Ethical case studies
Case study 1: Breach of Conduct
Martin has been enrolled in the postdoctoral research program in the company for the last one and a half years. He was assigned the main research laboratory and has since been working closely with Paul, Clifford, and Maryanne, technicians in the laboratory. The research Martin was working on is crucial to the company’s anticipated product launch, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Martin and his group to show results on the research project. In addition, the company had sunk a considerable amount of money into the development of the product and there was a high expectation on Martin to show returns on the investment made. Management was convinced that the project was theoretically well grounded and there ought to be a positive outcome from the research Martin was conducting. The company has a strict policy for its research scientists, especially for the junior scientists who are joining, where progression and retention within the company is linked to positive research outcomes. Due to financial constraints, the company has a relatively limited number of researchers working on projects, and sometimes it is not possible for an in-house re-assessment of research findings, especially in cases where projects are time-squeezed.
Details of situation
Quality assurance has been a challenge in the recent past, as the company has considerably cut its research and development budget in response to the hostile economic climate that has led to cash-flow problems. Researchers are expected to conduct their research under conditions of minimal oversight, and report findings without falsifying or fabricating data. The system largely depends on the integrity of the researchers and their assistants, presuming that they will observe best practices in their research and reporting of data findings. The company has not had any major incident of data falsification in the recent past, and hence the company sees the system as an efficient way of producing research at minimal cost. However, to safeguard the company’s reputation, products are sent to independent testers to give feedback on the performance before they can be released to the public.
Martin and his assistants were working on a software program developed by the company over the last two years, to be released within the year. They had to test the performance of the program under a number of conditions and report on the stability and effectiveness of the program under a number of conditions. There were concerns about the stability of the program when used over different platforms that delayed the release of the program, forcing the development team to rewrite the code in a bid to address the inherent weaknesses.
Martin was part of the development team and his research was to determine if the new changes in the program had addressed the observed weaknesses. Martin and his assistants produced a report showing that the program was stable and performed beyond expectation in all the parameters tested. The company generally does a considerable amount of in-house testing of its products before they are released to the public. The purpose of the testing is to ensure that products meet the industry specifications as well as perform to the advertised company specifications. The company generally has separate development and testing departments to avoid the possibility of conflict of interest in the testers. However, this arrangement has been under pressure in the recent past as the company reduced the number of active researchers in the payroll to cut down on operational costs. Consequently, it is not uncommon to have cases where the people involved in the development of a product also take part in the product’s testing.
The company forwarded the internal testing report and the program to independent industry testers before it could release the program to the public. However, at this stages number of problems became manifest. On testing the program independently, it was found that it performed below expectations in most of the parameters that Martin indicated otherwise. There was a considerable variance between the results obtained by the independent testers and those reported by Martin. It appeared that Martin based his data on the theoretical performance, rather than on the measured performance of the program.
Therefore, although his data was within the theoretical limits of performance, it did not reflect in the true performance of the program as tested in simulated working conditions. It is when the report of the independent testers was returned to the company that it became apparent that the data produced by Martin and the technicians he was working with was fabricated. The situation was detrimental to the reputation of the company because reports by independent industry testers are archived and can be accessed by any interested person easily. The large variance in company and independent test outcomes is especially bad as it paints the company in a bad light since, ideally, the outcomes should be similar when testing is professionally done.
Ethical basis for action
There is a clear conflict of interest in this case, considering that, Martin is involved in both the development and testing phases of the program, making his impartiality in the testing phase questionable. The work environment is also pressurized not only as regards to his career prospects within the company in the event of failure, but also in the need to produce a working program within the stipulated timeline. The lab technicians are also cognizant of the pressure and expectation on the project. Consequently, the motive for fabrication and falsification of data to meet the expectations is relatively high. However, the actions of Martin and the technicians raise a number of ethical issues. First, will it be fair to punish Martin considering that it is the company that placed him in a compromising situation by assigning him development and testing duties? Should the technicians, who are working under the direction of Martin, be punished? Despite the circumstances, can Martin and the technicians’ actions be defensible? Cognizant of these issues, Martin should be relieved of his duties because as the lead researcher, the fabrication of results has not only cast aspersions on his integrity but also put the company into disrepute. This decision is based on the deontological approach to utilitarianism, and Martin is punished for acting in a manner that contravenes the rules, and hence his actions can be judged to be ethically wrong (Secker, 47). The technician should be disciplined administratively for failing to report the malpractice in data reporting.
