Topic: Business Ethics
The film, Lord of War, explores the rise and fall of Yuri Orlov from his emigration and early misbehaviors in the Brooklyn community locally named “Little Odessa” to the establishment of his arms-trading empire and ultimately to his downfall. The film examines Yuri’s relationships through the years with his younger brother, Vitaly, with his wife Ava, and his nuclear and extended family as well as his parallel business relationships in the illegal arms trade. The language embedded in the film is nearly consistent with the legal constructs of the US Uniform Commercial Code (Negotiable Instruments, Funds Transfers, Bills of Lading, etc.). Yet, for his business to function, Yuri must explore practices that range from the legitimate to the criminal though he tries to remain on the legal side of unethical transactions.
Yuri tells us that “without operations like [his] it would be impossible for certain countries to conduct a respectable war. [He is] able to navigate around those inconvenient little arms embargoes. There are three basic types of arms deal: white, being legal, black, being illegal, and my personal favorite color, gray. Sometimes [he] made the deal so convoluted, it was hard for [him] to work out if they were on the level.” This raises the question about the ethical layers of his business. Furthermore, Yuri notes that “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?” A point which asks us to reflect on whether every business that produces a profit is ethically viable.
Consider the question, then, whether every business model can be matched to ethical and responsible conduct. Is that so? Are there businesses that should not exist? Are there business partnerships that should not be developed? Is every tactic to make a profit ethically permissible and if not, what are the limits? Finally, should a business alter its ethical perspective based on the culture of the partnerships or maintain the ethic of its culture of origin? As an example of the last point, consider the range of corruption: many businesses are aware that “tips” can expedite trade and use them as “appropriate” costs of business; while others limit “tips” to non-government officials to avoid a semblance of bribery.
Using and discussing ethical, stakeholder and moral theory as well as readings for our class as needed, explore the ethical logic of these questions from your perspective.
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