Comment of the Day on “Ethics Bob Opens An Ethics Can of Worms…”

Chase Martinez enters the debate on the ethics of Nike’s labor practices abroad, raised by a post by Bob Stone on his blog, and explicated here with some business ethics questions that have long perplexed both critics and advocates of American capitalism.Here is his Comment of the Day:

“The company has a duty to make money.”

“I think what is unethical is consumers abdicating their ethical duty to make informed choices. In big business, “everybody does it” is self-propagating because there is no consumer pressure to be better than your competition. The “free market” assumes an informed consumer-base that punishes companies who disagree with their values by taking their business to those that do. This doesn’t happen, and while some fault lies with companies for using the EBDI rationalization, most, I think, lies with consumers for being apathetic. As long as American consumers don’t care about Chinese peasants working for a dollar a day because they don’t know any better, corporations like Nike have no reason to care.”

Nursing Strike Ethics and the Coolidge Principle

“There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”

Long before he was famous for his abrupt and verbally stingy one-liners, Calvin Coolidge’s best known quote was this one, and we forget it at our peril. The line probably made him President: its context was the Boston police force strike of 1919. Coolidge, then Governor of Massachusetts, sided against the strikers, who despite legitimate demands for better pay and working conditions, lost their jobs. The next generation of Boston police officers, mostly hired from the ranks of veterans of World War I, got the benefits the strikers sought.

Coolidge’s sentiment is still valid, though unpopular, as ever, with organized labor and public servant unions. It was the philosophical and historical basis for President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the striking air traffic controllers during his first term, despite stong public sympathy for their stand. Like the Boston Police in 1919, they also lost their jobs for ever.

12,000 nurses in Minnesota Nurses Association are eligible to vote today on a potential indefinite strike. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: University of Wisconsin

I am not 100% certain that the University of Wisconsin’s complaint about Nike’s responsibilities is fair. The important thing is that the University has thought the matter through, decided what the right thing to do is after serious analysis, and is taking principled action.

The Universityhas cancelled its licensing agreement with Nike to protest what it considers Nike’s inadequate efforts to help laid off workers in Honduras factories that make Nike products. Two factories that abruptly closed, both Nike sub-contractors, have not paid the $2.6 million in severance required  by Honduras law.Under The school’s Code of Conduct commits the 500 companies that make products bearing the University of Wisconsin logo to take responsibility for their subcontractors’ actions. In rejecting Nike, Wisconsin will be forfeiting royalty income from its Wisconsin products. Continue reading

Of Interns, Heroes, and Hoaxes

Intern exploitation: The New York Times explores the burgeoning practice of using unpaid interns, exploiting college students and graduates desperate for experience by “allowing” them to do menial office tasks without even minimum wage compensation. It is a perfect scheme, really: the student doesn’t want to burn bridges, so doesn’t complain, and the company avoids hiring a worker. The problem is that it is dishonest and unfair, as well as illegal.

Remembering Ethics Hero Jerry terHorst: J. F. terHorst has died, and though he was a distinguished reporter, what made him an Ethics Hero was one act of principle unrelated to reporting. Continue reading