Business and Ethics

ECBU 346
FEBURARY 12, 1997

From a business perspective, working under government contracts can be
very lucrative. In general, a steady stream of orders keep coming in, revenue
increases and the company continues to grow. There are a few obvious downfalls
to working with government contracts; a higher quality is to be expected as well
as extensive research accompanied by accurate and complete documentation are
usually required. If one part of the process fails to perform correctly it can
cause minor flaws as well a problems that can carry some serious repercussions;
For example the case of the failed computer chip at Company X. When both the
employee and company are found at fault, the question arises of how extensive
should the repercussions be? Is the company as a whole liable or do you look
into individual employees within that company? From an ethical perspective one
would have to look at the available information of both the employees and their
superiors along with the role of others in the situation. Next you would have
to analyze the final outcome from a corporate perspective and then examine the
corporate responsibility as a whole in order to find a resolution for cases such
as this.
The first mitigating factor involved in the Company X case is the
uncertainty, on the part of the employees, on their duties that they were
assigned. It is possible that during the testing procedure, an employee
couldn\'t distinguish between the parts they were to test under government
standards and commercial standards. In some cases they might have even been
misinformed on the final product that they tested. In fact, ignorance on the
part of the employees would fully excuse them from any moral responsibility for
any damage that may result from their work. Whether it is decided that an
employee is fully excused, or is given some moral responsibility, would have to
be looked at on an individual basis.
The second mitigating factor is one of threats that an employee might
suffer if they do not follow through with their assignment. After the bogus
testing was completed in the Company X labs, the documentation department also
had to falsify documents stating that the parts had more than met the
governments testing standards. From a legal and ethical standpoint, both the
testers and the writers of the reports were merely acting as agents on direct
orders from upper management. The writers of the reports were well aware of the
situation yet they acted in this manner on the instruction of a supervisor.
Acting in an ethical manner becomes a secondary priority in this type of
environment. As stated by Alan Reder, “if they [the employees] feel they will
suffer retribution, if they report a problem, they aren\'t too likely to open
their mouths.” (113). The workers knew that if the reports were not falsified
they would come under questioning and perhaps their job would be in jeopardy.
Although working under these conditions does not fully excuse an employee from
moral fault, it does give a starting point to help narrow down the person or
department that issued the original request for the unethical acts.
The third mitigating factor is one that perhaps encompasses the majority
of the employees in the Company X case. We have to balance the direct
involvement that each employee had with the defective parts. Thus, it has to be
made clear that many of the employees did not have direct involvement with the
testing departments or with the parts that eventually failed. Even employees,
or sub-contractors that were directly involved with the production were not
aware of the ignorance on the part of the testing department. For example, the
electrical engineer that designed the defective computer chip could have stated
that it was tested and it did indeed meet the required government tests. Also,
for the employees that handled the part after the testing process, they were
dealing with what they believed to be a piece of equipment that met government
standards. If the part was not tested properly, and did eventually fail, isn\'t
the testing department more morally responsible than the designer or the
assembly line worker that was in charge of installing the chip? In large
corporations there may be several testing departments and in some cases one may
be held more responsible than another depending on their involvement. A process
like this can serve as a dual purpose for finding irresponsible employees as
well as those that are morally excused.
The fourth mitigating factor in cases