WhistleBlowing is an act of bringing forward the concern of wrongdoings or exposing the malpractices happening within an organization. It is one of the major philosophical concept that covers ethical permissions and obligations to reveal the righteousness of blowing the whistle. Restricting to the given case study, the article underneath briefly summarizes the situation of ethical breakdown between Jeffrey Wigand and his employer organization - “Brown And Williamson Tobacco Corporation.”
As we know that, perception is a varying process. Every individual tends to have a different viewpoint. Given the inner journey of a whistleblower - Jeffrey Wigand based on the concept of confidentiality, mutual trust, honesty, ethical responsibility and protection, I review the concept of Wigand being a saint or sinner as a whistleblower by illustrating and applying De George's five criteria for blowing the whistle to the case.
To begin with, Jeffrey Wigand was the head of Research and Development in Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation. He was an ethically responsible man who had a courage to protest against the offences and alleged dishonesty being committed within the organization. Considering the foremost situation where Wigand had no confidentiality agreement with Brown and Williamson, it was ethically permissible and obligatory for Wigand to blow the Whistle. It can be justified by applying the specific conditions being offered by the De George.
According to the De George's Five criteria, there are specific conditions when a whistleblower is permitted to blow the whistle and obligated to do so as understated :-
a.) Whistleblowing is morally permissible if the product produced by the firm causes a serious ill-impact to the public. In relation to the case - Wigand being a researcher knew that the cigarettes produced by the tobacco company were addictive and consisted of dangerous chemical additives such as Nicotine that were posing a threat to the teenagers and the other smokers. So,Wigand's case fulfills the first of De George's criteria for his act of whistleblowing to be one of the prior moral authority.
b.) Secondly, Permissive Whistleblowing demands that the employees have made their concerns known to their superiors. According to the case, this condition was also satisfied by Wigand. As a responsible employee, he informed his ethical concerns about marketing tobacco products to the company executives.
c.) Thirdly, Whistleblowing is morally justifiable if the employee contacts the superiors and in return receives no response or solution to the problem discussed. Also, if he attempts to discuss his problem with the higher corporate chain and again fails to get an appropriate responsive action. Related to the case, Wigand tried to reach out to the executives and corporates but was disappointed every time. Therefore, he also meets the third requirement of De George's criteria for his act of Whistleblowing.
d.) Moving ahead, Whistleblowing is ethically obligatory if the employee must have the documented evidence pertaining to the fact that product produced by the company is causing a serious concern to the public safety and that the proofs should be strong and fair enough to convince an impartial observer. In Wigand's case, as a researcher, he had documented scientific evidence to support his accusation of cigarettes containing nicotine and other addictive chemical additives that were responsible for causing long-term ill effects to the health. Alongwith, he also had clear proofs illustrating that the executives of Brown And Williamson deliberately ignored the information passed on by Wigand for their own personal factors.
e.) Lastly, Mandatory Whistleblowing as per De George states that there must be a strong and powerful evidence in your favour that revealing the information publically would prevent the personal risk and threats. Provided with the financial resources and capabilities of Brown and Williamson as a powerful organization, it does not seem like an easy-going process where Wigand's compensation and benefits override the chances of success.
Next, considering the situation where Wigand actually signed the confidentiality agreement with Brown and Williamson. According to my opinion, the existence of this agreement partly makes a difference in the study of ethics and not the Wigand's decision process. It is a clear-cut situation of being trapped in maintaining the dignity and integrity, commitment and speaking the truth. The contractual obligation of confidentiality implies the sense of loyalty towards the organization but not at the expense of violating the ethical grounds. Wigand's boundation of confidentiality and blowing the whistle at the same time is a serious offence and clearly displays an instance of disloyalty towards the employer. But on the other hand, he is justified in his actions after his constant failure of blowing the whistle internally and exhausting all the possible way-outs. Upon his continuous failure, he decided to reach media holding the strong evidence against the company to save thousands of lives at stake from the chemical additives. It is a complicated situation of high logical thinking and consideration of all the impacts that it was good on his part if we consider it on the basis of socio-ethical morality, but is highly unfair in terms of business ethics. Internal whistleblowing led to his loss of job but for his own greed and personal cost-benefit analysis, he joined the job signing the confidentiality agreement knowing that what the company is going through. Lately did he realise his concern for all those people who were made the victims for no good reason and decided to protest against. On the other hand, the company officials too were equally responsible for sweeping everything under the carpet intentionally. They knew that smoking was injurious to health leading to death, yet they didn't stop the production. I believe that the executives and the corporates are just as guilty as Jeffrey Wigand in this given case and it was ethically justifiable on Wigand's decision of Whistleblowing.
As I understand the case, I find myself on the same ground as Jeffrey Wigand. The decision and the consequence would have been same but the timing would have been different. Considering the ethical authority and morality, where Wigand apologised for his greed and daughter's interest, I would have been more ethically focussed and whistleblowed that very instant. Despite the continuous life threats, Wigand emerged himself out of the bubble and fought for the good is an illustration in itself displaying that truth knows no boundaries and whatever he did was unethically ethical and I would have done the same had I been him.
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