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Alcohol and Business Ethics
Introduction moral society is built on the basis of a number of unspoken, but generally agreed upon social issues. A moral society generally applies the maxim "treat others in the way you would like to be treated" and this proverb, although it's heard more frequently in the school play yard than in the corporate boardroom, should affect business decisions which affect the community at large. Some would say that operating a business within legal boundaries is not an accurate measure of an ethical business. Within the past few decades, advertising has become the focus of ethical pressure. The 'Joe Camel' cartoon character developed as a spokesperson - mascot for the camel cigarette was pulled after community outrage that the furry, cute character was likely an attempt by the company to market their addictive and destructive products to children.
A tremendous pressure has been brought to bear on businesses recently to develop global policies on environmental protection, workplace drug testing, equal employment opportunities, sexual harassment, and conflict of interest and so on. While this is often a legal requirement, sometimes such policies are established to comply with conditions in collective bargaining agreements, or even to serve as a vehicle for an improved public image. Whether legal, formal, or voluntarily derived, these corporate positions are also established because they are believed by the company and its board of directors to be the "right things" to do. They reflect the company's moral stance. They regulate behavior within the company by encouraging certain ways of acting and by serving as the criteria against which suspected breaches of moral conduct can be measured. (Carson, 1995)
In the same vein, 'alcopop' products should come under the same level of intense scrutiny. These products, which contain a lower level of alcohol and a higher content of enticing flavor, are becoming the alcoholic beverage of choice for teens, underage drinkers, and beginning drinkers.
The alcohol industry depends on lifestyle choices and the slow process of behavioral modification in order to ensure their products viability into the next generation. Since alcohol consumption is prohibited until a person is 18, or 21 years old, alcohol companies have a limited time window during which to attract, and grip becoming adults into a drinking lifestyle. The alcopop, a highly flavored malt beverage, which some are calling 'flavored beer' or 'malternatives' (Oldenburg, 2002) is filling the gap between younger, non-drinkers who do not enjoy the taste of beverages with a higher alcohol content. Such drinks as Smirnoff Ice, Hard Lemonade, and Jack Daniels Hard Cola are marketed toward the younger crowd as a 'gateway beverage.' These products attract the younger drinker, engage them in a lifestyle that included alcohol as an integral part of recreation and friendship activities, and thus seg-wee them into a new lifestyle which includes alcohol as a lifestyle.
These Alcoholic products may be crossing an ethical line in the sand, in much the same way as Joe Camel. A poll conducted for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc. shows that "alcopop" beverages appeal more to teenagers than to adults. The survey also showed that underage teens are more likely to consume them. (Alcohol Policy Project, 2001) These products have labels that resemble non-alcoholic lemonade, fruit punches and soft drinks which are all popular with teens, helping them make the behavioral shift from soda to alcohol as a beverage of choice.
Recently, at a Washington press conference, George A. Hacker, CSPI's director for alcohol policies said, "Booze merchants formulate the products and the design of their labeling and packaging specifically to appeal to people who don't like the taste of alcohol, which includes teenagers. 'Alcopops' are gateway drugs that ease young people into drinking and pave the way to more traditional alcoholic beverages." (Alcohol Policy Project, 2001)
According to the survey, teens report more familiarity than adults with "alcopops" by a margin of 3 to 1, and 17- and 18-year-olds are more than twice as likely as adults to have tried them. According to the poll:
Most teenagers and adults surveyed believe that the drinks are marketed primarily to people under the legal alcohol purchase age of 21,
Nine in 10 teens and 67% of adults think that companies make "alcopops" taste like lemonade as an attraction for a younger drinking crowd.
90% of teens agree that drinking the newer, sweeter drinks can make it more likely that teenagers will continue to consume other alcoholic beverages;
41% of teens 14 to 18 have tried an "alcopop"
14- to 16-year-olds prefer them over beer or mixed drinks.
More than half of all teens point to attributes of the products -- their sweet taste, the disguised taste of alcohol, and their easy-to-drink character -- as major reasons for choosing "alcopops" over beer, wine, or cocktails. (Alcohol policy center, 2001)
According to George Hacker, the director of the Alcohol Policy Project with the Center for Science and Public Policy, "More than 10 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 currently drink alcohol. Alcohol kills many more teenagers than all illicit drugs combined. It is a major factor in the four leading causes of death among teens -- motor vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, homicides, and suicides. According to estimates developed for the U.S. Department of Justice, underage drinking cost the nation some $53 billion in 1996. Drinking at an early age also increases the risk of alcohol dependence and illicit drug use later in life. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a young person who starts to drink before age 15 is four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than someone who begins at age 21." (Hacker, 2001)
In Germany, where the drinks are marketed with much more veracity toward the younger crowd, the German Drugs Commissioner is calling for taxes on alcopops to be doubled as a way of raising the prices beyond the reach of many teens. The move comes after a German study showed that alcopops were becoming the drink of choice of teenagers. (Cummings, 2004) These sugary mixtures were leading teen down that slippery path to hard liquor and heavy drinking partially because of their marketing and particularly because of the direct connection between these products and their stronger older brothers. Smirnoff is a world wide leader in Vodka production, Jack Daniels is one of the nations oldest, and best known whiskey producers. As a result, when the underage drinker hits the magic legal age, and is in a bar or pub with friends, the natural transition for them is to leave behind the 'kid stuff' and order the stronger version of the drinks that they have been enjoying for years.
Brown University also conducted a survey of 750 teens regarding their awareness of alcopops. They found that the connection between alcopops and teens was not simply an indirect association, but was linked causally to alcohol manufacturers advertising campaigns. Alcohol advertisers are exposing millions of teens to a growing category of liquor-branded malt beverages through targeted marketing campaigns on the television shows during prime time shows when teens are most likely to be watching. The drinks feature the brand names of hard liquors such as Bacardi, Stolichnaya, Captain Morgan's and Smirnoff are promoted primarily when millions of teens are watching television, after 9 p.m. (Brown University, 2002)
According to U.S. New and World Report, Four out of 10 teen's ages 14 to 18 have tried the spiked ciders and lemonades called "alcopop" What teens do not realize is that the alcohol content of "alcopop" is comparable to other, stronger drinks. When compared with other drinks, Alcopop (12 oz.) = Beer (12 oz.) = Wine (5 oz.) = Whiskey (1 oz.) (U.S. News, and World Report, 2001)
Hacker closed the causal loop as he described the marketing campaigns designed for these products. "They want to ride the coattails of liquor and its marketplace panache," says Hacker. "On the other hand, they want to enjoy the benefits of being a malt beverage and get their liquor brand names in places where they haven't been before... It's bad enough that they are sort of this bridge between soft drinks and beer," he says of the sweet malt-based drinks. "But now they want to bring young consumers to the liquor market. They want consumers to think of these products as an introduction to liquor." (Oldenburg, 2002)
Combining Business Ethics and Moral Responsibility
Business ethics are composed of more than habits and practices. A company can be in legal compliance, but in their ethical and moral positions in the community be known for taking advantage of customers, competitors, or workers. This company, while not exposed to any legal action, is denying its right, and responsibility as a community stakeholder, to contribute to the overall well-being of the community.
According to Carson (1995) virtues and ethics are more than principles and legal statutes. They are ways of living, and they frame the level…[continue]
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