What would you do in the following solution?
Knowing full well that there is scientific proof that there cigarettes are lethal AND nicotine is addictive, would you work for Philip Morris (one of the largest cigarette manufacturers in the U.S.)? Just to make things interesting let’s say that you beginning salary is six figured with a high potential for bonuses.
This question poses an ethical dilemma. On one hand, how can you possibly work to increase the sales of a product that when used “kills” the consumer? Yet, on the other hand, our government and we as a people have decided that cigarette smoking is a legal practice and therefore there is no reason to feel morally unjust in working to advance the widespread use and sales of cigarettes.
If everyone in our class reads this blog post (which I hope they do), I can be almost certain that not everyone would agree on what they would do if presented with the situation above. I believe that our personal ethical and moral standards are formulated strongly on the environment in which we were brought up and currently live. If you were brought up in a home with two smoking parents, you might have no problem working for PM. Whereas, if your grandfather passed away after and long and difficult battle with lung cancer that resulted from years of smoking Marlboro unfiltered cigarettes, Phillip Morris might be the last place in the world you would ever work.
Ethical – defined by our friends at dictionary.com as “conforming to accepted standards of social or professional behavior.” Much more simply stated I believe that to be ethical is to act in a morally correct way. Today in class an extremely interesting argument was brought up focusing on the line between acting unethically and acting illegally. Much of the financial trickery performed at Enron was perfectly legal, from the complexities of securitization, to the SPE’s created by the brilliant, but crooked Andy Fastow. Yet, many students in our class automatically associated these practices as being “illegal” because they were done in an effort to deceive the shareholders.
Andy Fastow was LEGALLY deceiving the stakeholders of Enron and therefore acting unethically – right? It depends on what you define as unethical behavior. What Andy Fastow was doing was totally legal and was done in an effort to raise Enron’s stock price. Not only would this increase his salary, but it also boded well for the stockholders who were receiving high returns on their Enron investments. On top of that, can we really call shame to Andy Fastow and say he was being unethical, or can we blame the SEC and other oversight bodies who failed to see the potential of the structured finance happening at Enron.
Andy Fastow clearly wasn’t the only one acting on the border of the ethical behavior (and for that matter the law) at Enron. This deceitful and questionably behavior seemed to transcend almost the entire corporation, from Ken Lay, to the trading floor, heck – I wouldn’t be surprised if the janitors weren’t the most honost people in the world. But, what was it about Enron that created and harbored all of these “crooked” employees? I believe the answer lies in the corporate environment/culture that was created around Enron. The executives at Enron believed that they were the best of the best, running the best corporation in the world. Jeff Skilling believed he could do no wrong and anything that he touched would turn to gold. This attitude from the top-tier was clearly reflected everywhere else in the company, from Andy Fastow to the overly confident and cut-throat men and women on the trading floor.
The same way that our surrounding environment shapes whether or not we could morally justify working at Philip Morris, the environment at Enron allowed for people to partake in what outsiders would certainally look at as ethically questionable behavior to say the least. Within the Enron bubble, the activities undertook by Andy Fastow and others may have seemed perfectly acceptable as long as they resulted in a profit. From the beginning the win at all cost attitude established by Ken Lay and his chronies doomed Enron from the start.