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Business Ethics And The Connection To Communication: Does The Truth Really Matter?

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It seems that with the recent headlines of high profile corporate corruption cases, the subject of whether ethics play much of part in modern business has come to the forefront. Connected directly to this would also be the role that communication plays in business ethics. The issues involved revolve around business ethics and how communication is used to either promote or reinforce good business ethics or is manipulated and abused to support more questionable uses. There are some that assert that for a business to survive in the modern economy, there has to be a certain level of compromise about ethics. My assertion is that corporations and their public relations firms use various methods to influence public opinion, and that these methods have varying degrees of basis in actual truth.

Increased competition has caused some companies to cut corners in order to increase profit. Still, a very limited number of corporations would exist without a customer base, and customers can be considered “investors” as much as actual stockholders. Why then do companies seem to not want to cater to their customers? “Taken collectively consumers are a reasonably predictable and reasonably manipuable mass, not a serious power over giant corporations.” (Estes 55) It has become that the corporations have the power to influence us and not the other way around. What can be seen is an inverse relationship between better quality and an increased cost for the manufacturer as there are many more products rushed to market without being fully tested. One of the major difficulties is that “For many goods and services, we face a single or few providers.” (Estes 59) This leaves us with little choice if we want a certain product and are willing to accept a lower standard. Instead of repaying their customer base with improved quality of product, lower cost of merchandise, and increased concern over the impact on health, safety, and the environment, these corporations seem to assert that there is no greater commandment than that of profit. The impacts on health, safety, and the environment are not a priority in most businesses due to the increased costs involved with dealing with them. Most businesses seem to do only what they have to, in order to comply with existing laws. The reasons for compromise are many. One is an increase in competition on a global scale. Also with increased competition is the need for profit to be the bottom line, in order to survive.

What this seems to have come to is an increase in corporate corruption. It takes many forms, whether it is multi-million dollar fraud, unsafe working conditions and occupational diseases, or faulty products. Many of these are never investigated. Why? We seem to have been convinced that corporate executives should be on pedestals, because they keep the country moving along. In my opinion, white-collar crime is vastly more destructive to society that regular street crime. When executives approve of the illegal dumping of pollution into the air or water that then causes environmental damage and eventually kills thousands of people, which should be a crime comparable to any mass serial killing and have an appropriate level of response from the authorities.

There probably is no greater example of the lack of business ethics than the tobacco companies. These “big tobacco” companies have known about major health risks from smoking cigarettes for the last forty years but have only recently started to curb their marketing because of court-imposed restrictions. And do they respond by trying to make the product safer? No, they become one of the largest lobbying groups and campaign contributors in the United States. It has been medically proven that nicotine is addictive, but the tobacco companies keep insisting that there is no proof that it is. In response to the dwindling customer base that is now informed of the health risks, they respond by increasing marketing to teenagers and minorities. They also hired public relations firms to focus on the good things that tobacco companies do for America. Today, we see advertising about the money big tobacco is spending on good works, while they try to increase smoking use in third world countries, where the health hazards aren’t as well known and legislation hasn’t caught up with them.

Another example of the diminished focus on any sort of ethics in business can be seen in the increased number of high profile cases that involve corporations “playing with the numbers.” White collar crime is not reported to many criminal statistics databases and “If you call the state attorney general’s office, the F.B.I. or the Securities and Exchange Commission, no one will be able to tell you how many white collar crimes were committed in any year, or provide any arrest statistics.” (Horn) Enron employees lost their entire retirement investments, because the heads of the company wanted to live the good life. Another example is when WorldCom executives tried to hide billions in losses from investors that eventually led to the sinking of the company’s stock and major losses for investors. “Bernard Ebbers, the former chairman and founder of WorldCom, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in an $11 billion fraud that bankrupted his telecommunications company.” (Horn) But the real question here revolves around why do these incidences happen. Has society degraded to the point that “corporate scandals offer powerful evidence of the corrupting impact of the value shifts of recent decades,” and “corruption in the executive suite is also explained by the moral climate of corporate America, a place where the troubling value shifts in our society have played out notable intensity.” (Callahan 106)

The auto industry in the United States seems to have a long history of responding to problems only when they absolutely have to. You can look at the recent safety issues regarding the “rollover” problems with the Ford Explorer as an example. Ford denied that the Explorer model had any sort of safety issue in relation to rollovers in accidents and instead blamed the tire manufacturer, Firestone. Ford now is going through another safety related issue with its Expedition line. In this case, a sensor could start a fire in the vehicle, even when the car is turned off. While the investigation is going on, dealers are recommending that you don’t park your car in an attached garage, in order to prevent your house from burning down. There are others, like the Ford Pinto in the mid 1970’s that would explode if it were struck from behind in an accident. This was due to



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