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Corporate Social Responsibility

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A whistleblower can be defined as a person who brings to attention possible unlawful activities within his/her organization. These types of people have aroused an interesting universal debate. Some people support their actions while others detest them. Those in favor of whistleblowers actually term them as decent individuals who do splendid jobs and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good of the society. They view them as people who are ready to forfeit their personal and professional lives so as to bring into light organizational behaviors which are a fraud, or which may bring harm to the general public. It is important to note that most of the whistleblowers usually bring to attention genuine cases of abuse of power either in government offices or in private businesses (Kohn, 2000).

The activities of whistleblowers may sometimes help a lot because they may uncover events which may otherwise cause preventable harm and violation of human rights, or illegal and immoral behaviors which go against the principles of an institution. Some people believe that whistle blowing is a morally required behavior. Contrary to being loyal to a company, genuine whistle blowing can be termed as the most loyal thing that an employee can do to his/her employer. Why should a company fire an employee because of reporting a fraud or a scandal to the relevant authorities? By looking at this scenario in a different angle, the same company would fire, without any doubt, an employee who is found engaging in dubious deals, or embezzling money. With this in mind, private businesses, and the government, should take the responsibility of formulating policies that will encourage, while at the same time protect whistleblowers.

According to Alford (2001), employee loyalty to a company should cease if the company is involved in deals that will destroy the society in general. Many companies nowadays seek to satisfy their own selfish desires, thus ending up neglecting the needs of the society. For example, some of them fire their employees without compensation so as maintain their profit margins. With this idea in mind, employees should not be very loyal to a company either. Instead, they should put their needs into consideration and be morally upright because the same companies that they work for do actually exploit them. It is imperative for them to understand that watching acts of corruption going on without reporting is actually an act of cowardice. Employees should understand that whistle blowing may be beneficial both to the company and to themselves. For instance, reporting to the management about a low level issue may bring benefits to both the company and the employees. Values have broken down in the business community and corruption has been very rampant. Government offices are the worst hit by corruption and dubious dealings. These types of vices tint the image and reputation of many corporations and countries. Whistle blowing should therefore be encouraged in an attempt to reduce these vices.

What is professional ethics? One might ask. According to Miethe (1991), if we focus on this area, we come to appreciate the fact that some professions like law should encourage whistle blowing since they have a responsibility to defend the public from any wrongdoing. They should keep in mind that if they serve the public interest, then they also serve their own interest. What most companies should do to encourage high ethical standards is to create channels and procedures through which employees become aware of unethical practices in their working stations and can report them without being victimized or sent off. To my mind, whistle-blowing is not negative, but rather giving out of crucial information to the relevant authorities. It would actually be a noble idea if whistle blowers are rewarded for their excellent jobs well done.

Exposing unprofessional conduct, unscrupulous activities and behaviors that put the lives of individuals in danger, risks involving property and the environment at large, is proper and should be encouraged. However the information should be in the public’s interest. Private businesses and governments should think of providing legal services to promote whistle blowing. Internal avenues can also be created for the purpose of receiving complaints and inquiries without bridging confidentiality. It is logical that a business should not tie its employees or stakeholders to do illegal activities, or to maintain silence about activities which oppose social standards (Alford, 2001). It is normal that an attempt to pin point, prevent or correct any wrong doing in an organization will benefit the business. Whistleblowers are therefore in reality being loyal when they try to prevent these abuses. Showing loyalty to corrupt individuals, or to organizations, is a misguided undertaking and amounts negligence of duty. Loyalty should only be accorded to individuals and organizations which are not corrupt and those that uphold principles of professionalism.

