Foxconn Ethical Issues
The primary ethical issue surrounding Foxconn is the purported exploitation of its workers – specifically, physical and emotional mistreatment, for profit maximization. To deliver ‘‘speed, quality, engineering services, flexibility, and cost-saving’’ (Foxconn, 2011) for its partners, Foxconn undertook reprehensible actions. It imposed excessive working hours, inconsistent and exploitative wage compensation, and inhumane management (Condliffe, 2018). These increased productivity at the expense of the wellbeing of employees – in extreme cases, multiple counts of suicide were reported (Merchant, 2017). This paper seeks to analyse Foxconn’s ethical dichotomy of prioritizing economic success over basic human rights and, also explore the ethical concerns behind corrective measures implemented to address their actions. Ethical Analysis:This paper will adopt two varying ethical systems: deontology and teleology, to assess the actions of Foxconn in a more objective and broad manner. Deontology relies on a sense of duty to act according to what is right, while teleology contends that the rightness of actions is based solely on consequences.Applying the Kantian Categorical Imperative (CI) under Deontology, the first formulation of the CI states “to act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (Johnson, 2016). The act here is the mistreatment of workers. Imposing it as a universal law would warrant that all individuals should be subject to physical and emotional abuse to maximize productivity at the workplace. Drawing on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, businesses should seek to prevent and mitigate detrimental human rights impacts directly associated with their operations (United Nations, 2011). Evidently, this international benchmark condemns the act of mistreatment, which then renders the act unethical as it lacks universality. Furthermore, the fact that Foxconn management is not also subject to such mistreatment corroborates the lack of universality of said act.
Utilitarianism, an iteration of teleology, can similarly be applied to assess the ethicality of mistreatment. The greater good, however, is subjective and difficult to quantify. This paper propounds using the Cost-Benefit Analysis on stakeholders to determine the consequences, before assessing the ethicality. Mistreatment to achieve cost-effectiveness and speed maximizes the profitability of Foxconn, thereby benefitting investors. Yet, mistreatment detriments a significantly larger population of individuals – the workers – in the form of physical and emotional distress, and employee suicides. Moreover, this implicates the family members of workers, thereby rendering mistreatment unethical as it detriments a larger group of stakeholders. Considering how mistreatment is deemed unethical from both a deontological and teleological perspective, it is then unequivocally unethical, and should be eradicated.Beyond mistreatment, it is also paramount to assess the corrective actions taken in response to public criticism over mistreatment. Should these actions fail to address the ethical concerns surrounding mistreatment, then no progress has been made. This paper propounds that such an assessment would influence future recommendations Foxconn can undertake to resolve the issue. Foxconn introduced “preventive measures” to lower the suicide rates, through anti-suicide pledges (Foreman, 2010) and installation of safety nets surrounding the factories (Young, 2011). From a utilitarian perspective, these measures seemingly resolve the unethicality, given that the prevention of suicides addresses the consequence of the ending of lives. However, Foxconn failed to address the root cause. The initiatives render no positive impact on its work environment, nor the physical and emotional wellbeing of their workers. Moreover, they fail to address the aforementioned infringement of human rights from a deontological perspective. Thus, while the overall detriment is now mitigated, failure to address the physical and emotional distress renders the initiatives insufficient in resolving the unethicality.