Ethical Dilemmas Associated with Corporate Bribery
Ethical Dilemmas Associated With Corporate Bribery ABSTRACT In today’s business world, bribery has become an everyday problem. Some people consider it to be a fair business tactic, others consider it to be an unethical act. This paper focuses on a particular bribery case and uses three different ethical theories, Utilitarianism, Kant, and virtue ethics to determine whether or not bribery is an ethical or unethical act. The Case A former partner of a prominent New Jersey law firm has been indicted on bribery charges in exchange for legislation and other favors intended to benefit the attorney’s land-developer clients.
Eric Wisler is charged with making regular payments to Democratic, New Jersey Senator Wayne Bryant totaling $192,000 from 2004 to 2006. Currently, Wisler faces a total of 37 counts of mail and wire fraud, as well as one count of offering a bribe. The stakeholders in this case involve a large scope of individuals and businesses. Eric Wisler, Wisler’s land developer clients, and Senator Bryant were the biggest stakeholders in this case. However, there certainly were many more affected by these illegal acts.
All other land-developers and stockholders were unknowing stakeholders. They were losing business as a direct result of not participating in bribery. Other stakeholders in this case were lawyers and clients in Wisler’s law firm. Some people may also argue that all lawyers in general were stakeholders. Due to the unlawful actions of one lawyer, all other lawyers lose a hint of credibility as a result of this case. The same can be said with politicians. As a result of one Senator’s criminal acts, people’s distrust of politicians builds. Utilitarian Consideration
Utilitarianism is considered a teleological theory, meaning that the rightness of actions is determined solely be the amount of good consequences they produce. According to utilitarianism, morality is about producing good consequences, not having good intentions. The utilitarian argument is broken down into two distinct groups, rule and act utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism looks at the consequences of each individual act and calculates utility each time the act is performed. In order to determine if an act is ethical, the action must produce more hedons than dolors.
In the case of Eric Wisler, the consequences do not demand that the rule should be broken. Before the scandal was uncovered by authorities, Wisler, Wisler’s land-developer clients, and Senator Bryant would have been identified as hedons. As a lawyer, Wisler was fulfilling his obligations to his land-developer clients, although illegally, by obtaining legislation to support their cause. Wisler’s land-developer clients would also be considered hedons in the scandal before it was revealed. The bribes were made in exchange for legislation and other favors intended to benefit this group of people.
Lastly, Senator Bryant would have been recognized as a hedon. Over a two-year period, Bryant was able to accumulate $192,000 simply for influencing legislation. After this scandal was uncovered, all of these players were quickly categorized as dolors. The dolors in this case were other land-developers who were not clients of Wisler, Wisler’s law firm, businesses in the area, and politicians. Unfortunately, due to Wisler’s bribery other land developers who were not clients of his lost business. During 2004 and 2006, during Wisler and Senator Bryant’s arrangement, Wisler was a partner at DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole.
Although the firm was not aware of the illegal activities, the practice has lost its credibility, causing them to lose a great deal of clients. Other businesses in the area are also potential dolors in this case. Some local businesses were hurt by the legislation passed by Senator Bryant and as a result, have not been as successful. Lastly, on a much broader scope, politicians in general can be considered dolors. Citizens have been known to be untrusting of politicians. This scandal gives people another reason be suspicious of them. When this case is analyzed before authorities uncovered it, there is a split between hedons and dolors.
However, when it is studied after the scandal is revealed, it is hard to find any hedons in the case. The harm done as a direct result of the bribery, provides many dolors and very few, if any, hedons. In addition, the dolors in this case are greatly affected. Wisler faces jail time, Senator Bryant is currently serving a jail sentence due to accepting bribes, and the land-developers who were not clients of Wisler had lost business as a result of the bribery. An alternative to the situation would have been for Wisler to never offer bribes to Senator Bryant. When tilitarian calculus is performed on this situation, many more hedons emerge. Wisler would not be facing criminal charges, Senator Bryant would not be serving jail time for the bribes accepted from Wisler, and the land-developers who were not clients of Wisler would not be put at a disadvantage and would not lose business. The land-developer clients of Wisler are the only group of people who may be considered dolors if the bribery had never taken place. As a direct result of the bribery, they had legislation passed in their favor and gained business over the competition.
