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Business ethics and social issues

Sascha Matuszak (Sascha.matuszak@corporatecompliance.org) is a reporter at SCCE & HCCA in Minneapolis, MN.

When company ethics clash with personal employee ethics, the results can often be a crisis of identity for both parties. Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, faced that crisis for most of 2018, after several employee-led revolts against company policy led to aborted projects and a November “Walkout for Real Change (http://bit.ly/337f3O2)” that involved thousands of Google employees all across the globe.

As we reported in the February edition of ethikos, Google’s employees and top executives have yet to fully resolve the conflict at the heart of that company‘s ethics crisis:

“[Google CEO Sundar] Pichai’s stance . . . is that the company has a business directive to provide a service for a fee. That flies in the face of a large part of the workforce’s stance, which is that Google has an identity and a set of ethics, and any deviation from those ethics can and will result in action by the workforce to influence and steer the company in a direction they deem fit.”

There are many examples of companies that face internal revolts from employees who consider the company’s actions to be a betrayal of the organization’s core ethics. Wayfair employees, for example, staged a walkout after the company agreed to a contract to sell beds to Baptist Child and Family Services, a nonprofit that helps to manage migrant detention camps along the U.S. border with Mexico. Wayfair employees disagreed with the choice on ethical grounds and chose to walk out in order to send the message that any support of the detention camps was against their ethics. Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah decided to go ahead with the contract, and thereby incurred the outrage of his employees as well as negative media coverage.

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