Big Business and Morality
HOW can people be victimized even when big business stays within the law? Because the natural goal of business is to make profits. Many businessmen do not appear to view it as their job to make moral judgments about where the profits come from.
For example, test after test has demonstrated that many people suffer lethal consequences from tobacco smoking. Nevertheless, the big tobacco corporations continue to reap huge profits from producing and marketing their dangerous product. And they continue to advertise to encourage more people to take up the habit. Seemingly, the fact that it makes money is an unanswerable argument in their mind. And when the corporations do business with other countries, they can be even more heedless of the results of their actions.
Big business can victimize people in another way. In order to sell a product that no one really needs, some corporations spend a lot of money on advertising to create a need, to make people feel that this nonessential product is somehow a necessity. An example of this surfaced in recent years in the marketing of baby formulas—preparations for bottle-feeding young babies—in poor countries.
All experts agree that the perfect food for a newborn baby is its own mother’s milk. Nevertheless, big corporations have been accused of aggressively marketing baby formulas in poor lands so that mothers are persuaded that their babies will be healthier if they are fed on the formula. The result? Mothers spend scarce money on this usually nonessential product. Often they cannot understand the instructions and do not appreciate the need to sterilize the baby’s bottle. Hence, the baby may end up with malnutrition or diarrhea.
It is reported that one way used to promote the sale of infant formulas was to give a free sample to a mother soon after the birth of her baby. When the free sample ran out, the mother found she could no longer nurse her baby and had to keep on using the formula (at the store price, of course). Why? Because a mother’s milk may dry up in about a week if suckling is discontinued.
It’s Legal But . . .
In fact, the big corporations have come under much criticism for their dealings with the poorer lands. For example, what happened to 2.4 million sets of children’s pajamas banned in the United States because they had been treated with a flame-retardant compound discovered to be cancer causing? They were shipped to countries not so highly regulated.
The British newspaper The Guardian recently announced: “The international drugs industry, including leading British firms, was accused by Oxfam last week of systematically exploiting the Third World poor for commercial profit.” The newspaper went on: “Its most damning indictment concerns the willingness of the major drug companies to sell highly dangerous and potentially toxic preparations to the Third World—frequently with claims about safety and efficacy which they have been forced to withdraw in the West.”
Reports tell of drugs shipped to Third World countries by Western companies even though they are banned in the Western world because of known dangerous side effects. An antibiotic widely sold in Asia can produce a fatal form of anemia. A steroid hormone sold in Africa can cause beard growth and baldness in women and clitoral enlargement in young girls. An antidiarrhea drug sold in Indonesia was withdrawn in the United States and Japan because it may cause brain damage and blindness.
Moreover, some drug-company representatives have gone to great lengths to get these products on the shelves of the sellers. Doctors and hospital administrators have been offered bribes that included “cars or free university educations for their children.”
However, the moral problems of big business are nowhere more evident than in the biggest business of them all—the business of selling arms.