Ethical Dilemma of Legal Business vs. Employee Safety

To determine if there is an ethical problem related to Chiquita’s case, it is necessary to define what an ethical problem in management consists of. There is a wide variety of definitions, yet most of them imply that an ethical issue should contain one main component. The above-mentioned aspect refers to a conflict of two mutually exclusive choices, both of which may be considered morally appropriate. In Chiquita’s case the decision is made between conducting the business legally without supporting a terrorist organization through payments and ensuring safety to the company’s employees. Both of the mentioned decisions may appear to be morally appropriate and pursue a noble cause. However, it is impossible to fulfill both decisions, which makes them mutually exclusive. As the Chiquita’s problem corresponds to all components of the definition, it may be determined as an ethical issue in business management.

Stakeholder Harms and Benefits

Chiquita’s case represents a significantly complicated ethical dilemma, as it involves governmental issues of foreign country and human lives are at stake. It is impossible for Chiquita to change the political climate of Columbia and legally remove Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Another proof of the divisiveness of the problem is that the company was not instantly prosecuted for conducting illegal payments to a terrorist organization. The issue was acknowledged to be extremely controversial and ambiguous and it was discussed at the highest political levels.

As the issue is relatively global it affects a vast amount of stakeholders. From a certain point of view the entire Colombian society and even humanity as a whole may be considered a stakeholder. The reasoning behind that is the issue involving financial support for AUC, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization and represents a threat on international levels. Therefore, the ethical dilemma makes the global community and Columbian people particularly its stakeholders, representing possible harm to their safety.

The problem also addresses more obvious and heavily involved stakeholders. Such stakeholders include company owners, senior management and ordinary employees. Company owners and top officials of the company are relatively threatened by both options of the dilemma. Even though they provide safety, the constant payments to AUC cause significant costs and reduce revenue. The other aspect of the issue implies that the senior management, which is directly connected to decision-making and payment approval, may be punished in accordance with the law. The ordinary employees may be extremely influenced by the issue as their safety and even lives depend on the decision.

Another controversial, yet important stakeholder is the AUC itself. Even though, it was acknowledged to be a terrorist organization and shall be punished by the law, is impossible to deny that AUC is one of the most significant driving forces in the case. As much as it is possible to strongly disapprove their methods and goals, it is crucial to take their potential harms and benefits into consideration. The AUC may be dramatically affected by the decision to interrupt payments, which may be the main reason the above-mentioned ethical dilemma exists.

The US government and the US legal forces may also be considered to be stakeholders. As AUC was designated as a terrorist organization, legal punishment should be applied to Chiquita for several reasons. In this case the judicial system itself faces another ethical issue, as by the law Chiquita’s management must be punished, yet given the circumstances they may be considered to be the victim.

Possible Decision

As I already mentioned, the ethical issue related to Chiquita is extremely controversial and difficult to be solved with minimum negative impact. Various solutions to the case represent diverse combinations of long-term and short-term consequences, which make it harder to evaluate the less harmful approach. Even though it may have a list of undesirable effects, my decision would be to procced with the payments in order to provide safety to company’s workers. Financial support of AUC should be aborted for multiple reasons besides being illegal. However, the problems related to the issue may be considered long-term and may be potentially resolved in the future, whereas the decision to stop the payments may have instant irreversible consequences. In addition, it also corresponds with my personal life principles, which imply that legal framework shall not be as important as an individual’s life and the case refers to multiple individuals at once.

Principles and Values in Conflict

As already mentioned before, there are two main ‘Rights’ involved in the Chiquita’s ethical dilemma. The first value or principle is related to the compliance of conducted actions with the law and the second is closely linked with the issue of safety of employees. Another conflict is between the relatively individual interests and the community. The reason behind that is the fact that on one hand the decision maker or a group of managers may be legally punished if they proceed with the payments towards the AUC. On the other hand, employees may take even higher risks in case of the opposite decision. Therefore, the senior manager should evaluate if the individual interests are more or less significant than the community. There also is a conflict between short-term and long-term consequences. Even though the decision I approve may prevent instant negative effects and grant safety to the workers, financial support of AUC my lead to unpredictable, yet considerable long-term results.