Many whistleblowers resort to using external methods of exposing corruption due to the non-existence of the correct channels to do so in their places of work. It is imperative that organizations which are implicated should not merely fire their employees, but be accountable for their wrongdoings and correct them. Whistle blowing that causes the least damage is the appropriate route. As such, employers should create the right channels so that people can raise their concerns. Failure to do this will lead to an increase in the possibility of whistleblowers using other external channels such as the media and this can cause much more damage because the companies will have no control over such cases. If doable, organizations should establish measures that reduce damage and interruptions as a result of whistle blowing. Hesch (2009) believes that this should be an internal thing. Corrupt managements are usually against whistleblowers since they view them as troublemakers. In such cases, external whistle blowing is a justified act. An open kind of whistle-blowing should be encouraged over the anonymous one which may seem malicious and malevolent. There also needs to be an approach where a whistleblower’s status can be elevated when he/she has acted in the right manner.

Many people view whistle blowing as an activity that brings about conflict between the obligation of being loyal to a company where an individual works and that of preventing harm to the general public. Nevertheless, business ethics demands that employees should be loyal to both the company and the employer. Whistle blowing goes against this obligation. Business ethics is equated to sports where a player cannot be the referee of the game that he/she is playing: only an outsider can do so just like the referee does in sports. Other people say that whistleblowers are malicious employees who accuse individuals unfairly so as to attain their own selfish gain. This is sometimes true since some whistle blowers bring about false accusations for their own impure motives. Their acts may also cause serious damages to individuals who might be wrongly accused. In most cases, whistleblowers are the ones who suffer in the end. For example, most of them lose their jobs; others are harassed or transferred to different working stations that are of a lower stature and lower pay. There are also serious repercussions of whistle blowing to the companies involved. For example, many people in management end up losing their jobs. Criminal investigations and indictments also follow suit. However, it should be noted that most of these actions do not actually address the real underlying issues.

Whistle blowers sometimes suffer in the hands of those who feel betrayed. Powerful managers always tend to flex their muscles by punishing them, relieving them of their duties or even ending their careers for good. According to Kohn (2000), company loyalty should not be something complicated. It should only extend as far as the limits of business ethics and law are concerned. It simply means being open and ethical in your transactions with your employer, having the best interests at heart professionally and avoiding conflicting interests. More often than not, business managers and top government officials usually refute of any wrong doing even if they are openly presented with proof. They mostly do everything possible to hide their mistakes instead of rectifying them. Though dealing with the problem would help a great deal in improving the organization, they often punish the whistle blowers for no apparent reason.

Whistle blowers who report to the press or to regulatory bodies experience mixed responses depending on the historical backgrounds of their organizations. Most of them, however, have to deal with the negative consequences of their actions. Rarely are they positively rewarded and they are normally seen as traitors with loose morals. As a result of this, quite a number of employees are afraid of the repercussions that come along with whistle blowing. Nevertheless, there is need for cultural change such that people should understand that they have every responsibility to identify organizational problems and to uphold moral standards. People should never be fearful with being accountable to their organizations. Neglecting a problem has got far reaching consequences than identifying and solving it. Identifying and solving a problem raises general business standards and professional ethics, and in the long run the standards of the community at large. Organizations should see to it that whistle blowers are not penalized, but rewarded for their brevity. Therefore, internal whistle-blowing mechanisms should be put in place to enhance ethical ethics (Hunt, 1995).

Due to their own reasons, employees become confused about their responsibilities towards the management and fellow workers. People turn their backs on corruption and unprofessional conduct such that they prefer someone else to do the whistle blowing job or to do it anonymously. Whistleblowers are regarded as cheats, informers or traitors. According to Hesch (2009), organizations have nowadays come up with restrictions that hinder their employees from raising an alarm; they make them quiet. Several conditions are necessary for whistle blowing to be effective. Firstly, the employees should be informed of the appropriate measures to address their issues. Secondly, they should be assured that their complaints will be seriously taken into account. Thirdly, they should be assured that they will not be reprimanded for reporting any wrongdoing. Whistle blowing policies should comprise things like: clear statements stating that employees who are aware of any wrong doing have a duty to report, whistle-blowers who were genuine will be protected from any kind of repercussions, and that the investigative progress if any will be fair and impartial. In addition, the top management should commit itself to the policies and the welfare of its employees.

Is employer monitoring employee e-mail justified?

