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Act Utilitarianism and Kantian ethical theories in business

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Businesses in today’s world raise many ethical issues and it is important to understand which actions are right and which ones are wrong. In this report the focus will be placed on an article about models working in the fashion industry. It explains how models are being mistreated and exploited in many ways which include sexual harassment, lack of rights, overworking and having to face dangerous situations such as taking drugs which include cocaine in order to stay thin. The article also mentions that models enter the industry as young as 13 years of age and definitely need protection from this exploitation.

The industry has acted though the commonplace laws do not apply to them, many of the models do not complain about mistreatment by their agency or photographer because of their fear of being blacklisted from the industry. Safety for models is a real issue here as with any employee in the workforce.

The ethical issue this report will analyse will be “Is it morally acceptable for models in the workplace to be exploited?”. The business ethics area this issue falls under is ethical issues in the workplace, which include for example discrimination, invasion of privacy but the main concentration in this report will be put on workplace harassment. Act Utilitarianism and Kantian ethical theories will be applied to this report and will be used to conclude if this issue is morally permissible.

AnalysisAccording to the principle of utility, the central idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is the one that will likely produce the greatest amount of happiness and reduce the amount of pain for all concerned including humans and animals, than any other alternative. Utilitarianism is also a consequentialist based theory which means it defines right or wrong according to consequences (Rachels, 2003).

“The main thrust of Utilitarian theory is to create the most happiness and the minimal pain for the people affected by a moral choice” (AUT, n.d.). Those who will be affected will include employers of the modeling agencies, shareholders of the agencies, models, parents, relatives and friends of the models, clients, photographers and the government.

Utilitarians realise that happiness and pain can be brought about by a single action, so they aim to decide in each case whether overall the good outweighs the harm.

The maximum happiness in exploitation of models must be taken into account. The employers of the agencies gain recognition and profit, for example attracting more clients will result in the company growing and increase in revenue. The shareholders will get more dividends, they can easily reinvest and gain more profit. The clients and photographers will gain maximum happiness but only for a short term period as they use the models to satisfy their own needs and pleasures. The government will benefit from this due to companies growing and employment increasing, for example more modeling shows will mean more tourism, jobs and taxes. The models will get income and job security.

The consequences of exploiting models must also be taken into account. The pain this issue will bring affects the models, parents, relatives and friends of the models, clients and the photographers. For example the models are being sexually abused, this will traumatize them over a long term period, they will be mentally stressed which can easily become the reason for major health problems and also suicide. The parents, relatives and friends of the models will have a difficult time dealing with this issue and can also become very depressed when they find out their close one is being taken advantage of at work. This can lead to parents and friends’ abandoning the model because of what has happened to them, destruction of families, and their mental and physical health can also be affected due to too much worrying. It can also harm the clients and photographers in the long term, for example if the client or photographer is married, this can destroy their family, their reputation as well as bring shame which can lead to mental problems and suicide. All those affected by this pain will have lasting consequences.

This issue shows that happiness seems to be of the trivial kind, the benefits to a few already wealthy individuals do not justify the harm caused to¬†models. The amount of pain it brings to those affected clearly outweighs happiness. But another condition to this theory is that an action is morally right if there are no alternative actions that would produce better consequences for those affected (Frankena, 1963). Currently “many models are pressured into having sex with clients” (Campbell, 2007) if modeling agencies set regulations, for example not pressuring models to sleep with clients but finding out which models are willing to do so with their own consent, making the work environment safe for models, not ignoring their concerns, daily meetings with models for general checkup, thus these actions will have better consequences as there will be more happiness and less pain. Therefore, in regards to Act Utilitarian theory the exploitation of models is not morally acceptable.

Kant’s theory is different to utilitarians. It is based on a deontological approach, a non-consequentialist approach to ethics. The key aspect in this is goodwill, which is the ability to act out of duty and principle (Seedhouse, 2001). Morality in this theory is absolute, the actions of right or wrong is independent from consequences. The categorical imperative is the foundation in this theory, it determines if the action is morally right. This depends on the rule that the person has followed as a maxim of the act and if people rationally will the principle underlying a proposed action should become a universal rule (Rachels, 2003).

The categorical imperative involves the universalisability principle, the action proposed is only right if the person acting would want it made universal. The proposed action in this report is “Is it morally acceptable for models in the workplace to be exploited?”, a person rationally cannot will that models being exploited at work is acceptable, if they do then this will become a universal law and the maxim followed would be ok to exploit people at work which includes abusing them physically, verbally and harassing them sexually. It is not rational and ethical for the employers to pressure models into having sex with clients which they would want to avoid themselves. Therefore, exploitation of people at work cannot be an absolute right act to do, people in the working environment rationally would not want to be treated in this way. If people abuse each other at work there will be¬†no advantages because everyone will get hurt, it is self-defeating. What is right is absolute and universal. The maxim here is not absolute and thus cannot be accepted as a universal law.

Kant’s reversibility principle has the same result, “to reverse the outcome of one’s action to determine if a choice would be what that individual would want someone to choose for them as well” (Hatch, n.d.). If the agencies or clients switched positions with the models, then presumably they would not want to be sexually harassed and abused as explained previously. However, even if some of them are willing to be taken advantage of, this would lead to a work place where there is no professionalism and change the nature of working environment. Kant would disallow this treatment in the workplace, as any business has a right to expect their workers to work effectively, but this situation will affect the performance and quality of the workers and their behavior towards each other in a negative way.

