantian, and virtue ethics) have to say about the push for governments to be able to unlock and access the data on phones in this way?

2. Consider the questions around government regulation we covered in Module 4. How would you recommend the CEO should think in response to an advocate of the narrow view of business and ethics who says that the smartphone company does not need to consider the ethics of this decision because:

  • The ‘Invisible Hand’ means that businesses and consumers pursuing their own self-interest will ultimately serve the common good.
  • Businesses lack the expertise to make ethical decisions and enact ethical solutions.
  • “Let government do it” – that it’s the proper responsibility of government to regulate to ensure ethical behaviour through laws, not for businesses to consider ethics.
 

Answer:

Introduction

Ethics in business is generally referred to the implementation of appropriate practices and policies in a business or an organisation with regards to various subjects. There are few issues that crop up in terms of business that generally include corporate governance, bribery, insider trading, social responsibility, discrimination and many more (Brenkert, 2016, 279). Ethics in recent times has been seen to have gaining increased attention among the employees of an organisation and also the employers of an organisation because it is generally viewed as a significant signpost that helps in directing both professional as well as personal success and also influences the performance of an organisation as a whole (Klopotan, Aleksi? and Vinkovi? 2020, .33). According to scholars, ethics in business is often related to corporate social responsibility and is seen to help in gaining trust among employees and the stakeholders of an organisation but also helps business gain a positive reputation in the market which helps in businesses flourish (Gheraia, Saadaoui and Abdelli 2019, 2020). This paper is going to focus on a case study which involves the ethical dilemma faced by a multinational company that manufactures phones and will provide suitable recommendations that will help the company in making an ethical decision which will adhere to ethical laws and also ensure the overall wellbeing of the stakeholders involved and also the government.

Discussion: Brief overview of the case study

The global pandemic, COVID- 19 is seen to have affected the entire world where many people all across the globe have been battling their lives and some have also lost their lives due to the coronavirus. The government of the United States of America has approached a multinational company that manufactures phones and has asked the company to provide details of the people who use the phones of the same brand in order to trace contacts of the people who have been spreading the virus so that they can help in curbing the devastating situation so that they can lower the risk of people getting affected due to the coronavirus. However, there are many civil rights groups, who have expressed their concerns over the decision of the government and feel that this can violate their basic human right and even their privacy as it will allow the government to have access to the phones that use the same system and can be detrimental as various hackers can have access to the phones and personal details which can pave way for certain mishappenings like fraudulent activities and many more.

There are many lawyers and users from various countries who are concerned about the fact that the governments might have access to the identity of the people and may also persecute people who voice out their opinions against the government. The company has already been accused of certain human rights abuses by the government and also by various multinational companies that operate in their countries. Thus, it can be seen that the companies are in a huge dilemma of what to do as providing access to phones may help in saving lives and curb the spreading of the coronavirus that has become a serious issue all across the globe however it may violate several ethical and privacy laws and even basic human rights.

 

Ethical considerations 

From the above case study, it can be seen that the government of the United States of America has been trying to push the multinational smartphone company to help them unlock and get the opportunity to access data on the phones which is highly unethical. As an ethics consultant, it is highly important to consider this appeal from the government through various ethical theories in order to come up with an ethical and as well as viable solution that may help the government as well as protects the privacy of the customers using the smart phones.

Utilitarianism 

Utilitarianism states that the right thing is considered to be the thing that brings the utmost happiness (Purshouse 2018, 1). It also states that all the happiness are counted or ranked equally and impartiality is highly essential here. Aligning this theory with the appeal made by the government, it can be seen that the appeal is highly unethical as it will not bring happiness to everyone as many would feel it to be the violation of their basic rights which hinders the main concept of this theory to bring maximum happiness. It would also bring criticism to the smartphone company which would also harm their reputation and access to personal details could also lead to fraudulent activities making the appeal risky and unethical. From the given case study, it has been seen that the smartphone company has already been accused of abuses in terms of human rights and violating the privacy of the customers will make customers have an aversion towards the smartphone company due to mistrust, misconduct and also ethical issues which may hinder the performance of the company after the spread of virus during the global pandemic reduces and it becomes normal.

 

Kantian ethics

Kantian ethics states that the respect for dignity as well as autonomy of people is at the central and what makes certain acts right and wrong which is called the “Categorical Imperative”. Scholar’s state that Kantian ethics highly advocate the fact that one should act in a way that one can rationally will that other individuals would act the same way in a similar situation (Abraham 2018, 33). The theory also suggests the fact that one cannot treat human beings merely as some means to an end. The primary foundation of Kantian ethics is considered to be good will however not in a sentimental manner (Azadegan 2018, 222). Viewing the appeal made by the government of the United States of America from the perspective of Kantian ethics is also considered to be highly unethical as it can be seen that Kantian ethics believes that one should act as a way that the person would expect others to behave in the same manner with them.