Case study 2: Accident in pilot plant
The company has been facing challenges in the manufacture of products due to the old manufacturing technology that it is using. This puts the company on a competitive disadvantage because its products tend to be more expensive, primarily due to the manufacturing inefficiency. In addition, the technology the company is using is not environmental friendly and the Green Revolution activists have been conducting a vociferous and visible campaign against the company on its pollution impact on the environment. There are threats to call for boycott of the company’s products, and the negative publicity that the company has been suffering is becoming injurious to the company’s image as well as earning potential. The CEO, Ms. Brown, directed that the company must take cognizance of the issues raised by the environmentalists and institute measures to ameliorate the damage caused not only to the environment, but also to the company’s image. Ms. Brown ordered one of her senior managers, Mr. Kraft, to expeditiously find a solution to the issues raised by the environmentalists. The proposed solution had to also address the inefficiencies inherent in the manufacturing process with a view to streamlining the process to make it more profitable to run.
Details of situation
After being assigned the task of addressing the issues raised by the Green Revolution and increasing the efficiency of the manufacturing process in the company, Mr. Kraft identified the adoption of a new synthetic reaction system as the solution that will adequately address the issues. The system will significantly cut down on the pollution effect of the manufacturing process while increasing the efficiency of the manufacturing process, making the company more profitable. After consulting Mr. Mokbel, the operations manager, Mr. Kraft decided that before the company could overhaul its manufacturing system, it could first establish a pilot plant. Kraft, Mokbel and Ms. Paula, the plant manager settled on the synthetic reaction system as the manufacturing process that could address all the problems that the company was experiencing. Consequently, a pilot plant using the synthetic reaction system was set up by Chamolia Corp, and Mr. Chambers was put in charge of the new plant, reporting directly to Kraft.
Mr. Chambers was to report to Kraft daily on the progress of the system, filing reports on the different parameters that were needed to determine the efficacy of the new system. The new pilot plant, in all appearance, worked optimally with peak output. There were no major problems reported on the synthetic reaction system and it seemed that the overhauled manufacturing system will use the synthetic reaction system. However, after around two months, an accident occurred in the pilot plant leading to the destruction of the pilot plant. A fire broke out during peak running of the plant leading to the destruction of the plant. Fortunately, no employee was seriously injured in the two pm blaze, and the cause of the fire is not very clear with employees present in the factory giving conflicting reports about the origin and cause of the fire. From the varied accounts of the fire collected from the employees, it appears the blaze originated from the core of machine before quickly spreading due to the flammable raw materials used in the manufacturing process. Following the fire, there was need to conduct an investigation to determine the likely cause of the fire and the suitability of the synthetic reaction system for adoption and use in the manufacturing process of the company.
When Kraft was requested to produce the daily progress reports filed by Mr. Chambers, he claimed that the daily progress reports had been used to make weekly progress reports and then destroyed. Data for the last three days leading to the accident is missing and Kraft claims that a weekly reporting schedule has been used instead of the daily schedule earlier anticipated. Chambers claims that the notes he had made for the weekly report has been destroyed by the fire, hence cannot be used for the investigation. The weekly reports in the possession of Kraft show that the pilot plants had been experiencing operational problems that were interfering with the efficiency of the system. The reports show that the pilot plant was showing structural integrity problems in addition to unpredictable changes in system core temperature. The reports imply that the accident is a force majeure, and the management is not in any way culpable for the accident.
Ethical basis for action
The information obtained from Kraft raises a number of issues that have to be considered when making ethical decisions. It is surprising that the problems that are well articulated in the reports are unknown to the CEO, considering that Kraft and his team had not raised any red flags on the synthetic reaction system. This raises serious concerns about the accuracy and integrity of the data presented by Kraft. For the company to be compensated for the accident there should be no suspicion of negligence from the employees. Using the consequentialist approach to ethics, it can be argued that Kraft may have acted unethically, although he had the right motives – minimizing damage to himself as well as the company (Louise, 67)
Cognizant of the likely consequences, it
is possible that the top managers were motivated to deliberately tamper with
the testing data to insulate themselves from censure. In addition, if the
report presented by Kraft is true, he is culpable for negligence, which may
have led to fatalities, for not acting on the observed weaknesses. Therefore,
Kraft and Chambers should be immediately suspended from the company to
facilitate a full and impartial investigation into the accident. It will be
unethical to summarily dismiss them because it is not certain that they
falsified the data. Using motive consequentialism, it is prudent to determine
the motives of the employees acts before determining whether they actions were
right or wrong (Hooker, 115). In addition, staff at the pilot plant should be
interviewed thoroughly to get a balanced picture of what might have happened.
The staff at the plant should only be punished, if after the investigation,
they are found to be culpable for the accident.
Hooker, Brad. Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2000). Print.
Louise, Jennie . “Right Motive, Wrong Action: Direct Consequentialism and Evaluative Conflict.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 9.1, 65-85. (2006). Print.
Secker, Barbara. “The Appearance of Kant’s Deontology in Contemporary Kantianism: Concepts of Patient Autonomy in Bioethics.” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 24.1, 43-66. (1999). Print.