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Ethics and the Legal Environment
George Mackee has a problem. His wife is after him, his boss is after him, and one day soon, the whole community of Hondo, Texas may be after him. George has one very large, very simple problem: He works for Ardnak Plastics, Inc. Ardnack Plastics is a small manufacturing company making small parts for small machinery, yet its corporate problems are far larger. In the wake of tight margins and financial restraint, the Environmental Protection Agency is wagering fines to reprimand the satellite Hondo plant for its emissions violations. Facing eminent corporate relocation and certain unemployment or compromised ethics, George Mackee must find a solution.
Among the nuanced complexity of problems webbing around George Mackee, ethics is the liming factor. He has three core concerns in this vein: whether or not to conduct plant work at night in order to mislead the EPA about the actual emissions levels, the value of maximizing on the less stringent environmental concerns of Hondo's southern neighbor, and whether or not to destroy his own community. Should he rotate the plant's schedule to use its smokestacks more at night, the daytime-active EPA would measure the Hondo plant's levels as low as those of its peers, also fudging their emissions exams. Should he do so, not only is he misleading the EPA, but the very standards set forth by the government to maintain a safe, clean, operable community would be undercut, ultimately hurting the Hondo people. Should he decide to incur another month of fines, the plant will be relocated to Mexico. If the plant were to go to Mexico, would not the same contaminations feared by the EPA 15 miles north affect the residents of the new plant town? Perhaps, too, George Mackee must wonder if those contaminants might still travel north to Hondo. Ultimately, were he to let the plant move to Mexico, he would leave his whole community in a state of unemployed destitution so pervasive even his own job would not be safe. However, should he continue on, the levels of contamination carefully monitored by the EPA might wreak on Hondo a civil action reminiscent of W.R. Grace & Co., not only infecting the town with pollutants but destroying the health of its people.
While George Mackee has a problem, the primary stakeholders in his issue are not free of the same turmoil he must quietly face. George's family, the townspeople of both Hondo and the Mexican town, the Environmental Protection Agency, those affected by the pollution, and Ardnak Plastics are all key players. Yet, of all of those with stake in the issue, only three have the ability to make decisions: the EPA, which executes its decisions through financial levy, Ardnak Plastics, as voiced by George's boss, Bill, and George, who has been handed the decision to either keep Ardnak Plastics in Hondo in a case of questionable ethics or, to the great demise of his community and place in it, let the plant move to Mexico.
Each of these ethical concerns is vital. While George may solve his problem by looking for another job or discussing his situation with someone in upper management, the crux of the problem still exists in a format understandable through a variety of lenses. Kant's categorical imperative and Mill's theory of utilitarianism combine with a rights-based perspective, justice-based perspective, and Kohlbergian moral development to provide an in-depth analysis of the ethical concerns at hand.
Kantian philosophy provides for the concept of a categorical imperative, central to moral philosophy. This imperative is derived from a single Categorical Imperative, denoting an absolute, unconditional requirement for morality, allowing no exception and justified by itself. The Kantian imperative is a black-and-white, apodeictic approach to ethics that, in the corporate field, makes for fiscally difficult procedures. According to Kant, both individuals and companies must "act only on the maxim that you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
All actions can be applied to this universal moral rule if they can be suggested to being made consistently universal, derive and respect the autonomy of human beings, and respects the rational beings as ends in themselves.
Examining the blunder facing George Mackee and, ultimately, Ardnak Plastics, the situation is cut-and-dry. In the Kantian analysis, George is not able to mislead the EPA, as in doing so he would not be able to justify either the end -- polluting the community to save his job -- or the means -- deceiving an arm of the very system established to protect his safety under the common laws of a republic. Unable to bend the readings to suit his own needs, George would assuredly see the plant transfer to Mexico; yet, in good conscious, even that is a prospect unwelcome to Kant. Should the plant transfer to Mexico, it would be George's responsibility to avail the EPA of the transfer of emissions and any ongoing pollutants that might travel a fast fifteen miles north to Hondo.
Yet, destroying the foundations of the community by essentially shipping the plant to another country, George would not be in question from Kant's categorical perspective. The sustainability of the plant in Hondo would be summarily based on deceit, and, as such, is completely unethical in this light. The degradation of the town and ensuing poverty, decline, and misfortune are the accompaniment of a commercial life tied inextricably to false levels and pollutants, cutting to the heart of the concern in Kantian view: Ardnak Plastic must find the money to purchase new scrubbers for the smokestacks in the Hondo, Texas plant. Should they not, for profit, design, or ability, they are committing the first flaw of indecency to the universal law of Categorical Imperative, and George Mackee must continue to honestly report the emissions levels to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mill's theory of Utilitarianism provides a different lens through which one can examine the options before George Mackee and Ardnak Plastics. Mill's theories, based on that of his family friend and peer John Bentham and honed with provocative practice, provide for a theory of ethics surrounded by an idea of happiness. As it was conjectured throughout the ages with a variety of definitions and little agreement, Mill viewed morality not as a science, but instead as an art. This prescription served as the foundation of all his thoughts in ethics and insistence that morality involves "the application of a law to an individual case."
To examine each individual case, Mill mandates the necessity of proof; utilitarianism establishes what kind of proof can be allowed as tacit to each case. Mill promotes an idea for ethics in which there is a "creed which accepts the foundations of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle," maintaining that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."
If Ardnak Plastics were to examine its levels of happiness, corporate profitability would be the zenith of its concerns. Little attention would be paid to the concerns of the EPA or the moral crisis otherwise impending its Hondo manager, but instead the height of its focus would be the profitability of the company. For George Mackee, the problem would be equally solved.
Looking at George Mackee's situation from the perspective of Mill's theory of Utilitarianism, the conflict would be easily resolved: he would, simply, put the EPA off his track by doing like all the other managers in his field and committing his worst offenses at night, keeping his daytime emissions at levels approved by the Agency, restoring the security of his job, and reaping the benefits of being the manager of the community plant employing a large swath of the people of Hondo. The reasons for this simple decision, however, are murkied by Mill's approach. George faces a wide variety of ethical tensions, particularly those posed by losing his job and the financial situation he might incur as well as the environmental state of decay inevitably following a cycle of illegal pollutant emissions, but it is his role in the community that would be the defining factor in this decision. Mary Mackee made it clear: their role in the community, and, accordingly, that of his two children, is inextricably tied to the presence of the Ardnak plant in Hondo and their role at its helm. While the other concerns he faces would cause discomfort, ignoring this source of "happiness" would not be utilitarian; to protect his happiness and that of those most important to him, he must first protect his job.
The cost and benefits analysis promoted by the utilitarian perspective also bring into question a variety of other piques. The cost-benefit paradigm promotes a view in which the best alternative is not only that which promotes the most happiness for George, but also one that promotes happiness for the most people. In that case, George must do whatever is in his power to maintain the livelihood of the plant in…[continue]
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