Purdue University Global Business Discussion

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Topic: Ethical Dilemmas versus Ethical Lapses

Ethical lapses are often confused with ethical dilemmas! In application, these are two very different things. An ethical lapse is a failure to behave in an ethical way in some specific situation, while an ethical dilemma is a situation in which no good ethical choice or decision is possible. Consider the two following global management situations:

  1. Philip Thomas, a British manager makes a visit to a subsidiary in Nambodia, a developing nation, and finds that a local manager has hired a 10-year-old boy as a factory worker. This violates the company’s corporate policy regarding child labor. Thomas instructs the Nambodian manager to remove the child from the factory, but the local manager tells Thomas that the child is orphaned, has no income or family and would likely end up homeless without the factory job. What should Thomas do?
  2. On the same subsidiary visit, British executive Philip Thomas finds that his manufacturing plant in Nambodia, a developing nation, is discharging chemicals into the local river in excess of what U.S. laws would permit. It is likely that such levels of toxic waste pose a potential health hazard but the capital investment required to correct the problem will result in the plant not achieving its profitability requirements for the next two years.

After considering these two different scenarios, discuss the following:

  • Which is a genuine ethical dilemma and which is an ethical lapse, and why?
  • It is frequently stated that “ethics rises above the law.” Explain this reasoning as it would apply to one of these scenarios.

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