King’s University College at Western University
Department of Philosophy
Final Exam: Philosophy 2075G
Instructor: Dean Proessel
The decision to give to the poor, and whether this is a societal obligation or not, are subject to an unending philosophical debate amongst thinkers, both in traditional societies and today. The suggestion that we have an obligation to “our” poor but not the global poor or distant others is one of the divergent views that define how people shape their behavior. Peter Singer is of the opinion that everyone has a moral obligation to help the global poor. He defends the consequentialism approach that ensures every action is the correct thing to do given that it produces the best possible outcome. In his strong principle, Singer expresses that one must prevent something bad from occurring if it is possible to do so without sacrificing anything of moral importance. He feels that death and suffering as a result of poverty are bad and preventable only if people sacrifice a little of what they have. Thomas Pogge is opposed to the idea of isolating the poor through regional boundaries. He argues that governments and citizens of rich countries have a strict moral obligation to the distant/global poor. In is argument, he feels that the current global institutional structure is unfair and unjust because of how it generates and maintains preventable inequalities, characterized by persistent and severe levels of poverty in the world. The current global structure, according to Pogge, denies billions of impoverished people their basic human rights and necessities, thereby harming them. Because of the contribution made by a majority of rich nations towards the said global order, their governments and citizens must therefore take care of the struggling nations, both near and far away, to counter their actions of creating massive deficits in human rights.
Pogge’s approach differs from Singer’s in a number of ways relating to the focus of their perspectives and the audience. Pogge is of the opinion that rich nations must, by all means possible, help the poorer countries in a strict obligation to these global poor. He points out that rich nations are often involved in crafting global structures and systems that continuously create inequalities that lead to death and suffering from the poverty-stricken countries. Therefore, they must participate in reducing the suffering of such global poor, as part of their duty as rich nations and to pay for their contribution to the said situation. Singer looks at the issue of the global poor differently. He targets the individual as opposed to Pogge’s focus on governments and other institutional players. Pogge uses the consequentialism approach to create his strong principle of doing the right thing when the sacrifice is insignificant compared to the action. The main difference between their thinking is that Pogge sees moral obligation to the poor as a duty of richer nations to the poorer, while Singer tackles the issue from an individual standpoint, advocating for personal contribution to the welfare of every member of the society near or far. Pogge mentions that the affluent nation’s appropriation and use of the planet’s natural resources contributes to the devastation of countries that are under poverty. These rich nations take from the poor countries, creating a system of dependence, and later neglecting their obligation to the poor societies. He comes up with an assertion that the rich nations’ actions are unjust, requiring that the poor nations partake in in the benefits from the use of planetary resources. He proposes a Global Resource Dividend for requisite redistribution of wealth in a way that ensures the poor receive some benefits from the use of global limited resources. This proposal intends to ensure that the global order established by rich nations somehow incorporates a duty to share some of the benefits to poorer nations.
In the current global settings, businesses face a myriad of ethical issues, yet corruption remains to be one of the most significant due to its potentially devastating consequences to society. It is also one of the most complex systems for a society to define and address. In the Western world, practicing bribery is thought to be morally unacceptable. However, these corporations from the West justify their actions in foreign countries when they use bribery to secure business and other forms of contracts. Cragg defines corruption as an immoral, unethical, and to some extent an unethically depraved practice. In Cragg’s view, bribery and corruption in business, and the double standard seen where corporations from the western world practice unethical business actions, are all motivated by the fact that businesses are not ethical to begin with but only adheres to las and regulations. For example, a US or Australian firm may not practice actions that may be regarded as amounting to bribery and corruption at home because of the laws against the same. However, when the same country wants to win a contract in China or India, the same laws do not apply there. Therefore, the differences in culture and the legal environment motivate companies to have double standards, depending on the environment they are operating in. Donaldson speaks about how ethics change when businesses cross the border, noting that a perplexing gray zone emerges because of the mixture of cultures.
