On June 4, The Supreme Court announced its 7-2 ruling in favor of a baker who refused to bake a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple. The public response was intense on both sides. People took to the streets and to social media to express their attitudes about the decision. One common misconception in the popular commentary on this topic appears to be that the Court ruled that places of business have the right to discriminate against patrons for religious reasons. The Court’s decision was actually much narrower. It did not create a religious exemption from anti-discrimination laws.
Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Narendra Modi, and many other world leaders, CEOs, celebrities, and influencers will gather this week in a beautiful ski resort in Davos, Switzerland to attend the 2018 World Economic Forum. This gathering started in 1971 as a small conference attempting to teach underperforming European companies American management techniques. Since then, the Davos Forum has established itself as the most important world gathering where the world economy is tested, evaluated, and planned.
Hurricane Harvey has barely receded in Texas. Irma has devastated parts of Florida. Jose is on deck. Katia has already hit Mexico. Lee never really got going, but Maria is building strength. If we survive, this season promises us a hurricane Ophelia. It’s a good year for inland weather buffs, and for people selling emergency supplies.
Numerous news outlets have by now reported on the contentious memo published by former Google employee, James Damore, in which he criticized his former employer’s efforts to increase diversity in their workforce. The memo, entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion,” claims that Google’s diversity efforts reflect a left-leaning political bias that has repressed open and critical discussion on the fairness and effectiveness of these efforts. Moreover, the memo surmises that the unequal representation of men and women in the tech business is due to natural differences in the distribution of personality traits between men and women, rather than sexism.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR), once seen as a sure indicator of a company’s intentions, is increasingly becoming a trend for all companies to adopt. More and more, companies engage in CSR for their own benefit, and stakeholders are left unsure which companies participate for the right reasons. Corporate social responsibility is the branch of business that handles how a company upholds ethical standards, including sustainable sourcing, production, and corporate transparency, sometimes “going beyond” expectations to engage in community building projects. Research on the effectiveness of CSR has almost solely relied on signaling theory, which proposes that companies send positive signals to stakeholders (consumers, employees, investors, and communities) when they engage in CSR.
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Suppose your boss asks you to fudge certain numbers on a business report on the same week the company is conducting layoffs. Is this an ethical dilemma, a financial dilemma, or seeing as it will affect your family, a social dilemma? Likely, all three are true, and more layers exist beneath the surface. Are you in debt from taking a luxurious vacation? Do you have children in college? Are you hoping to get a promotion soon? Research shows that navigating through these many layers makes it increasingly difficult to see the ethical dilemma. This describes “ethical fading,” the process by which individuals are unable to see the ethical dimensions of a situation due to overriding factors.
Ann Tenbrunsel first described ethical fading in 2004 as, “the process by which the moral colors of an ethical decision fade into bleached hues that are void of moral implications.” Since moral decisions are made in the same parts of the brain that process emotions, moral decisions are made almost automatically, instinctively, and therefore are prone to self-deception. Self-deception appears in the workplace when employees see an ethical dilemma as firstly a financial dilemma or personal dilemma instead. Seeing a dilemma, such as polishing numbers in a report, as a choice that could affect personal financial stability allows an individual to make unethical decisions while still referring to themselves as an ethical person. In fact, ethical fading eliminates the awareness that one is making an unethical decision in the first place.
This phenomenon can manifest in a variety of ways, making ethical fading a difficult problem to tackle. Sometimes, an individual replaces the idea of an ethical dilemma with a financial or personal dilemma. Sometimes an individual is under so much pressure that an ethical dilemma passes through them unseen. In other cases, individuals are exposed to ethical dilemmas so often that they become jaded.
Tenbrunsel argues that ethics training in companies is null and void if ethical fading is occurring. No amount of training can teach an individual how to navigate an ethical dilemma if one doesn’t see an ethical dilemma in the first place. One recent case study of ethical fading is with college administration. In 2009, The University of Illinois was found to have a hidden admissions process that pushed through applicants with significant ties to politicians, donors, and university officials. Since the ethical dilemma was lost in the culture and organizational structure of the university’s administration, this case has been deemed an example of ethical fading. Michael N. Bastedo, director of the Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, stated that a growing number of college administrations are “starting to see ethical problems as system problems.”
Like other examples of ethical fading, budget cuts were pressuring the administration to reach out to donors more, and the ethical problem of giving preferential treatment to certain applicants was forgotten. Following Tenbrunsel’s argument, this problem wouldn’t be remedied with ethics training, unless the hidden applications system was fixed as well. Since those inside the administration didn’t see the hidden application system as an ethical problem in the first place, ethics training wouldn’t prompt employees to come forward and fix the application system.
A similar incident has been occurring in the military as well. In 2015, a study by Army War College professors Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras found that lying is rampant in the military, and is likely caused by the immense physical and emotional strain that soldiers experience. Ethical fading in this case means that Army officers have become “ethically numb” to the consequences of lying. When the professors pressed their participants on how they manage juggling their many duties, classic sugar-coat phrases often heard in the business sector were reported. In order to satisfy their many duties and requirements, Army officers routinely resort to deception in the form of “hand-waving, fudging, massaging, and checking the box.” This case reveals that financial strain is not the only cause of ethical fading, but physical and emotional strain as well, and that sectors besides business are prone to ethical fading in their employees.