After looking at both situations, Wisler should have chosen not to offer Senator Bryant bribes. When the utilitarian calculus was done on the current situation, where bribes were offered and they were caught, the amount of dolors far outweigh the number of hedons. However, when looking at the available alternative to not participate in the bribes, there are many more hedons produced. In conclusion, act utilitarians would consider Wisler’s actions unethical. Rule utilitarianism looks at the consequences of having everyone follow a particular rule and calculates the overall utility of accepting or rejecting the rule.
No one could approve a general rule that allows companies to use bribery to help further their agenda. The consequences of such a rule would be highly negative and would create a barrier to entry in the market because companies starting out would not have the funds to use bribery and would therefore not earn business. Act and rule utilitarians do not always agree with one another. Rule utilitarians claim that act utilitarianism can justify disobeying important moral rules and violating individual rights. In addition, act utilitarians take too much time calculating in each and every case.
On the other hand, act utilitarians argue that by following a rule in a particular situation when the overall utility demands that we violate the rule is just rule-worship. In conclusion, act utilitarians believe that if the consequences demand it, the rule should be violated. Although, these two sides have their disputes, in the Wisler case, rule and act utilitarians are in agreement that bribery is unethical. Kantian Consideration The Kantian theory is deontological, meaning that people have a duty to perform certain acts not because of some benefit to themselves or others, ut because of the nature of these actions or the rules from which they follow. According to Kant’s views, moral obligation has nothing to do with consequences, but the motives of the person who carries out the action. In order to determine whether an action is ethical or unethical according to Kant three criteria should be analyzed, reversibility, universalizability, and respect/free consent. The first criterion for deciding if an action is ethical is the categorical imperative of reversibility. Reversibility means that if the situation were reversed, the person would be willing to be treated the same way.
In the case of Eric Wisler bribing Senator Bryant in exchange for legislation and other favors for his land-developer clients, reversibility could certainly be used to show that this was an unethical decision. If Wisler’s land-developer clients put themselves in the reverse situation, they would not like losing potential clients to companies who were bribing officials to earn business. As a result, due to the categorical imperative of reversibility, corporate bribery is unethical. Universalizability is a second categorical imperative used to determining moral right and wrong.
According to universalizability, if an act is deemed acceptable for one person, it is must be acceptable for all other relevantly similar persons in relevantly similar circumstances. In other words, universalizability enforces the belief that people must be consistent in the judgments they make. In regards to the case described above, the principle of universalizability would argue that it was an unethical decision simply because, I can’t imagine a world in which all business transactions were based on which company is offering the most enticing bribe.
Lastly, according to Kantian arguments corporate bribery is unethical because it does not create a fair playing field. The companies that are not participating in bribery are not being treated with respect. Furthermore, these companies have not given consent to bribery. Therefore there is no moral right to engage in bribery. Instead people have a moral right to conduct business free from bribery, which creates the moral duty not to engage in these actions. According to every aspect of Kant, corporate bribery is unethical.
The principle of reversibility proves that people participating in bribery would not want to reverse the situation and be put at a disadvantage. In regards to the principle of universalizability, there cannot be a world in which business transactions are based on which company is offering the most enticing briber. Lastly, people are disrespected by bribery and certainly do not provide consent to be financially hurt as a result of competitors participating in bribery. According to Kant, people must be treated as ends not means, unfortunately this is not the case when bribery is involved.
Virtue Ethics While Utilitarianism and Kant deal with the rightness and wrongness of actions, virtue ethics focuses on what kind of person should an individual be. The concept of the “golden mean” applies to virtue ethics. This concept involves choosing the middle ground between two extremes. A person who engages in bribery can be described as a cheater or as someone who does not play by the rules. These are vices, not virtues, Wisler possesses when it relates to his actions with Senator Bryant.
Exemplifying these vices are not becoming of an upstanding individual, therefore, corporate bribery is unethical. Virtue ethics focuses on what kind of person an individual should be. It is easy to determine that according to this theory, bribery would be considered unethical. Conclusion Unfortunately, in today’s society bribery has become a common practice in the business world. In nearly every case, more dolors than hedons are created. According to all three theories analyzed in this paper, Utilitarianism, Kant, and Virtue ethics, corporate bribery is unethical.