Ethics in Business
From a business perspective, working under government contracts can be a very lucrative proposition. In general, a stream of orders keep coming in, revenue increases and the company grows in the aggregate. The obvious downfalls to working in this manner is both higher quality expected as well as the extensive research and documentation required for government contracts. If a part fails to perform correctly it can cause minor glitches as well as problems that can carry serious repercussions, such as in the National Semiconductor case. When both the culpable component and company are found, the question arises of how extensive these repercussions should be.
Is the company as an entity liable or do you look into individual employees within that company? From an ethical perspective one would have to look at the mitigating factors of both the employees and their superiors along with the role of others in the failure of these components. Next you would have to analyze the final ruling from a corporate perspective and then we must examine the macro issue of corporate responsibility in order to attempt to find a resolution for cases like these.
The first mitigating factor involved in the National Semiconductor case is the uncertainty, on the part of the employees, on the duties that they were assigned. It is plausible that during the testing procedure, an employee couldnt distinguish which parts they were to test under government standards and commercial standards. In some cases they might have even been misinformed on the final consumers of the products that they tested. In fact, ignorance on the part of the employees would fully excuse them from any moral responsibility for any damage that may result from their work.
Whether it is decided that an employees is fully excused, or is given some moral responsibility, would have to be looked at on an individual basis.
The second mitigating factor is the duress or threats that an employee might suffer if they do not follow through with their assignment. After the bogus testing was completed in the National Semiconductor labs, the documentation department also had to falsify documents stating that the parts had surpassed the governmental testing standards. From a legal and ethical standpoint, both the testers and the writers of the reports were merely acting as agents on direct orders from a superior. This was also the case when the plant in Singapore refused to falsify the documents and were later falsified by the employees at the have California plant before being submitted to the approval committees (Velazquez, 53). The writers of the reports were well aware of the situation yet they acted in this manner on the instruction of a supervisor.
Acting in an ethical manner becomes a secondary priority in this type of environment. As stated by Alan Reder, . . . if they the employees feel they will suffer retribution, if they report a problem, they arent too likely to open their mouths. (113).
The workers knew that if the reports were not falsified they would come under questioning and perhaps their employment would go into jeopardy. Although working under these conditions does not fully excuse an employees from moral fault, it does start the divulging process for determining the order of the chain of command of superiors and it helps to narrow down the person or department that issued the original request for the unethical acts.
The third mitigating factor is one that perhaps encompasses the majority of the employees in the National Semiconductor case. We have to balance the direct involvement that each employee had with the defective parts. Thus, it has to be made clear that many of the employees did not have a direct duty with the testing departments or with the parts that eventually failed. Even employees, or sub-contractors, that were directly involved with the production were not aware of the incompetence on the part of the testing department.
For example, the electrical engineer that designed the defective computer chip could act in good faith that it would be tested to ensure that it did indeed meet the required government endurance tests. Also, for the employees that handled the part after the testing .