Michael Vasquez was proud of his job as a new product manager for a technology start-up, and he loved the challenges, risks and tough decisions that went along with the job. But as he sat in his office after a long day, he was troubled, struggling over what had happened earlier that day and the information he now knows.
Just before lunch, Michael’s boss had handed him a pile of private strategic documents from their closest competitor. It was a competitive intelligence gold mine – product plans, pricing strategies, partnership agreements and other documents, most clearly marked ‘private and confidential’. When Michael asked where the documents came from, his boss told him with a touch of pride that he had taken them right off the competing firm’s server. ‘I got into a private section of their intranet and downloaded everything that looked interesting,’ he said. Later, realising Michael was suspicious, the boss would say only that he had obtained ‘electronic access’ via a colleague and had not personally broken any passwords. Maybe not, Michael thought to himself, but this situation wouldn’t pass the60 Minutestest. If word of this acquisition of a competitor’s confidential data ever got out to the press, the company’s reputation would be ruined.
Michael didn’t feel good about using these materials. He spent the afternoon searching for answers to his dilemma, but found no clear company policies or regulations that offered any guidance. His sense of fair play told him that to use the information was unethical, if not downright illegal. What bothered him even more was the knowledge that this kind of thing might happen again. Using this confidential information would certainly give him and his company a competitive advantage, but Michael wasn’t sure he wanted to work for a firm that would stoop to such tactics.
Sources: Adapted from Weber, Kent (January-February 2001). Gold Mine or Fool’s Gold?Business Ethics, 18.
1. What is the ethical issue in this scenario?
2. What should Michael do? Justify your answer using at least two ethical theories.
3. Do you perceive Michael’s boss to be ethical or unethical? Explain your answer in detail
4. Should Michael blow the whistle? Define ‘whistleblowing’. Explain what motivates whistle-blowers and under what circumstances whistleblowing is justified?
5. Based on the case study, provide four reasons why ethics is relevant to business?
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