Many employees spend a lot of time on the internet, either browsing or sending and receiving personal e-mails much to the irritation of their respective employers. Consequently, many employers have resorted to monitoring their employees’ use of internet related facilities. Of course, this is recommended by law for the purpose of managing employee efficiency and taking care of the organization’s resources. This is beneficial to employers because it helps in distinguishing personal communication from business communication. On the other hand, an employer can also allow his/her employees to use a personal template so that the contents of their personal e-mails cannot be monitored.  According to Conlon (1997), employers have the right to be concerned about non-work-related surfing. Corporate computers and everything on them are regarded as a company’s property and so employees should have no business doing their personal work on them. Mahoney (1997) emphasizes that employers should go ahead and do everything possible to discourage employees from using private e-mails for business purposes.

The fear in some employers about their employees’ inappropriate use of internet related facilities are justified. This is because many organizations invest heavily in the internet so as to improve their businesses. For example, some have facilitated the installation of gateways to allow e-mail exchange between internal users and other users on the internet. Some organizations have also installed security firewalls so as to provide desktop internet access to the employees. Cases have been reported where some employees have been found sending classified information or business secrets through their company’s e-mail systems to rival groups. Some have even gone ahead and used their employer’s internet to run their own businesses. If not careful, an employer may be held accountable of their employee’s internet-related activities since in most cases the employee’s e-mail address has their employer’s name tagged on it. Due to this fact, any offensive, religious or political remarks sent by employees to outsiders will have the company bearing its consequences. It is therefore in good faith that employers monitor their employee’s e-mails. Cappel (1993) asserts that employers have a duty to create a working environment that is free from any form of inequity or harassment. Cases have been reported where sexually explicit e-mails are sent to other employees. Such e-mails can be used to support a harassment case in a court of law.

Another negative use of the internet by employees is that some of them download pornographic materials from the internet and display them on their monitors. This tends to portray the image that the employer is not keen on creating an appropriate working environment for all of his/her employees. Another point to note is that most of the content which is found in the internet is protected by copyright, and hence needs to be used properly by the employees who on the other hand have to be very productive since that is what they are being paid for. Consequently, it is certainly logical that employee communication should be monitored so as to avoid time wastage and the use of company’s facilities for personal gains. The employer has a duty to control any case of harassment in the workplace which relates to the internet even if some of the explicit materials are posted during non-working hours. Organizations should think of monitoring their employee’s e-mails in order to ensure compliance with their e-mail policies. Conlon (1997) asserts that as long as employers’ do not violate the law on their employee’s privacy rights, there is nothing wrong with them taking the necessary precautions to avoid preventable cases of harassment. However, companies should put in place written policies dealing with e-mail monitoring so as to avoid any lawsuit filed against them.

On the other hand, Weiss (2002) believes that employers should not monitor their employee’s e-mail accounts because they may find themselves under attack for violating privacy principles, in that they may be accused of storing private information of their employees without their consent. Employers who monitor information can come across their employees’ private data which might end up bringing unnecessary lawsuits, thus bringing losses to the company. There exists a common law which says that an employee has the obligation not to disclose confidential information since employees should be free to exchange information or data from their computers. According to Weiss (2002), one major disadvantage of employers monitoring their employee’s e-mails is that the risk of liability may increase if the messages intercepted do not in any way relate to their business or interests. This, if it happens, may bring about groundless infringement of privacy. Nevertheless, it is clear that employers have an unrestrained right to monitor their employee’s e-mails, or ruthlessly act on whatever is stumbled upon.

An employer’s surveillance over his/her employee’s e-mails raises concerns on matters to do with privacy, especially if it is an intruding form of surveillance. It is important that employers be aware that computers and the internet are increasingly becoming part of our daily lives, and that employees need to do their own private transactions which may sometimes not wait till non-working hours. They also need to note that most employees who log in to their personal e-mails from the office send work related documents or spreadsheets through them. Recently, many courts have been ruling in favor of employees claiming that employers have no legal right to do so unless if they have openly told their employees that they will be monitoring their e-mails. This is despite the fact that the e-mail being referred to may be a personal one sent through the company’s account rather than a personal one. Courts nowadays take into account whether or not the employees have clearly been described to how their e-mails are monitored. In the past years, courts have been ruling in favor of those who monitor e-mails that are accessed over corporate computers since judges treated them as company property. Situations have changed though; the law nowadays favors employees arguing that it is an infringement of their privacy. While the employer might deem fit to terminate an employee’s contract, most courts would suggest counseling or a warning of some sort and will then go ahead and award them hefty sums of cash as compensation. This should be a wake up call that certain laws are lagging behind technology. It is therefore advisable that a company avoids harsh and inflexible policies. They should consider the status of each case before applying harsh penalties (Weiss, 2002).

