After reading the Oil rig case, it is evident that the case presented an all too common example of violating sound ethical business behavior where humans are subjected to ill treatment, unsafe work condition, and total disregard for their welfare. In this paper, I will attempt to apply the Kantian Ethics principles to this case in order to determine what went wrong in this situation. Kantian ethics followers believe that motive is one of the most crucial elements to be analyzed when trying to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong in everyday situations.
According to Immanuel Kant, the founder of Kantian ethics, a moral action is one that is performed out of a sense of duty and which is based on a sense of knowing what one “ought” to do under certain circumstances; therefore, a morally acceptable action is one that is never motivated by reward. One of the fundamental beliefs of the Kantian Ethics is the need to protect the employees and consumers by advocating that profit is not an end in itself. The above mentioned belief emphasizes the fact that organizations should not engage in exploiting consumers and employees for the sole reason to make profits.
As such, and based on the Kantian Ethics guiding principles, the Stratton Oil Company is committing unethical acts against the African employees. The company engages in profit maximizing by exploiting the African laborers for long hours with poor living conditions, unsafe work environment, and mediocre evacuation plans. The Workers on this oil rigs, both on land and off-shore, are routinely exposed to health and safety hazards in an attempt to cut cost and maximize profits. The management team failed to implement a culture that fosters the employee’s best interests.
By putting a value on human dignity, the company has disdainfully treated its employees as a means to an end. The managing team regarded the risks associated with running this rig as acceptable which most definitely constitutes a major problem for Kant and his followers. Furthermore, Kant emphasizes that profits must be utilized to better the livelihood of all stakeholders to include but not limited to the shareholders, employees both African and Expatriates, the consumers they serve, and the environment they operate within.
In this case, the company did not invest in the well being of the many African laborers as compared to the few expatriates. The company is not willing to spend additional funds to provide helicopter rides to the local employees for example, and continues to allow for eighteen hour boat trips following long working days at sea. Also, due to poor budgeting decision, the company elected not to provide proper medical attention to the locals and allowed for extreme medical measures such as finger and limb amputation as compared to reconstruction surgery provided to the expats.
Obviously, the company recognizes the importance of preserving one’s body organs but chose to implement policies that guarantee a better quality of life for some and the worst for others. Kant’s second Categorical Imperative: (Humanity or End in Itself formulation) implies to “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end. would require safe working conditions, a decent wage for all people, and no discriminating treatment of foreign employees. The Stratton Oil Company has not behaved as law-making members of a kingdom of ends. Instead, they allowed a series of abuses in order to make a greater profit. Another aspect where this case fails the Kantian Ethics model is the fact that employees are also expected to work in a democratic manner where they are continuously contributing to all business decisions.
The Kingdom of Ends principle implies that employees not only have a right to whistle blow but in fact it is their duty to do so. Kantian theory instructs people to act in harmony with universally accepted rules. I believe that Kant would want an individual to stand firm in telling the truth, regardless of personal outcome. In our case, the Expats are violating an important Kantian Ethical principle by not reporting the unethical practices enforced by the company and encouraged by the expats themselves.
Turning a blind eye to such practices not only goes against the primary goal of the Kantian philosophy but also would violate the basic virtues of honesty and courage. The Expats are in fact looking the other way in fear of loosing their current luxurious status, and even worst fearing the possible retaliation from the company. Throughout his writings, Kant explained that a business organization should be regarded as a manifestation of a moral community which, in turns, emphasizes the need for employers to treat their employees with care and with the upmost respect.
Given the horrible living conditions provided to the African laborers as described in the given case, it is evident that the Stratton Oil Company had built the African oil rig site on total disregard to any sense of community. Such observation is based on the clear disparity between the mediocre living conditions provided to the African laborers as compared to the luxurious living quarters provided to the few expatriates. Generally speaking, the life of an oil rig worker is unique in several respects.
Workers spend few weeks at a time on the rig per stint and then transported back to land for about the same period off. Since the rigs are typically located hundreds of miles from the shore, it can be an isolating experience that some aren’t emotionally equipped to handle. The management team recognizes the need for a better social life since, undeniably, provided the luxurious setup for the expatriates on one side, and totally disregarded the need for similar social amenities for the African workers.
This case also brings to light an important ethical dilemma linking the business to the Environment. Of course, Kant would give the environment legal rights rather than moral rights (Paul Taylor’s point of view) which makes perfect sense when explaining the nature of the relationship between business and the environment. Businesses should always follow environmental law as this is something that can be universalized. In other words, I would think that Kant would urge the company to use the environment in moderation due to the Universalizability principle.
In our study case, some conscientious shareholders concerned with the environmental impact of these rigs have complained indicating the seriousness of the environmental violations currently practiced by the company. In conclusion, in this area of business ethics, it is obvious that the company is using the African labor market in an attempt to maximize profits from the use of cheap labor. I would argue that Kant would disagree with such practice: my first reason is that Kant said you cannot use the workers as a means to an end.
Furthermore, they should be treated equally to those expatriates’ workers from the western hemisphere. Several conditions must be satisfied in order to use the available foreign labor such as: i. Workers must freely choose to work with no added pressures from the local authorities, a common practice known all over the third world countries. ii. The work should be ‘meaningful’ and provide opportunities for all employees regardless of the country of origin. iii. All workers should be allowed to develop morally and physically. iv.
The salary must be fair among all the employees based on the working conditions and qualifications. v. Finally leisure activities of some sort should be equally offered to all employees. In other words, applying the duty and goodwill to this case, will solve the issue of foreign labor exploitation and help establish a morally responsible company with solid sustainable goals. However, it is worth nothing that it is impossible to totally apply this theory to business ethics given the nature of Kantian ethics which makes it unrealistic to create firms not be driven by profit but rather by duty.