Current events never leave us with a shortage of new business ethics issues to wrestle with; and 2013 was no exception. Here are the 10 business ethics stories of 2013 that you need to know.
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1. NSA’s Surveillance Program (PRISM)
Without a doubt, the revelations of the NSA’s widespread surveillance network made the biggest waves this year. Among the troubling details that emerged was the participation of Google, Apple, and Facebook in the program.
Certainly impossible to separate from the PRISM program, but in addition to the privacy issues raised, Snowden’s actions also forced a reconsideration of what an organizational whistleblower is, and what role conscience plays in such matters.
3. Bangladesh Factory Collapse
The collapse of Rana Plaza, a multistory textile factory, in April last year is among the worst industrial disasters ever. In the fallout of the collapse, Western retailers faced a great deal of public pressure, and were forced to reevaluate their labor policies in Bangladesh.
4. The London Whale
The London Whale trading debacle of 2012 continued to play out in 2013, resulting in over $6 billion in loses and a slew of regulatory fines. Senate reports revealed widespread instances of JPMorgan traders hiding underperforming derivatives, exceeding risk limits, and the outright manipulation of investments.
5. Rise of the Activist Shareholder
Among the buzzwords thrown around this year, “activist shareholder” got around more than most. Procter and Gamble, Apple, Sony, and a handful of others found themselves in the line of fire. In their wake, a number of questions regarding fairness, fiduciary responsibility, and investor relations have emerged.
6. International Tax Loopholes
Certainly not a new issue, but with governments at all levels strapped for cash, the issue of tax avoidance is as important as ever. As always, firms have gotten amazingly efficient at exploiting loopholes, particularly those that emerge in the international arena. The question remains, are firms obligated to adhere to the “letter” or “spirit” of tax law?
7. Cyber Attacks
Despite being pushed out of the public consciousness by the NSA revelations, the number of cyber attacks aimed at U.S. firms reached troubling levels. Among the fallout of these attacks is the issue of how companies ought to respond to a security breached. Many chose to sweep it under the rug, but there has been a growing trend toward transparency.
8. Twitter IPO and Gender Diversity
In light of Facebook’s IPO, Twitter seemed to do everything right; that is, everything except having a gender balanced leadership team. At the time of filing, Twitter had no women amongst its board, major investors, or its executives (save for Vijaya Gadde who was appointed 5 weeks before filing). The story grabbed headlines and brought the issue of female representation in startup and tech companies to the front page.
9. Culture Clash in Business Dealings in China
GlaxoSmithKline and JPMorgan raised eyebrows this year for its business practices in China (the former even facing criminal action). The Foreign Corrupt Policies Act forbids companies “from offering anything of value to foreign officials to gain improper advantages.” On the flip side, gift giving is a major part of business relationships in that part of the world, leaving U.S. firms with a thin line to walk.
10. ObamaCare and Corporate Conscience
ObamaCare is the most hotly contested piece of legislation in recent history. Among the many resulting storylines is the string of court cases in which small business owners claim that ObamaCare infringes on their “corporation’s religious conscience.” The issue still remains and is proving to be the next saga in the corporate personhood debate.
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