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Is There a Moral Obligation for Companies to Give Back to Society?

Stephanie: As CEO, I call to order the special meeting of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company. All members please state your title and confirm presence.”
Nietzsche: “COO, present.”
Camus: “major shareholder, present.”
Sartre: “major shareholder, present”
Lord Henry: “CFO, present.”
Stephanie: “Thank you. Now lets begin. It has been brought to my attention that there are major safety issues regarding the new Ford Pinto. During design and production crash tests, it has been indicated that there is a significant defect in the gas tank. When the car crashes at a speed greater than 25 miles an hour, the gas tank almost always ruptures. If we want to correct this issue, however, that would require changing the design completely. According to our estimates, the defect would result in approximately ‘180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, and 2,100 burned vehicles each year. We calculated that we would have to pay $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, and $700 per vehicle, for a total of $49.5 million. However, the cost of saving lives and injuries runs even higher: alterations would cost $11 per car or truck, which adds up to $137 million per year.’ After making this discovery I thought it'd be best to call this board meeting to discuss how to proceed.”
The members of the Board found themselves stuck in a difficult position. They needed to decide if they should prioritize what was in the best interest for themselves, as a company, or for society as a whole.
Nietzsche: “This should not even be up for debate! It is our duty to put societies best interests above our own personal gain. If we do this, if we go forward giving in to our bad conscience, the conscience of sin, then we halt humanities progression.”
Lord Henry : “Now, now Nietzsche. Don’t be so close minded. There is nothing wrong with indulging in life and focusing on personal gain. In fact, ‘To be good is to be in harmony with one's self. Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One's own life – that is the important thing. As for the lives of one's neighbors, if one wishes to be a prig or a Puritan, one can flaunt one's moral views about them, but they are not one's concern. Besides, individualism has really the higher aim.’”
Stephanie: “Lord Henry, as much as I like to indulge in life, I have to say that is a bit too extreme.”
Nietzsche: “Our society is heading towards one that highlights a hedonistic outlook, and we cannot let that happen! Our biggest priority must be to advance the human race as a species.”
Camus: “Why must we work to better a hopeless people? No matter what we do as a people we will always ultimately lose in the game of life.”
Nietzsche: “If we do not have hope in the future than what is the point of anything? We are not all that man has to offer, but instead a stepping stone to the ubermensch who will transform the world for the better.”
Lord Henry: “We are not here to make the world better. Our job in life is not to air our moral prejudices, but is instead self development and self indulgence.”
Nietzsche: “If we prioritize our own personal gain over that of societies than we are not good, we are not superior. Too many people now are becoming hedonists We must put a stop to this, not aid the pandemic.”
Sartre: “Nietzsche, there is no defined good nor is there a defined evil. It is up to us to make our own moral code. There is nothing to tell us that one can only be good if they prioritize society, nor, Lord Henry, is there anything to say that to be good is to follow one’s own self interest. We have to choose what is right. There is no predetermined answer that we must follow. This is a conscious decision that we must make now.”
Lord Henry stands up and casually strides around the room.
Lord Henry: “It is as simple as this. We do not have the power to change and make ourselves better people. In fact, there is no importance in being better. People, money, objects, art- these are all just agents designed for our pleasure.”
Nietzsche slams his fist onto the table.
Nietzsche: Do you hear yourself? We are not just talking about numbers here, we are talking about actual human lives. People no different than you or me!”
Sartre: “There is no predetermined right and wrong. Both sides can always be argued as right so instead of focusing on our personal issues, we must focus on what is in the best interest of the company.”
Camus: “Sartre, I must disagree with you. We do not decide what is right and wrong. We do not get to ‘invent’ our own morals. There is a right way to be and a wrong way to be. The right way is to live a compassionate life, not a cruel one. If we can justify concisely sacrificing life for a monetary gain than we are working towards a life of nihilism and despair. This will only be the beginning. Before you know it… ”
Lord Henry: “Alright Camus I think we've heard enough. We are not here to listen to you or Nietzsche warn us about the ‘perils of a nihilistic society’. As the chief financial operator I must remind you that the costs of ‘doing the right thing’ simply outweigh the benefits”
Sartre: “Lord Henry is right. Can we afford that extra cost? And if so would it put a strain on the company’s financials?”
Stephanie: “While it would be a significant burden, it is doable.”
There was a moment of silence in the room as each of the members were processing that statistics.
Stephanie: “We need to be conscious of how our other shareholders will respond if we move forward with sacrificing their profit. While on a personal level I do not agree with what Lord Henry is saying regarding ‘good’ and ‘discord’, as CEO I must act in the best interest of the company and based off of the numbers I feel that he is right and it is best to continue production as is.”
Sartre: “As a major shareholder I feel as though I must say that all things considered, I understand and consent to the need to sacrifice profit. While I would like to maximize profit as much as possible, as would all of you here, there are times in which you must put aside superficial gain to do what is right.”
Lord Henry: “Sartre, while you may be okay risking your own money, you cannot speak for the other shareholders. We have a duty of loyalty to all of our shareholders, let me remind you, that states that we have a duty to act solely in the interests of the beneficiaries. How are we able to do that if we sacrifice their profit? They invested in our company to make money, not give it up. We are doing what is right by doing what is in the best interest of all of our shareholders.”
Sartre: “You have a point, Lord Henry. It is up to us to decide how to proceed. There is clear defined choice.While it is important to give to society, we have a duty to our shareholders that we cannot break.”
Stephanie: “I think it is time to vote. I motion to proceed manufacturing using the current designs. The costs just outweigh the benefits. I know it sounds harsh, but we must put our personal issues aside for the sake of the company’s best interest.”
Lord Henry: “I second that motion.”
Camus: “I understand where you are coming from and a part of me agrees, however I just don’t know if I can consciously sacrifice lives.”
Lord Henry: “even if we do not address this issue people will always die or be injured in accidents. There is nothing that we can do to eliminate that issue. So what if a few more problems occur, just think of all the more we can do as a company with that extra $87.5 million dollars a year!”
Nietzsche: “I oppose this motion.”
Camus: “I side with Nietzsche, this just doesn’t feel right.”
Stephanie: “Sartre, it looks like you’re the deciding vote, what will it be?
Sartre: I vote to proceed as is.
Stephanie: “alright, meeting adjourned.”
The meeting come to a conclusion and the Board members went on with their day. As more Ford Pintos were being produced there were only more reports of explosions. It was not long before customers began filing lawsuits against Ford Motor Company.
The Board of Directors gathered once more to discuss damage control. The five of them sit facing a screen that is running the latest news report.
“Exploding gas tanks killed and maimed hundreds and wrecked Ford's reputation ... On June 9, 1978, Ford agreed to recall 1.5 million Ford Pinto and ... the Pinto's performance in rear-end collisions led to shocking headlines …”
Stephanie picks up the remote and shuts the television off.
Sartre: “What were we thinking! We were too focused on the short term monetary benefit that we didn’t think about what would happen in the long run.”
Nietzsche: “I tried to tell you! We should not have prioritized ourselves. We have a duty to society to do what is right. We are here to better society, not take from it.”
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