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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

To Ship or Not to Ship

Clare Bartlett

Rachel works as a Quality Assurance Engineer at a large electronics company. She is responsible for the final testing of her company’s servers and is part of a team which decides when new products will be shipped to distributors for sale.

Rachel’s company has a contract with another company which makes the chips which are incorporated into the servers Rachel’s company makes. The business model for this product is to release a new generation server approximately every six months, meaning Rachel has a limited timeframe to conduct her Quality Control tests.

Because there is such a short amount of time between the release of each next new product, the Quality and Assurance department cannot perform every possible test on the servers to ensure they are defect free. Rachel will not ship a product if there is any possibility that the server could malfunction and cause physical harm to the customer. However, she will ship a product that has a higher likelihood of failure resulting in data loss for the customer, because she knows that if she doesn't, her company's competitor will.

Is this an ethical way to conduct business? How should she determine when to ship a product with known defects?

Clare Bartlett was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015