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    Ethics and the Workplace: Whose ethics will prevail?

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    A Case of Freedom of Speech

    As E-Kin grew, CFO Trump could not effectively manage all of the financial and accounting needs of the organization. The company decided to create a Controller position to oversee internal accounting, financial reporting, and tax administration. Beth Bleedingheart was hired to fill the position.

    As Beth began reviewing cost accounting information, she noticed that E-Kin was purchasing its garments from a few select suppliers at very low prices. An Internet search revealed that these vendors are rumored to be using sweatshop textile mills in developing countries.

    Beth contacted Purchasing Director Cash to see why E-Kin was able to buy garments at such low prices and to see if he was aware of the sweatshop rumors. Cash stated that the suppliers gave E-kin favorable pricing because E-kin purchased such large volumes. He reminded Beth that the garments were not the name brand clothing that you would buy in a department store. They were plain label and purchased wholesale. He also stated that E-kin has a strict policy against purchasing from suppliers that use sweatshop labor. He had already looked into the rumors and found them baseless.

    Not satisfied, Beth went to CEO Pickens. Pickens stated that he had discussed the matter with Cash months ago and that he was satisfied with Cash's investigation of the suppliers.

    Beth is still not satisfied. She believes that the low cost of the garments is blinding E-kin to the human rights abuses of its suppliers. She believes that, in general, E-kin is an ethical company that offers a valuable product. She also finds her job rewarding. However, she cannot tolerate the possibility that the company is profiting from sweatshop labor. She decides to create a website that will publicize E-kin's use of these suppliers and their alleged reliance on sweatshop labor. She works on the website only from home. It is housed on a server belonging to her home internet service provider. The domain name is "www.E-kin=sweatshops.com". On the site, she reveals the names of the suppliers and states that "These suppliers allegedly use sweatshop labor." One of the metatags for the website is "E-kin."

    Word of the website quickly spreads throughout E-kin. Many top managers are furious with Beth. The controversy is severely harming the working relationships between the Controller's area and other company divisions.

    1. From an ethical perspective, should E-kin terminate Beth for her actions?
    2. From an ethical and legal perspective, can E-kin object to any aspects of the website, such as the domain name, content, or "E-kin" metatag?

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    Solution Preview

    The question posed asks for an assessment of the facts on two levels - ethical and legal, which for me, simply begs the question of 'for whom'. In other words, does the question address whether E-Kin (internally) could consider itself as acting in an ethical manner if it decided to terminate Beth (meaning they just want a 'warm-fuzzy' feeling about firing someone), or does the question seek to establish whether E-Kin's termination of Beth would be 'ethical' in general, from any point of view. Obviously, Beth will most likely perceive her termination from E-Kin as decidedly unethical, given that she appears to have allowed the ethics of child labor to trump the ethics of employee-employer loyalty - after all, she is pulling a salary from E-Kin. The legal question may be easier to address since the law is less of a subjective creature than is ethics. Most firms, when they have decided to terminate a person, ensure that they have or will do so in such a way as to avoid legal liability - that's what HR departments are for. Due to Beth's actions, E-Kin could and would most likely find a legally 'safe' way to terminate her and have sufficient grounds for doing so. Beth may also find herself at the business end of a libel lawsuit since her website merely insinuated a connection between E-Kin and suppliers who utilized child-labor, without providing direct evidence of such a connection. In a word, she was fishing.

    "Though the Internet as the 'desktop gateway to the world' is probably the most obvious change from the worker's point of view, the Internet's effect on the workplace goes far beyond that. It changed the context of work, the context of business in general, and the context of entire industries. (Wallace, 2)

    If the Internet was not available, would Beth have taken the time or the expense of taking out a half page advertisement in multiple national newspapers?

    "Another impact of the [Internet] in the workplace involves access to information and the growing realization that more is not necessarily better. Access to the Internet at work has had an enormous influence on the kind and amount of information that can reach every employee's desktop." (Wallace, 4)

    Did Beth, E-Kin, E-Kin's suppliers or their alleged under age employees benefit from Beth's ...

    Solution Summary

    This solution discusses a case study in which an employee takes action against her employer, for her own ethical reasons.