1. Choose one of following industries and watch the video which explains issues in that industry that we will examine from an ethics standpoint. An overview of each video and what to look for in each one is presented in the Checklist for Module 5 work.
Fantasy Sports: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/fantasy-sports-gamble/
Supplements, fantasy sports, and social media are all legal businesses. As with all legal businesses, however, there are ethical considerations in their decisions and operations. For example, the supplements are not FDA approved. If the law does not require that claims made by the companies about their products be reviewed for validity, is it unethical to make unproven claims? Regarding fantasy sports, for some people, gambling is addictive. The organization Gamblers Anonymous exists because it is a sizeable enough problem to warrant an entire organization. Several states have debated the legality of fantasy sports, questioning whether they are games of skill or just games of chance. Regarding social media, what responsibility do the companies have for the content that users post online? Research has generally found that individuals who heavily use social media are often also depressed and unhappy. Knowing this association, do the social media companies have any responsibility for how people use their platforms?
Comment overall on the ethics (positive, negative, or both) of the businesses in the video you chose. Does being legal relieve these businesses of ethical obligations? Even if its activities are legal, what responsibilities does a company in one of these industries have to its customers – any? If you are a founder or executive in one of these companies, how do you expect customers are using your product? To what extent is it your responsibility to anticipate harm or prevent it? How could you go about reducing the chance of harm with businesses in this industry you’ve viewed? If you are a founder or executive in one of these companies, what potential ethical problems should you be prepared for? What responsibility do you have to other stakeholders – such as your investors, employees, creditors, or the communities in which you operate?
2. Most fantasy sports companies and dietary supplements companies are not publicly held – their stock does not trade on the public market. However, they do have private investors who would be concerned with the growth, profit, and so on. Many social media companies are publicly held, with many shareholders. To what extent do you think the investors care about the ethics of the decisions made by company managers? If the managers’ choice would increase revenues for the business, would the investors care about the ethics of that choice? First, consider these thoughts as you develop your answer: Do investors not care about ethics issues or are they not aware of many of the decisions managers make each day? Are investors assuming that managers are making ethical decisions or are investors assuming that managers are making unethical decisions? Recall the first discussion in this class (the discussion for Module 1) in which you were asked to choose companies in which you’d be interested in owning stock. If you had actually owned that stock during the semester, would you have followed the news each day or would you assume that the managers were making ethical decisions that were in the best interest of the long-term sustainability of the company? Given all of the other things that you were doing during this semester, would you have had the time to keep up with details of the operations of the companies? Do shareholders have the time and access to monitor the ethics of managers’ decisions – or do they assume that managers are making ethical decisions – or do they not care either way?
3. What opinion do you think investors have of the issue addressed in the article you read about the fantasy sports businesses, the anti-aging pill, or Facebook’s troubles (the articles posted to accompany each video)? How could these issues negatively affect the investors? How could these issues affect the sustainability of the businesses (i.e., the company’s surviving, growing, and thriving)? What good things do these companies provide? What contributions are they making to our economy, our society, etc.? (Remember that businesses have many stakeholders you can consider in addressing these questions – suppliers, customers, employees, competitors, communities, creditors, investors, for example.)
4. What damage could be done to a fantasy sports business, a dietary supplements business, or social media business if some scandal about the company’s operations or employees’ behavior received a lot of coverage in the press? How do companies make sure that the decisions of managers and the behavior of employees are in the interest of the business (i.e., not creating scandals)? How can businesses structure themselves and control behavior of employees and managers in order to try to maximize the good and minimize the potential damage from company operations? Think back to one of the articles you read in this module (or even elsewhere in this course) that illustrated different ways to control the work of the business – some effective and some ineffective. What lessons from one of these companies could you apply to the governance in a fantasy sports business, a dietary supplements business, or a social media business? Why might an approach that works at one company be an ineffective choice for a different company?