With more attention being given to how businesses run their operations regarding right and wrong, ethics has become an essential business function (Scharding 3). Many organizations have established business ethics to help maintain overall reputation, accountability, and employee welfare. Business ethics refers to the practice within an organization that determines what is right or wrong. According to Scharding, business ethics help organizations avoid engaging in illegal activity, such as bribery, discrimination, and insider trading. Its purpose is to ensure that a consistent moral attitude is maintained and that every person is treated with respect, honesty, and fairness. The paper examines the ethical dilemma involving Amazon and its workers, and this examination helps understand Amazon’s business ethics.
Description of the Ethical Dilemma
Amazon workers based at Bessemer warehouse in Alabama were focused on becoming the first unionized warehouse in the country. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), close to 6,000 workers had received mailed ballots, which they would use to vote whether to join the union or not. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) had earlier filed a petition with NLRB to be allowed to hold an election and was granted permission to do so (Miah n.p.).
Despite many workers considering joining the union, their employer, Amazon, is against this move. Amazon has, on numerous occasions, worked to stop the process of its workers being unionized. No organizing drive had culminated to an actual vote in the past, as Amazon ensured that I fought the drive in numerous ways. However, the recent drive by employees in its Bessemer warehouse presents a new challenge to the organization because more than 30% of workers have signed the cards, allowing for an election to determine whether they will become unionized or not (Miah n.p.). Amazon has ensured that attempts focused on unionizing its workforce are aggressively undermined.
For Amazon workers who are pro-unionization, the vote will help restore an equitable balance of power whereby they will be considered in the decision-making process. They believe that attaining this requires courage and patience, as Amazon has never allowed its workforce to be unionized before (Miah n.p.). Unionization will help these workers have better breaks for lunch and increase freedom in the company. The workers believe that as a company run by the world’s richest man and amasses hundreds of billions in revenue, it should not have oppressive control over its workers.
The ethical dilemma is whether Amazon should allow its workers in the Bessemer warehouse to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). For these workers, the primary reason for unionization is to be respected by the company. They feel they are not being treated like humans, as they are subjected to harsh working conditions (Miah n.p.). Therefore, Amazon is stuck whether to allow these workers to be unionized or to continue working to ensure that the unionization fails. The critical decisions to be made include allowing the unionization process to continue or stop, as the unionization will likely affect the company’s control over its workforce.
The Perspectives of Relevant Stakeholders
The major stakeholders in this ethical dilemma are Amazon and its workers. According to Amazon, joining a union by its workforce is unnecessary because the company has always provided an environment for its workers where harmony thrives. The perspective has been depicted by Amazon’s text messages to its workers regarding the need to abandon joining a union, as the company believes that working together with its workers has helped it become successful. Moreover, workers’ unions are divisive and will affect the company’s success (Miah n.p.). Amazon has worked to stop the process of unionization several times, which demonstrates its perspective on the issue. The company does not believe that unionization is the way forward for its workers.
Amazon’s workers hold a different perspective on the issue of unionization. For them, unionization will play a significant role in getting respect, as the company has failed to respect them. The workers claim that the company’s business model does not allow them to be respected, as they are subjected to inhumane working conditions in the form of being monitored and overworked.
Alternatives and Consequences
Various alternatives exist regarding ways Amazon can handle the ethical dilemma. First, the company can allow the workers to join the union. Supporting the workers’ call to be unionized will mean that Amazon will have reduced control over the workers, as the union will handle the workers’ affairs on their behalf. It means that in cases where the workers feel that their working conditions are unbearable, Amazon will be answerable to the union, which has always not been the case. Also, supporting the call for unionization will be associated with more empowered workers who better understand their rights. The company will be forced to operate to high standards of fairness and honesty, which may be associated with CSR benefits. Many people will have a changed perspective of the company regarding its employees. Also, supporting the workers’ calls for unionization will lead to more sense of empowerment, solidarity, and collective self-esteem, which are associated with improved productivity.
Conversely, Amazon can decide to continue opposing the workers’ move to be unionized. Opposing the move will be associated with strained relations with its workforce, as this will push the company’s agenda of continuing to treat its workers disrespectfully. Also, opposing unionization will daunt its public image by portraying Amazon as an organization that exposes its workforce to inhumane working conditions. According to Bowie (52), the company will be considered to use its stakeholders as ends rather than means. Therefore, Amazon must weigh the two options to determine the best.
Ethical Theories/Prescriptive Approaches/Frameworks that Apply to the Situation
Organizations employ ethical frameworks/ theories/approaches to help them prioritize their ethics. Ethical frameworks play a significant role in an organization’s choices and actions. In this case, evaluating the alternative of supporting the workers’ call for unionization can involve virtue ethics as an ethical framework. It plays a vital role in helping organizations build relationships with their employees, stakeholders, customers, and the community through personal virtues, such as discipline, honesty, integrity, and empathy (Hartman 12). The application of virtue ethics in the ethical dilemma will involve relying on empathy to assess the working conditions of the employees. Amazon will empathize with its workers’ situation, such as the high rate of serious injuries, reprimanding of workers, and some workers peeing in bottles. The application of virtue ethics will involve empathizing with these workers’ situations and supporting their call for unionization to help build relationships with them.
The Utilitarian approach can also be applied to evaluate the company’s alternatives. In applying this approach, Amazon’s decision to support the workers’ call to unionize or not depends on the most significant amount of good associated with each option (Gustafson 327). The company should focus on the option that produces the most significant amount of good for the largest number of workers. In this situation, the company’s decision to support the unionization of the workers will be characterized by satisfaction, increased productivity, and higher profits. However, if it decides to fight the workers’ call for unionization, relations between it and its workforce will likely be strained, and there will be reduced productivity. Therefore, based on the Utilitarian approach, the most outstanding amount of good associated with the most significant number of people supports the workers’ call for unionization.
A Possible Solution
A possible solution to the ethical dilemma that Amazon faces is supporting its workers at the warehouse to unionize, as this will be key in improving relations between it and these workers. Moreover, it will demonstrate the organization’s commitment to improving the working conditions of its employees. Today, many consumers are becoming aware of companies’ working and environmental conditions worldwide. Therefore, information about the working conditions of Amazon’s workers is likely to have a significant impact on its profits if no necessary action is taken, as many customers will avoid it due to the poor working conditions it exposes its workers. Many customers demand transparency into the company’s supply chains to determine whether the company engages in ethical violations. By supporting its workers’ call to unionize, Amazon will demonstrate that it is committed to addressing the working conditions of its employees.
Bowie, Norman E. Business Ethics in the 21st Century. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013.
Gustafson, Andrew. “In defense of a utilitarian business ethic.” Business and Society Review 118.3 (2013): 325-360. https://doi.org/10.1111/basr.12013
Hartman, Edwin. Virtue in Business: Conversations with Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Miah, Malik. “United States: Amazon workers fight for a union, dignity.” Green Left, 2021, https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/united-states-amazon-workers-fight-union-dignity
Scharding, Tobey. This Is Business Ethics: An Introduction. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley/Blackwell, 2018.