Despite these facts about cross-border businesses dealings, the truth is that bribery, whether I one’s domestic market or abroad, is not morally justified. The consequences of such dealings are dire to any society as evidenced by cases involving Enron, the financial companies involved in the 2008 global financial crisis, the Volkswagen emission issues in the US and other markets, and many other cases that emerge daily. Whenever a business makes the decision to achieve its objectives through unethical means, there can be no moral justification to such. Donaldson mentions that many companies simply use what prevails in a host country, whether it qualifies as unethical or not. However, legal and ethical standards differ in how they justify bribery. From Donaldson and Cragg’s papers, it is clear that bribery cannot ever be morally justifiable, no matter the outcomes or context. First, bribery represents the highest form of abuse of power entrusted to an institution. This trust is substituted for private gains. Secondly, the consequences of bribery are felt to the lowest level of a society. Every decision made in regard to bribery, whether to win a contract or to avoid the ramifications of some actionable practices such as tax compliance, is done with a need for personal profit as opposed to public gain. Thirdly, bribery leads to corruption where other individuals are influenced to violate institutional duties and roles. In a combination of these three reasons, bribery, as observed when companies from the west engage in business dealing in foreign nations, undermines the free concept of a free market and the forces that dictate market competition. Where companies gain an unfair advantage, it means that others are made worse off than they were before the action. Cragg observes that the fact that the same companies cannot engage in such practices in their domestic markets points to the problem at hand. Therefore, bribery, no matter how and where it is done, must be defined and seen as a form of unjustified moral corruption, one that affects the proper functioning of a society because of the burdens that arise from such an unjustifiable system and the ramifications to the market where such practices are condoned.
Norman Bowie asserts that modern businesses have no special obligation to the environment. More specifically, he offers that businesses have an obligation to protect the environment without necessarily going over and beyond what the legal structure demands. For any business, Bowie advocates for reduced use of natural resources and the reduction of externalities to any production. A business should not be held to higher environmental responsibilities than any other groups in a society. Therefore, Bowie is of the view that businesses should adhere to the minimum obligations, whether legal or moral, by avoiding harm to the environment. In his view, businesses should not be expected to fight against the references of a society through their consumption. Again, he warns against the participation of businesses in lobbying activities seeing this as a way to influence consumption and a way to destabilize the delicate balance between the role of every business and what is expected in terms of its contribution to environmental issues. Bowie’s neo-classical view on social responsibility of businesses further provide that the production of motor cars is not in violation of the obligations to avoid harm. Although the harm caused by motor cars is avoidable, stopping the manufacturing of these vehicles would be too drastic. Therefore, people have accepted the level of risk in return for utility attained by owning cars. The manufacturer of motor vehicles is not responsible for the deaths or injuries caused unless in situations where there are faults against legal requirements. Even then, no company is required to create care as safe as possible because safety standards must be within a consumers price range and production cost.
Bowie’s perspective on environmental issues leads to the market approach where he states that if a problem is serious enough, and enough people raise concerns, their spending behavior is likely to change, causing market conditions to demand production that is more environmentally responsible. Because the demands of the consumers drives production, businesses will and should only respond to such conditions. Environmental responsibility and related burdens fall on the consumer because of the role they play in driving production and market conditions.
Denis Arnold finds that we should not place moral responsibilities for issues relating to the environment for organizations that have legally participated in the market. This opinion echoes the minimum requirements advocate for by Bowie on the basis of a lack of a legal structure that correct corporate activities that adversely affect public goods. Arnold, however, finds that businesses have a duty to adjust practices in order to reduce social costs and somewhat offer compensation to societies for past harms. This is an indication that Bowie’s market solution is not conducive in the long run. In opposition to Bowie’s position, Arnold rejects the free market solution relating to harming others because the harm that present non-US consumers or future generations face is not proportionate to their use of resources. Again, the customer’s choice market solution is objected by Arnold because of the fact that consumer have insignificant influence regarding to how businesses choose to address issues touching on the environment.
DesJardins argues that corporate social responsibility theories must be aligned to and derived from models of sustainable economics as opposed to the current neoclassical models of market economics. DesJardins is of the opinion that corporate environmental responsibility must first address the whole range of ecological and environmental problems that are impacted by business decisions in a way that may reverse ecological and environmental degradation. He also finds that corporate environmental responsibility must have the ability to influence business policy. DesJardins strongly feels that businesses have a moral and ethical responsibility, whether the law or consumers demand it or otherwise, to redesign all operations in a manner that is economically and ecologically sustainable in the long-term. In short, DesJardins rejects Bowie’s views on the minimum requirements of businesses and the environment, presenting a view that environmental responsibility should be the basis of business decisions and direction. It should also provide constraint for operations in every market.
Hawken et al. provide that businesses, like individuals, thrive where the planet regenerates and practices that lead to degenerations will bring forth unimaginable crisis. As such, Hawken does not see the issue with current commerce practices as majoring in the area of moral awareness or personal ethics, but rather perceives the issue as a design issue that runs through the current business practices. Hawken et al. insist that looking at modern businesses in a systematic manner that sees it in the view of the political, social, and natural structure is important in changing how its role in corporate environmental responsibility is defined. From Bowie’s market solution, Hawken et al. find that the conditions and requirements are not conducive to bringing about the vision of a utopian world. The objection provided by Hawken et al. is that there is a need to change ideas and perspectives such as those advanced by Bowie, in order for businesses to first understand their role for the environment and in the environment. Hawken et al. advocate for a restorative economy, one that looks at internal diversity and restoration. To achieve this, there is a need to redesign business thinking in a way that puts the environment first. Bowie’s free market solution is seriously flawed in the eyes of Hawken et al. because he looks at environmental responsibility from a capitalism point of view instead of looking at the consequences of the alternatives.