There is one more formulation which must be looked at, the categorical imperative requires that rational beings treat other people “as ends in themselves and never merely as means.”(Seedhouse, 2001, p.119). This means respecting people as ends in their own right, but not as a mean to gain our own personal ends (Rachels. 2003). If agencies or clients respected the models their concerns would be taken into account and employers would try to ensure the safety of their employees. However, this is not the case as the models are “being pressured into having sex” and modeling agencies “ignore the models’ concerns in order to maintain good relationships with important client” (Campbell, 2007). They are only being used as a tool to create recognition and increase client numbers for the company and generate profit. Therefore, models are being used simply as a means to an end.

Based on Kant’s theory, this analysis concludes that exploitation of models in the workplace is irrational and immoral.

ConclusionThe application of Act Utilitarianism and Kantian ethic theories to the ethical issue “Is it morally acceptable for models in the workplace to be exploited?”, have both concluded that this action is morally¬†unacceptable. Both theories have looked at moral relevant facts from the business article “Models join union to expose abuse” (Campbell, 2007) and the outcome is based on the ethical analysis undertaken. The Act Utilitarian theory has identified all those who are affected by this issue, such as the models and employers of the models, this was done so that the amount of happiness and pain can be calculated to see if overall the good outweighs the harm. The maximum happiness this exploitation brings to those affected is mostly in monetary figures while the pain it brings is of lasting consequences, for example the pain caused may even lead to suicide, making pain greater then happiness. Alternative actions have also been identified, such as setting up regulations which produce better consequences for those affected. Utilitarian theory defines right or wrong according to consequences and thus has stated this issue is morally unacceptable.

Kantian theory is different because it is not based on consequences but on duty. The categorical imperative has identified that a person rationally cannot will that models be exploited at work, because if they do then this would mean to make it a universal law to which the maxim would be to abuse and cause harm to each other at work. It explains what is right is absolute and universal, but the maxim here is not absolute. The reversibility principle has the same result, if agencies and models switch places then presumably they would not want to be harassed at work and even if they did, this would lead to a negative working environment which Kant would not allow. The categorical imperative has also proved that models are only being used as a means to an end, they are being used as a tool to create recognition, increase client numbers and to simply generate profit. Kantian theory has also concluded exploitation of models at work is irrational, immoral and thus unacceptable.

Because of the relevant facts the issue is not morally acceptable in both ethical theories.

Part BAfter viewing the video by Edward Burtynsky I was stunned by the damages businesses are causing to the environment. The lands are being damaged because of the need for power (Burtynsky, 2006), for example a large¬†agricultural land in China has been destroyed so that a big city could be built which contains no parks or green areas. Another example is 50% of computers end up in China for recycling, but people heat up the boards in order to take out parts and this results in an air pollution so strong you are able to smell the toxic from 5 to 10 kilometers away. Shanghai is being referred to as “a forest of skyscrapers” (Burtynsky, 2006) because of the amount of industrial work occurring, this means there is once again no green areas to look at, only buildings. To me this is certainly an issue because “China’s evolution is connected to our evolution” (Burtynsky, 2006).

Looking at all these issues I definitely agree with Edward’s point about sustainability, to preserve the environment and keep it alive and another group of people that would agree with me are the utilitarians. Assumingly, they will decide sustainability will bring the greatest amount of happiness over unhappiness for everyone affected because the world belongs to everyone. The rich are getting richer but the pollution made from businesses such as the coal supply factory in China which have large blast furnaces are polluting our environment, coal mining towns are destroying our lands and all these have lasting consequences. A utilitarian would insist businesses choose alternatives such as solar power or new energy saving devices which produce better consequences. This is the way I feel and I believe businesses should have an obligation to preserve nature for the current society and future generations.

The views expressed are identical to my own current values I hold. Most of my virtues are similar to Aristotle, such as I consider it a duty to be fair, honest, modest, friendly, to have proper ambitions and in regards to this issue to help as much as I can to keep the environment clean. I have participated in community services as a volunteer to pick up rubbish, I often travel by means of a bicycle to minimise pollution instead of driving a car which spreads carbon monoxide into the air. I want to contribute my share to benefit the environment. I cannot say that I want to be a follower of virtue ethics which is a normative theory to do “with the good life and what kinds of persons we should be” (Athanassoulis, 2006), but I do want myself, others and businesses to keep a cleaner environment so the current¬†and future generations can be happy.

My wish for businesses to achieve preservation of the environment would be to make it compulsory that one member from organisations such as green peace should be employed with each business as a specialist, this will mean each business will have a specialist who cares about the environment and can specialise in finding new ways to ensure the business is becoming more pollution free and to ensure the business is following the protocols required to achieve this. This way businesses will be on an ethical path, in my view the right path. “A responsible organisation is one which acts in an ethical, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable way” (Solomon, 1992).

‚ÄÉReference List

Athanassoulis, N. (2006). The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Virtue Ethics. Retrieved 10 April 2008, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/v/virtue.htm#SH2aAUT. (n.d.). Utilitarianism Case Study. Retrieved 02 April 2008, from http://autonline.aut.ac.nz/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab=courses&url=/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=17022Burtynsky, E. (2006). Edward Burtynsky: TED Prize wish: Share the story of Earth’s manufactured landscapes. Retrieved 10 April 2008, from http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/56Campbell, D. (2007). Models join union to expose abuse. Retrieved 02 April 2008, from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=151&objectid=10483808Frankena, W. (1963). Ethics, Englewood Cliffs. New Jersey:Prentice-HallHatch, C. (n.d.). The issue of ethics versus morality Retrieved 10 April 2008, from http://www.helium.com/items/237469-golden-recall-always-believedRachels, J (2003). The elements of moral philosophy 4th edition. New York, USA: McGraw-HillSeedhouse, D. (2001) Ethics, The heart of health care. London: Wiley and Sons, p.118-9Solomon, R. C. (1992). Ethics and Excellence: Cooperation and Integrity in Business: Oxford University Press.

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