Tenbrunsel’s argument for self-deception provides yet another obstacle for business ethics. If the cause of unethical behavior isn’t caused by a lack of information and training, but the human trait of self-deception, no amount of ethics seminars will discourage unethical behavior. As a start, ethics training should include information on how to spot ethical fading, overcome prejudices, and tips to handle emotional strain in the workplace. However, ethical fading helps address the fact that unethical behavior is not limited to unethical people. Tenbrunsel points out the fact that everyone practices self-deception at some point, and this may be the start to addressing unethical behavior in the workplace properly. Addressing unethical behavior as a human tendency will hopefully start to fill the gaps in current ethics training programs. If not, ethical dilemmas will continue to be sugar-coated and slip through the cracks.
The study of business ethics has faced obstacles since its introduction to mainstream thought in the 1970’s and 80’s, finding no place in higher education and facing opposition from the core tenets of capitalism itself. According to Amitai Etzioni, a professor who taught ethics at Harvard Business School from 1987 to 1989, ethics was deemed incompatible with business. In an interview with Pacific Standard, Etzioni said financial analysts, economists, and marketers alike insisted that ethics was incompatible with profit: “We teach people how to put small toys into large boxes so they seem bigger. We put hot colors onto boxes to produce impulsive buying. If you want us to teach ethical behavior, we’re out of business.”
It seemed as though the world had seen the end of Volkswagen after a massive scandal was uncovered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back in September 2015. One of VW’s major marketing campaigns in the United States was flaunting their diesel cars’ low emissions. It turns out, in fact, that they had been cheating on emissions tests for years by installing software in their cars to detect when an emissions test was being run. At least 482,000 cars were discovered with this “defeat device” in the United States, and the German car maker admitted to producing 11 million cars worldwide with this device as well. The crisis has even been termed “Dieselgate” by some. With society’s trend towards environmental consciousness, many were unsure how VW would recover from this.
A video of a man being dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight appeared on social media last weekend, sparking outrage across the country and even the world. In the video, a man is shown being forcibly removed from the aircraft after being randomly selected to give up his seat for United Airlines crew members. Although United has since changed their policies, the fact that the incident happened at all raises concerns about airline procedures. In an industry that serves thousands of people per day, the context of the incident remains important to understand.
The election of Donald Trump is in many ways unprecedented, and among the most puzzling effects might be how the president-elect will have to deal with his financial and legal obligations. The New York Times predicts that “a theme of Mr. Trump’s presidency is likely to be the clash of his duties running the country with the remnants of his decades as a hard-charging businessman.” Though relatively little legal precedent exists for the scale of Trump’s financial dealings, some things are established: the Trump family can continue to run their businesses, but Trump will not be immune to any court proceedings against him.
On October 22nd, telecommunication company AT&T and media conglomerate Time Warner, parent company of major networks like CNN and HBO, announced that they were merging. AT&T acquired Time Warner in an 85.4 billion dollar deal. Deals such as these may well be the wave of the future. Companies like Time Warner produce the content that viewers watch, and AT&T distributes it. The marriage of the two companies allows production and distribution to take place in innovative new ways. As the trend toward streaming entertainment continues, AT&T can find new ways to provide customers with convenient options to access Time Warner’s content. The deal is expected to close sometime near the end of 2017.
It’s a well-known fact that servers make below minimum wage, with the assumption being that the difference will be made up for in tips from their tables. However, if one server happens to have a slow or lower-paying section one night, he or she can end up assisting others, yet never see any return for the help. This begs the question: is there a fairer and more ethical way to tip than simply keeping what your tables give you?
Italian fashion company Dolce & Gabbana recently released a new line of clothing containing hijabs and abayas. People around the world who follow the fashion industry were excited about the new line, which appears to be championing inclusiveness. Muslim women have been buying high-end fashion for years – most of which either stays in closets, or is only worn under abayas – and the brand’s new line appears to be in response to the general lack of fashionable options for Muslim women that can be worn out. Other brands, such as DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger, have also expanded their collections to include pieces that appeal to the female Muslim market. The Muslim market is lucrative, as many women from oil-rich countries shop for expensive, high-end clothing, primarily shoes and handbags. This line is supposed to give more options for expression beyond shoes and bags. Forbes said that Dolce & Gabbana’s move was their “smartest move in years” from a business perspective. Numerous lines have come to set up stores in Dubai, which even hosted its first fashion week this year. Since the sociopolitical culture is currently dangerous for women, Dolce & Gabbana’s new release was considered a move toward demonstrating the potential for harmony between Muslim and Western societies.
Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently took steps to cap the cost of a 15-minute phone calls to inmates at no more than $1.65 (The average local call in the US costs about 3 cents per minute). Previously, costs were exorbitant – reaching up to $14 a minute. Opinions on this decision differ greatly.
Known for his simplicity and acceptance, Saint Francis is often considered one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church. The current pope even chose his papal name based off of the saint. Because Saint Francis is a favorite among Catholics, pilgrims have been flocking to his hometown, Assisi, Italy for centuries. Catholic visitors from around the world travel to Assisi to walk in the saint’s footsteps and to soak in the natural beauty of Mount Subasio, as well as the surrounding forest. Continue reading “Spas and Pilgrims in Assisi”
One would certainly hope that, as far as environmental regulation goes, we are better off than we were fifty years ago. We would hope that novels like Rachel Carson’s ground-shifting Silent Spring, a work chronicling the dangers of the U.S. chemical industry, have made enough of an effect to prevent the author’s dystopian predictions from becoming a reality.