In this case, it can be seen that the government wants to access the data and unlock phones of people or the users of the smartphone however which is considered to be highly unethical as it is the violation of the privacy of the people and it would make the people very unhappy which hinders the goodwill. According to scholars, invasion of privacy in recent times is viewed as an offence and people can be sent behind the bars due to this (Crow, Snyder, Crichlow and Smykla 2017, 590). This appeal is also considered to be highly unethical as if the same thing happened with the government of the country and some people would want access to government records, data and information then they would not be happy and would not accept this thing as it would violate their rights and invade their privacy.

Thus, it can be seen that the appeal of the government where they want to get the access of the smartphones is highly unethical as they themselves would not allow anything of this sort to happen to them if required. This also does not bring goodwill to maximum people as majority of the people are concerned about fraudulent activities and misuse of information which will cause problems for the customers and also make the company gain a negative reputation that will make customers choose other companies over the smartphone company in the business which can have negative impacts in the long run. According to scholars, trust is considered to be the key and the primary aspect of establishing an ethical environment in an organisation and trust in business is highly essential in the relationships of an organisation with their customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders of an organisation (Winfield, A.F. and Jirotka, M., 2018, 2). Violation of trust in a company is seen to repel customers from being a loyal consumer of the brand and makes them choose other alternatives in the market. Thus, agreeing to the appeal of the government can thus harm the company.

Virtue ethics

The other normative theory is the virtue ethics and this theory was proposed and introduced by Aristotle. According to him, virtue ethics is highly based on the idea of virtue which serves human flourishing. (Jordan and Kristjánsson 2017, 1207) states the three main and primary concepts of the virtue ethics are judgment, eudaimonia which is known as flourishing and virtues. The theory suggests that there are specific traits of an individual like compassion, courage kindness and many more that contribute to the positive and happy life of human beings. Virtue ethics states that, it is the disposition to the correct things for the required reasons, in an appropriate way like courageously and honestly and many more (Grace and Cohen 1995).

From the perspective of Virtue ethics, it can be seen that the appeal made by the government to gain access to the smartphones used by the people is unethical. The government tries their best and feels that getting access to the data of smartphones are one of the viable decisions which will help the government in tracking people who have spread coronavirus through various factors like the people with whom the patients have contacted and where have they visited so that they can identify certain people and test them so that the virus does not spread at an exponential rate however, though the cause is seen to be noble it is not ethical as it is not the correct way of doing good. Thus, it can be seen that the appeal made by the government is highly unethical despite of the noble intention behind it because it is seen to violate various rules and laws as well.

 

Consideration of government regulations

It can be seen that business ethics is highly aligned with corporate social responsibility and it has been seen that majority of the organisations have been incorporating corporate social responsibility in their organisation in order to grow sustainably and while helping people so that the company can gain a positive reputation in the market (Shaukat, Qiu and Trojanowski 2016, 550). However, it has been seen that there are very narrow beliefs in terms of corporate social responsibility that states that businesses are incapable of managing ethics due to the lack of expertise, corporation try imposing their values on other people and also the government should handle ethical considerations in the market (Singer, A. (2018, 98).

According to the argument of Invisible Hand, companies are not supposed to be held morally responsible for matters that are non-economic in nature (Hühn and Dierksmeier 2016, 120). This is because if an organisation would be help morally responsible for economic matters then it would distort the mission of the organisation or the business in terms of economy.

One of the narrow views of corporate social responsibility of organisations is the argument, “let government do it”. According to the argument the corporations and the companies are mainly profit oriented and will make profits while the society impoverishes and it is the government who bring the companies under the control through their strict regulations and the strong system (Matten and Moon 2020, 9). This argument supports the idea of the government being held accountable for the moral responsibilities of a country.

The organisations and businesses are mainly said to follow capitalism however it has been seen that there are many supporters of capitalism and there are many people who are against it. It has been seen that there are various ethical views that are related to capitalism and according to the views of Kantian ethics, organisations and companies have the right to what they own and also state that capitalism is seen to benefit everyone in the society and also freedom but with fairness (Nieswandt 2019, 911).

There are many views on capitalism that support the fact that organisations play a huge role in serving the humans and it is their social purpose and that it is the duty of the business or the organisation to ensure that the society is impacted in an efficient way. Aligning with the case study, it can be seen that the government needs access to the data and the information about the phones of the customers of a smartphone company, and there are views of many that state that it is the duty of the government to be morally responsible however the different ethics state that companies and organisations can be beneficial and can help in fulfilling the social purpose in ethical ways. It has been seen that there are many governmental laws that promote high business ethics which businesses need to follow that help in the fruitful operations of businesses.

