Morality as a feature of the corporate world is judged on the basis of Kantian philosophy that describes moral actions on the basis of their impacts of human dignity rather than their consequences. According to a study conducted by Arnold and Bowie, Kantian philosophy describes human dignity in the work place as comprising of adherence to local labor laws, refraining from employee coercion, compliance with minimum safety standards and provision of living wages (222). As such, a business such as the sweatshops can only be argued to be moral in its operation if these conditions are satisfied.
The consideration of human dignity in terms of basic demands placed on the sweatshops brings the impression that morality in corporate entities can and should not be examined on the basis of consequences. As Arnold and Bowie explain, employees in the work place could settle for less humane conditions due to lack of other alternatives. However, the employers should aim at treating the employees not as a means of gain but as an end in itself (222). The employee value should be considered above the price as other means of production are. Instead, the human dignity is the key measure of employee value and thus the major indicator of corporate morality.
In corporate holdings in which human dignity is accorded the requisite value, freedom comes as an inevitable consequence. Freedom in the work place as in any other situation has the impact of enhancing moral decision making as well as productivity. In the report by Arnold and Bowie, the authors posit that freedom based on Kantian philosophy of morality ensures that people work within the constraints of categorical imperative (226). This implies that each and every individual in a free work environment has the capacity to make their own moral decisions based on the assigned roles and obligations. As such, the role of free choice in a contemporary work environment would be considered as guiding individuals towards accomplishment on their pre-assigned duties based on the unique circumstances within which they find themselves. This raises the need to understand then what role exploitation and manipulation plays in ensuring people perform optimally.
Manipulation in the work place may take various forms, many of which are designed to convince others, more so coercively to engage in certain activities due to the perceived benefits or perceived implications of not engaging in them. A most informative exemplification of this kind of manipulation is observable in the film ‘Up in the Air.’ In all cases, organizations aim at finding ways through which their profitability can be improved by enhancing relationships. Some organizations may choose to manipulate employees through the value placed on such activities. This however should not be worrisome to employees or even to any potential employees who may consider themselves unable to effectively engage in all organizational demands. In most cases, individuals who compete against such manipulative meanings end up realizing the vanity of their efforts and give up. For instance in the movie, Ryan Bingham pushes against United Airlines’ definition of loyalty which implies that one has to fly 1000 miles. In the end, he realizes that while striving to achieve this goal, he has lost out on other aspects of his life and eventually gives up all his aspirations in the company to become more of himself. Similarly, Hertz tries to cultivate a sense of belonging through engagement of employees such as Ryan and Natalie in decision making. While this does not add any extra bonus to their remuneration, the employees are manipulated into feeling more involved. The impacts of manipulation in this context may be considered similar to those that may be attributed to exploitation.
Exploited employees often fail to be compensated for the efforts they go through. For instance, Maitland describes potential exploitation in the sweatshops based on accusations of poor pay, use of child labor and disregard for human rights violations (597). Exploitation not only hampers individual growth among employees but can also result in the loss of organizational productivity where there are other alternative sources of income. Maitland and the movie ‘Up in the Air’ present two perspectives to the consideration of exploitation in the corporate scene. In Maitland’s depiction of sweatshops, the satisfaction and desire to keep jobs is based on the fact that the companies pay their employees above the normal wages in their host countries (Maitland 603). While this is understandable, critics argue that this is based on ignorance since the same companies pay higher wages in other countries. The arguments of the critics notwithstanding, the fact that companies comply with the basic principles of human dignity based on Kantian philosophy is an indication of the absence of exploitation. On the other hand, the movie creates an impression that people desire to remain in their jobs due to the difficulty of getting another one. As exemplified by the woman who commits suicide after firing, it is clear that the movie society is structured such that getting another job after being fired is extremely difficult. In such an environment, people desire to stay in their jobs in spite of exploitation hence their expressed desires are not an indication of the absence of exploitation. In the latter case, exploitation may be considered as the stepping stone to achievement rather than a hindrance of the same as postulated by Nietzsche.
Nietzsche asserts that the suffering of individuals should be morally accepted where such suffering liberates a greater number of people such as that of Zarathustra. This implies that in some cases, exploitation may be necessary to drive morality. Nietzsche’s argument is considered more reasonable than that presented by Rand that the argument against exploitation is based on human pursuit of their own self interest.
Arnold, Dennis and Norman Bowie. Sweatshops and respect for persons. Business Ethics Quarterly 13, 2(2003), 221- 242.
Maitland, Ian. Sweatshops and bribery: The great non-debate over international sweatshops. Ethical Issues in International Business, 1997, 597- 608.
Up in the Air. Directed by Jason Reitman, performances by George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Danny McBride, Paramount Pictures, 2009.
Nieztsche, Friedrich. Thus spoke Zarathustra translated by Hollingdale, R., Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961.