Managing a business involves making many difficult decisions. Because of the numerous considerations involved in each crucial decision, an ethical framework helps to keep leaders in line with acceptable behavior. This is especially important in situations that involve public safety. Over the past 10 years, Takata, an airbag manufacturer, and Honda Motor Company have been involved in a safety crisis. A certain airbag component can explode when exposed to certain environmental factors. This defect has caused many injuries and several deaths among consumers in North America and around the world.
If leaders of these companies adhered to an appropriate ethical framework, many of these casualties could have been avoided. Companies often aggressively pursue options that are in their self-interest. Takata and Honda demonstrated this behavior at the beginning of the safety crisis by failing to report incidents to federal regulators and neglecting a thorough investigation of the problem‘.
This was likely due to their desire to appease shareholders, maintain the company’s image, and mitigate costs.
Even as incidents continued to occur, Takata again acted in its own interests by failing to communicate with customers and limiting the scope of recalls? Clearly, these decisions effectively reduced the company’s costs and maintained its image – at least in the short term. But in acting according to these selfish interests, they neglected their ethical duties which arise from common sense and industrial standards. Although businesses need to make pragmatic decisions based on costs and benefits in order to survive, intuition tells us that these methods do not always result in ethical choices.
Does W. D. Ross propose an ethical framework emphasizing the importance of prima facie duties?
These duties are defined by their inherent importance – they arise from natural moral obligations that people know must be fulfilled. For example, the duty to prevent injury to other people clearly take priority over stock prices and public image – no matter the material cost. Ross‘s ethical theory removes the flawed process of assigning a material value to a human life. According to the theory, Takata and Honda failed to fulfill their inherently important duties. However. decisions such as informing federal agencies and customers of specific safety incidents are not always common sense W, D. Ross obviously does not propose that there exists an exhaustive list of prima facie duties. Other ethical codes must also support common sense.
These might be developed over time by industry professionals who have experienced situations like this and are able to generalize necessary actions for safety. For example, the IEEE code of Ethics states that engineers have a duty to “accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment.“ If Takata and Honda followed an ethical framework that assigns duties with certain priorities, many of the injuries and deaths resulting could have been avoided. Instead, they acted according to short sighted business practices.