Lunch Bites : Ethics And Profits In A Business

Today’s discussion was on one of the most abstract concepts, ethics. It is rather difficult to take sides, as whatever you say could be right and wrong at the same time, as there is no clear definition as such that defines an ethical behavior and lots of space for subjective interpretation.

The discussion started some where but centered on Ethics and one question. Company A makes special heart valves that save lives of heart patients and are sold at say $100 a unit. The company is making 90% of profit on each sale. The key question was ‘knowing that if the company could reduce its profit margin to say 20%, it could save more lives, is it ethical for the business to make 90% profits?”

Most seem to think it is unethical to squeeze 90% profits and it would be ethical if company reduce its profits to some lesser value.

My understanding is that, it is ethical to keep whatever profit you want in your business. But it could be much more humanitarian to give away some of those profits to help people who can’t afford to buy those valves and save more lives (or reduce price so that more people can afford it).

What is unethical in my understanding is, say a company know that the product it is making could harm human lives seriously and probably kill, and company still wanted to make that product and earn profits. Company is fully aware of all consequences and yet resolve to make profits.

Take the entire Tobacco industry for instance. Recent statement from Barack Obama puts the number of people DIE due to tobacco PER YEAR, ALONE in USA at a staggering 400,000. Is it ethical to manufacture and distribute those tobacco products? Why Government sell these ‘licenses to kill’ to tobacco industry? Is it ethical? if not totally illegal?

But that whole discussion led me to think twice what I thought was ethical or unethical. If selling a poisonous product (say tobacco) that could kill people and make profits is unethical, isn’t it unethical if you have a cure for a disease that could save a life from death and you are not distributing that cure to all those in need just so in order to make a larger profit for some?

It is imperative in both cases, that if you don’t have a profit motive, you could save more lives.  Then can one instance be ethical while the other is not?

For instance, if you hit a car on the road and don’t stop. You will be arrested and prosecuted. And if you see a car hit and don’t stop to help, you could still be arrested (though less severe than the first one) for not helping.

Then how do we let Tobacco kill 400,000 people every year?

About Lunch Bites : For some time, some of my friends have been getting together for lunch every day. And we discuss a wide variety of topics everyday. Some make us all laugh at ourselves. Some just on current affairs. Some are really heated discussions. And there are some that leave the rest of the day thinking. Would like to share a few thoughts on the blog, as topics are getting more and more engaging as days pass by.


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