Are companies accountable when consumers misuse their products?

The concept of corporate ethical responsibility has expanded significantly in recent decades. Ethics professor Charles Dirksen gave a theoretical analysis of this topic in his speech at the Conference of the Association for Business and Organizational Ethics on June 13, 2006. Katie Tillman Buck, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs and Ethics at Affymetrix, followed Velásquez to describe how her company (a leading supplier of genetic diagnostic research equipment) fulfills its corporate ethical responsibilities. Velasquez said that moral responsibility can be interpreted in two ways: duty or obligation; or in terms of guilt. Our concept of moral responsibility in law and daily life is very simple, Velázquez explained. In the following case, a person, agent or party is morally responsible for the harm,

1) causes the harm,

2) knows what he is doing, and

3) can avoid the harm.

Expanded explanation

This concept also applies to companies. Traditionally, as long as the company has the same three factors, the company takes moral responsibility for the damage it causes; however, the idea of moral responsibility has been expanding over the years. In the second half of the 20th century, “a company was responsible for the harm that its users caused to themselves” he said. As long as the company knows, or should know, and can avoid this situation, the company is considered morally responsible. This interpretation is further expanded under the concept of strict liability.

The company is now also responsible for the harm that users cause to themselves, even if the company can’t stop it, Velasquez said. In recent years, the scope of corporate ethical responsibility has even expanded to upstream (suppliers) and downstream (end users). In the past 20 years or so, some companies have been held morally responsible, not legal, but in the eyes of the public, they are morally responsible for damages caused by suppliers to certain third parties, he added. Companies in clothing, toy manufacturing, electronic product assembly, and other industries are seen as a supplement to supplier abuse of workers, even though they are not directly involved.

Many people now try to avoid this situation by conducting on-site inspections. In the past two decades or so, subsequent responsibilities have also expanded. These companies are morally responsible for the harm they did not cause to others. Their products are not defective, but one of their customers caused harm to a third party by using one of their products, he said. When you think about it, its weird because its very different from the first concept of moral responsibility we started, where one party is morally responsible for the harm they deliberately caused to another person and is able to stop it. This is a concept. The widespread moral responsibility that is being used today, he said.

 

The second problem is usually solved by following up who purchased the product before hand (for example, by checking the background of potential gun buyers) or by using public relations staff and lawyers afterwards. But as one participant at the BOEP conference pointed out, many companies do not want to answer the first question because they are afraid of getting an answer. By asking this question, they are responsible for monitoring the use of their products

Corporate ethical responsibility and product use or misuse.

This reluctance is not the case at Affymetrix in Santa Clara, California. In the wider community and in the genetic community, people are aware that genetic information is powerful Barker admitted. For example, Affymetrix technology can store 6.5 million discrete pieces of genetic information on a single chip. It can be used for many great things, and possibly for some bad things. According to Buck, Affymetrix understands that it is in the company’s best interest to explore the ethics of how its chips are used. Our attention to these ethical responsibility issues, taking these ethical issues into account, fits very well with our business goals, Buck explained. We are in an incomplete stage. Participating in things that make people feel bad is not good for us, and it is not good for the technologies ability to solve all the markets we want to enter.

The company has taken a proactive approach to these issues. Method, an ethics advisory committee was established to solve ethics and ethical issues. The committee consists of seven external participants with different backgrounds, including law, anthropology, genetics, bioethics, and sociology. They provide independent, non-corporate views on issues. They are very different. In fact, we chose them not because they would not get along, but because they would not agree. Our goal in these meetings is to put everything on the table, he added. The committee meets four times a year. We always have two or three executives in our room, as well as selected people from the entire organization, Buck said. In the past five years, his goal has been to embed the idea that ethics is important and that the committee is open to people throughout the organization into the corporate culture. The discussions in the meeting vary. Most of what we talk about on the Ethics Advisory Committee is completely hypothetical. Over time, it has become less and less hypothetical. But It is now becoming more and more realistic, he said. But we are really trying to surpass ourselves. One of the topics discussed by the committee is newborn screening-the practice of automatically screening newborns for existing diseases and conditions before they leave the hospital. Although Affymetrix products are not currently used for newborn screening, they may be used, which is why the committee addresses issues such as informed consent, genetic privacy, sample storage, and the need for federal regulations. (Putting ethics into practice) The committee also studied less hypothetical situations. In addition to late-onset diseases, it also includes several other treatable and refractory diseases, and there is no indication of when the test will be performed. The proposal also indicates that the company intends to sell Palestinian chips and even Swedish chips. The red flags generated by the project—possible geopolitical influences and suspicious genetics, etc.—are related to Affymetrix. In addition, Affymetrix determined that the company is more like a marketing company than a genetic testing company, so they refused to participate in the project.

That was not the first thing we went out, so we passed it, Buck said. The continuous emergence of new markets for genetic technology is causing new problems every day. This is a new industry. This is new research that people are doing, Buck said. Not only participating in internal discussions about ethical responsibility, but also participating in national discussions, understanding what is happening and weighing specific things about the type of data we are generating is also a way to help shape morale in the climate industry.

The bottom line

So this is a complete guide on if the companies are accountable when any of their consumers misuse their products!