Despite the fact that the case is controversial and complexly structured there are only two relevant alternatives with possible insignificant modifications of them. The first option is the one I personally prefer for reasons mentioned above. The main possible alternative is to stop any financial flow towards AUC in accordance with recommendations of Department of Justice (DOJ). Even though, I believe there are only two rational decisions in this case, there may also be other alternatives, which could be taken into consideration. One of these alternatives is to conduct negotiation with AUC. Nevertheless, it may contain unacceptably high risks and low probability of success. Another alternative is a modification of the first option, which implies continuing the payments without notifying DOJ. Such decision however may cause even more serious legislative implications and may be not worth the risk. Chiquita’s management could also attempt to accelerate the process of transition of ownership to the Columbian company. It may be the only rational way to avoid the ethical dilemma, yet the Columbian partners may refuse to move the purchase date. Even though it may not provide reliable results, the alternative is worth trying.

Short-term and Long-term Harms and Benefits

The issues that the Chiquita’s management is facing may be considered to be extremely hard or even impossible to benefit from. As already mentioned the best possible option may be to avoid the ethical dilemma by delegating the decision-making process and associated responsibilities to another company. Therefore, the possible benefits may be represented by minimizing the harms. My decision is mostly focused on short term harms and benefits, yet if we consider the long-term effects too, both alternatives are depressing and it is needed to choose the lesser of two evils.

Decision: proceed with payments Decision: interrupt the payments
Stakeholder Harms Benefits Harms Benefits
Ordinary workers May lose jobs if the company is closed by the government Are granted safety. Lives may be at risk Working under legal conditions, may gain salary increase
Senior management/ owners May be punished for illegal actions Decrease the risks of harm towards employees May cause corporative safety issues May generate more revenue
American/ Columbian governments and legal forces + global community Terrorist organization maintains its positions Columbian citizens are granted short-term safety May threaten citizens Law is not violated, AUC gets less resources
AUC May cause significant government opposition Gains financial resources Loses financial support

Final Decision and Tests

There are several reasons, which prevent me from changing my initial decision in the process of case analysis. First, I already conducted a brief analysis before choosing the option and further investigation did not uncover any specific harms or benefits, which may induce me to the opposite decision. Second, I believe that short-term consequences may be considerably more important than the long-term effects. The main reason behind that is the fact that there may be more resources and time to influence long-term consequences and minimize harms with further decisions and actions. In the case particularly short-term harms involve threat to lives of the employees, which makes them even more important. Even though my decision may also threaten lives in long-term perspective as it implies financing terrorist organization, it is crucial to prevent immediate harms first. Finally, case investigation led to development of several alternative solutions of the issue, yet potential harms make them irrelevant or unreliable.

The case and the alternative solutions are extremely controversial, and complicated. A wide variety of aspects should be taken into consideration and diverse groups of the society may evaluate the decision differently. However, I strongly believe that it is possible to justify the chosen option publically. That may be supported by the general belief that human lives may be significantly more important than law obedience. Moreover, preventing short-term harms as a priority does not completely exclude opportunities to influence longstanding consequences.

Role reversibility also corresponds with the decision, as it is fair to most groups at stake. The ordinary workers would probably value their safety over following legal norms. The government may not support the solution, yet it may not totally disagree with it, as the case is ambiguous and took considerable time for DOJ to develop measures. Even the AUC, which is acknowledged to be a terrorist organization, would probably agree with the decision. The last statement reveals the main reason why the decision may not flawlessly pass the ‘Mirror’ test. The option implies cooperation with terrorist organization, which may conflict with moral values of the decision-maker. However, AUC actions may easily appear as robbery with intimidation and I doubt a victim may be accused of ‘cooperation’ with the criminal. Lastly, I believe, that the case solvation may be used for future similar cases as the same principles were used throughout the history. Human life is the highest value and any actions preventing threats towards an individual may be justified.

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BusinessEssay. "Ethical Dilemma of Legal Business vs. Employee Safety." October 24, 2022.