Company Quagmires

Companies are sneaky. That’s what my ethics class has concluded. I am afraid that I have created a bunch of young cynics! I only meant to expose the obvious and to create a platform for discussion as a useful exercise. However, many of my students have developed a predisposition not to trust corporate America…or corporate anything. Perhaps I will spawn the watchdogs of tomorrow. Someone has to do it. Hence, an ethics class. It is meant to be more than just another subject in school.

This semester we talked about an assortment of topics including fair hiring practices, dumping and waste, false labeling, and price gouging. We ended with a lively debate about how many companies hide information from the law and consumers, manifesting itself in anything from misleading ads to having an entire Shredder Lab dedicated to shredding of vital audit documents. If only the shareholders knew the entire story! But we are no longer as shocked as we used to be at corporate wrongdoing. Greed drives business. But that is a poor role model and motto for today’s youth.

My kids want full expose. They are particularly outraged about the shredding because it is insidious and illegal. The real truth gets destroyed in a quagmire of unethical practices. Just the act of shredding alone implies guilt. It is no longer just a practical way to dispose of old documents and an easy method to carry old paper to the trash. There is a good reason for it in some circles.

What are they hiding? If it involves a product, it could be the formula for manufacturing. As a corporate secret, this would be fine to shred. We get it. If it involves breaking child labor laws, the illegal use of outlawed ingredients, or evidence of false advertising, it is clearly subterfuge. Of course, the powers that be hope no one finds out.

The kids find false advertising to be a particular bugaboo these days as it is rampant on the Internet. You get phony reviews and testimonials and faked scientific studies. All kinds of promises abound, and most won’t be fulfilled. How do you know what product to buy these days if it is all bogus? Well, as a teacher, I have to be careful here. Not everything is to be avoided or shunned. Most businesses, in fact, operate on moral principles. That is the good news. You just have to learn to read between the lines. Once your eyes have been opened, you start to realize what is true and pare away the false.

My kids feel that with their newfound education in ethics class, they are in the know and less likely to be duped. They can also be appropriately outraged in public. I want to teach them how to make their voices heard. Be leery and be wise. That is my message. And always apply ethical principles to your life.