 

 

Recommendation

The smartphone company is seen to be in a huge dilemma over what is the correct measure that the company should take. By aligning the case study with the normative ethical theories, it can be seen that the appeal by the government is highly unethical as it breaches various privacy laws and it also seen to violate the basic human rights by getting access to the personal information and details about the customers even though the government is trying for a noble cause. The smartphone company needs to reject the appeal made by the government and should not give the government access to the smartphones of their customers.

This is important as violating privacy and human rights will highly make the company unethical which would lead to the company resorting to ethical misconduct that would further lead to the lack of trust among the consumers. The company has already been accused of human rights abuses which have already impacted the company negatively and further ethical misconduct would negatively impact the business of the company in the near future.

The other thing that the CEO of the smartphone company should consider the fact that businesses need to consider ethics while operating a business as ethics in a business is important which mutually benefits the organisation as well as the society and the environment. The broad view of corporate social responsibility states that business ethics helps in looking after their stakeholders and ensuring that they operate ethically in the business. Business ethics is vital as it helps in maintaining a positive reputation, helps in avoiding significant legal and financial issues and also benefits a lot of people involved.

Conclusion

The smartphone company is seen to go through an ethical dilemma because of the appeal made by the government of the United States of America which is seen to be unethical in nature as it aims at securing data, and unlock phones of the customers in the name of trying to fight a deadly virus from spreading. It is seen that when viewed from various ethical perspectives like Kantian ethics, Utilitarianism and Virtue ethics, it can be seen that the appeal is highly unethical and it is important for the company to incorporate ethical standards in the business and maintain it so that they can gain the trust of their customers, gain a positive reputation in the market that will help the company in generating revenues and operate efficiently in the near future in the market.

 

References

Abraham, K.K.A., 2018. Eclectic Approach to the Categorical Imperative and Pleasure. OGIRISI: a New Journal of African Studies, 14(1): 29-59. https://dx.doi.org/10.4314/og.v14i%201.

Azadegan, E., 2018. Review of Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective, by Norman E. Bowie., 221-224  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10552-018-3884-4  

Brenkert, G. G. (2016). Business ethics and human rights: An overview. Business and Human Rights Journal, 1(2): 277-306. doi:10.1017/bhj.2016.1

Crow, M.S., Snyder, J.A., Crichlow, V.J. and Smykla, J.O., 2017. Community Perceptions of Police Body-worn Cameras: The Impact of Views on Fairness, Fear, Performance, and Privacy. Criminal justice and behavior, 44(4): 589-610. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854816688037

Gheraia, Z., Saadaoui, S. and Abdelli, H.A. (2019) Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility: Bridging the Concepts. Open Journal of Business and Management, 7, 2020-2029. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojbm.2019.74139

Grace, Damian, and Stepehen Cohen. 1995 "Business Ethics". Google Books,. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Business_Ethics.html?id=MOpwQgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y.

Hühn, M.P. and Dierksmeier, C., 2016. Will the real A. Smith Please Stand Up!. Journal of Business Ethics, 136(1): 119-132. DOI 10.1007/s10551-014-2506-z

Jordan, K. and Kristjánsson, K., 2017. Sustainability, Virtue Ethics, and the Virtue of Harmony with Nature. Environmental Education Research, 23(9): 1205-1229. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2016.1157681

Klopotan, I., Aleksi?, A. and Vinkovi?, N. (2020). Do Business Ethics and Ethical Decision Making Still Matter: Perspective of Different Generational Cohorts. Business Systems Research: International journal of the Society for Advancing Innovation and Research in Economy, 11(1): 31-43. DOI: 10.2478/bsrj-2020-0003.

Matten, D. and Moon, J., 2020. Reflections on the 2018 Decade Award: The Meaning and Dynamics of Corporate Social Responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 45(1): 7-28. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2019.0348

Nieswandt, K., 2019. Beyond Frontier Town: Do Early Modern Theories of Property Apply to Capitalist Economies?. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 22(4): .909-923. DOI: 10.1007/s10677-019-10009-7.

Purshouse, C., 2018. Utilitarianism as Tort Theory: Countering the Caricature. Legal Studies, 38(1): 24-41. https://doi.org/10.1017/lst.2017.6

Shaukat, A., Qiu, Y and Trojanowski, G. (2016). Board attributes, corporate social responsibility strategy, and corporate environmental and social performance. Journal of Business Ethics, 135(3): 569-585. (DOI: 10.1007/s10551-014-2460-9)

Singer, A. (2018). Justice failure: Efficiency and equality in business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 149(1): 97-11 DOI 10.1007/s10551-016-3086-x

Winfield, A.F. and Jirotka, M., 2018. Ethical Governance is essential to building Trust in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 376(2133): 1-13 https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2018.0085

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