Denis Arnold and Matt Zwolinski disagree over whether multinational corporations are obligated to uphold and meet certain minimal conditions in their supply chain. Arnold begins by explaining that MNCs operating in a global economy are in support of human rights through the provision of employment and compensation enough to make a decent living for humans. He also points to how they provide healthy and safe work conditions, and offer products that are of benefit to humanity, and demonstrate respect for the rule of law. However, Arnold also notes how MNCs constantly violate human rights conditions via below subsistence compensations, poor working conditions, environmental pollution that leads to harm, actions of bribery and corruption, bringing harm to indigenous populations, and complete overlooking host nation laws and their legal framework. Arnold asserts that multinational corporations are obligated to uphold and meet certain minimal conditions in their supply chain. Actions that are detrimental to human rights translate to failure in the business sense. Matt Zwolinski, on the other hand, is opposed to the idea that multinational corporations are obligated to uphold and meet certain minimal conditions in their supply chain. He points to the choice of workers to accept the work conditions of their employment. This decision is proposed to hold moral significance, both as an independent choice in exercise of personal autonomy an as expressing preferences. Zwolinski provides that when workers intentionally and consciously elect to work in certain work conditions, they make a moral claim against any interference of their conditions. Therefore, Zwolisnki is opposed to the idea of businesses being interfered by third party entities such as consumer boycott groups and governments. He is opposed to the idea that MNCs should voluntarily choose to improve the working conditions of their employees. The idea to provide improvements because of the moral right of said employees to improvements is nullified by the fact that these workers chose to work in such conditions. The consent of workers to work for MNCs under certain labor conditions is intentional and therefore should be left as such.
The disagreement between Denis Arnold and Matt Zwolinski is significant because it represents two alternatives that actually occur in real life. They disagree on the moral obligations of MNCs based on ethical and legal basis. Arnold argues from a human rights point of view and the role of MNCs in ensuring that they offer decent work conditions for every employee based on a cost-benefit point of view. Zwolinski looks at the issue from a business’ perspective, defending the actions of an entity as morally justified because employees have the option of rejecting work conditions. In his argument, if all employees rejected certain working conditions, then MNCs would be forced to provide improvements, making life easier for the workers while sacrificing on cost. The two perspectives clash on the basis of point of view, with one looking at the harm caused by MNCs where the working conditions are in violation of human rights, and the other looking at the moral significance of employees choosing to work for a company with the full knowledge and consent of the conditions that the company can afford to offer. I think Arnold’s position is right. I think all MNCs should be held to certain minimum requirements in regards to what they can offer in their supply chains. The sheer size of these organizations mean that they benefit greatly from operating in different environments. Therefore, as a way of compensating global players for the use of the limited resources, I agree with Arnold’s position that they should provide better conditions for workers through upholding and meeting a set of minimal conditions in their supply chain.
Marion Young provides that the concept of political responsibility is a shared responsibility in tackling societal issues, and the responsibility holds for all players, including governmental and corporate actors. She further provides that corporate actors must engage in private actions or cooperating with and in other public–private partnerships, and also aiding governmental entities to remedy areas of injustice and even produce public institutions where none exist. According to Young, the political responsibility perspective has the power to address several issues in the raging debate on corporate citizenship because it offers a premise for extended corporate responsibilities, while also offering an indication of the implication for the scope of said responsibilities on corporate actors surrounded by a number of responsibilities. With the current systemic social connectedness to occurrences of injustices and harm, corporate players are seen by Young to also have a responsibility for all other emergent global problems relating to injustices in the supply chain, including but not limited to bad labor conditions and issues of climate change. Young is aware that these issues require that corporations take over state-like functions to improve responsibility. In short, Young is in support of Denis Arnorld’s position on what MNCs should do regarding the best working conditions for employees and other issues that are definitive of political responsibility. While other scholars like Matt Zwolinski call for minimum requirements to such responsibilities, it is important to note that MNCs take a lot from the environment in order to make profits. Therefore, it is only morally justified that they are set under minimum requirements in ensuring the best outcomes for different stakeholders including society and employee conditions.