While some principles allow employers to access employee information or to view their e-mails, others deal with the way they handle the information and this is where the problem comes in. Employers should be careful so that if they are in any case monitoring their employees’ e-mail accounts, they should be fair enough not to intrude into their personal dealings so as to reduce complaints from their employees. Some employers’ monitoring activities violate the law because they unlawfully gain access to private mail boxes without the consent of the employees. Some common law rights limit employers from monitoring their employees’ e-mails without their consent. However, whether particular privacy rights to e-mails can apply or not is not clear and therefore many cases have tended to lean on the employees’ side (Decker, 1989).

It is therefore advised that an employer asserts employees’ privacy rights publicly, for example through statements in manuals, or through a course of conduct. It is clear that most employees take for granted that their personal e-mail accounts should stay private despite the fact that they are using computers in their offices. They forget that these types of e-mails are found on a server and the employer can easily gain access to them. The question that comes up is whether the contents of an employee’s e-mail should be regarded as personal whenever they hold information about the employee or not. A good example is an e-mail with pornographic literature (Weiss, 2002).

Although a contract may require confidentiality, employers can claim that they are protecting confidential information if it relates to a trade secret or technical information about their machinery or profitable business deals. They can act on the legislation that governs censorship, confidentiality, harassment of any kind and privacy concerns when monitoring the employees, and how employers should handle breaches of internet policy. More and more corporations are now monitoring employees’ email accounts. Some even employ people to read the contents of an outgoing e-mail. They claim that they are concerned with information leaks and that their businesses may suffer as a result of leaking of sensitive information. Quite a number of employers have already fired employees for misuse of internet and wrong e-mail use (Weiss, 2002).

Surveys which have been conducted show that computer monitoring is done in a number of ways: tracking e-mail contents, keystrokes, amount of time spent at the keyboard, monitoring cell phones, and looking at employees’ computer files. Most of the organizations inform their workers of these acts and in order to make sure that they comply, they fire those who misuse the company’s internet. In my own view, the concerned parties should pinpoint and state clearly what is the use of these technologies. Employers should use clearly stipulated policies and let their employees know about them. They should also come up with adequate measures so as to protect both the employee and the organization through striking a balance.

Is direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals bad for our health?

According to Murray (2003), there are many sources of health information for the public, but direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals is persistent, convincing and passive. In general, there exist three categories of direct to consumer ads. The first one may be termed as `help-seeking’ ads. These ads describe the condition and encourage the consumer to visit their personal doctors. The second type is the `reminder ads’ which only mention a particular drug but do not discuss their effectiveness. Lastly, we have the ‘product-claim’ ads. These ads talk about the drug and conditions for its use. All of these advertisements are exposed to patients mostly through the television, billboards and radio. Direct to consumer ads are not like the other types of advertising because they use effectual methods and have an emotional appeal attached to them. These advertisements are good because they provide patients with valuable information which builds their confidence and eventually enhance doctor-patient relationships. They also raise awareness of under-diagnosed conditions such as depression which is treatable. These ads encourage individuals to have a say in their medical life. A regulation of these ads will see to it that the information in them is accurate, includes any possible harm of treatment, and alternatives. Many doctors agree with the idea that these advertisements give their patients the courage to speak with them about their health and encourage them to follow instructions or advice given by them.

Direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals also help a lot in saving the time that patients spend in a physician’s office. Some doctors and physicians charge patients hefty amounts of consultation fees. These ads usually give people relevant information concerning their illnesses so that they go into a doctor’s office knowing what they want. When the doctor does what a patient wants, there is an improvement in time efficiency. In order to minimize any harm, patients should learn the skills they need so as to make sure that the material shown in the advertisements are relevant and accurate. Patients can also opt to seek a doctor’s opinion on the relevance or the accuracy of information in the direct to consumer advertisement of drugs. They need to be acquainted with a physician’s clinical judgment. However, physicians should acknowledge the fact that patients are specialists in knowing their own health matters (Hollon, 1999). Direct to consumer advertisement of drugs has had two major effects on the consumers. First and foremost, it has built product awareness in the minds of the consumers who are gradually taking medicine for chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergy and cholesterol management. Secondly, it has encouraged more patients to pay visits to their doctors and to directly ask for the products which they need.

Advertising and promoting of drugs by their manufacturers has had a marvelous influence on both the consumers and the physicians. As long as the advertisements do not mislead their audiences, they go a long way in improving the health of sick patients by giving them hope that their conditions are curable. The benefits of an advertisement can be maximized and the harms minimized by making sure that the information contained in the ads are accurate. The communication and negotiation skills of the physicians can be enhanced, and patients should be encouraged to respect the expertise or clinical advice of the physicians. Many patients who view these advertisements usually visit the doctor just for some kind of a confirmation. For example, they would like to perform a test, seek a change in medication, or for referral to another hospital. The doctors on the other hand feel that the patients only want their opinion. One thing that people tend to forget is that there is an economic advantage to these advertisements. Advertisement agencies do have businesses with them. They pay taxes to the government and a number of people get employed. According to Lyles (2002), direct to consumer advertisement of drugs has had tremendous effects on health issues, on the utilization of health services and on doctor-patient relationships, thus having a lasting impact on low income earners. It has helped in encouraging people who are hard to reach to seek preventive care.

Looking at it from a different angle, some people complain that these advertisements translate into higher costs of drugs, encourage wrong prescription of drugs, and may lead to an increase in general health care cost (Findlay, 2001). In my own view, people should be more concerned with preventing diseases through eating healthy foods and using clean water and air instead of going the pharmaceutical way. Most of the drug companies have conflicting interests. The more people take the drugs which they advertise, the more their profits shoot up. Others go ahead to promote anxiety about certain illnesses so as to make profits. It is important to note that consumers are usually shown polished advertisements with prejudiced information concerning drugs. In most cases, consumers lack access to safe and efficient information so that they can make sound decisions.

According to Spurgeon (1999), some pharmaceutical companies have kind of seduced some doctors and physicians to help them prescribe to consumers what they want and not what is good for them. Some of these advertisements can be said to be misleading because they exaggerate the beneficial aspects of some drugs, while at the same time hiding their side effects. Most of the time, the educational value of these ads are compromising and therefore people should be more encouraged to visit their personal doctors or physicians and discuss the diseases they suffer from and the available options for treatment. Apart from banning ads that carry misleading information, regulations and policies should be put in place to look into the way they are structured. They should cease from making phony and deceptive claims.

Direct to consumer advertising is also to blame for the rise in the cost of medications. For instance, the United States has experienced a sharp increase in drugs prescriptions due to direct to consumer advertising. People have now shifted to using expensive medicines. It is not coincidental that the most expensive medications are those that are advertised heavily (Findlay, 2001). There is certainly something fishy because these pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of cash on advertisements alone, as if they want people to be sick. The question that arises is why these companies waste billions of dollars on direct to consumer advertising when patients can acquire prescriptions from qualified doctors. Nowadays, it is hard to tell the difference between a pharmaceutical commercial and other commercials such as vehicle commercials. Both appear to be appetizing to its viewers. They use the same style, involving models and good actors, the use of popular music, and are full of empty promises.   The same way a good car advertisement can cause an individual to incur heavy car payments; pharmaceutical advertising can also cause the consumer to take powerful drugs that may result in serious health or even deaths. Despite this fact, their advertisements have been on the increase and it is indeed unfortunate to say that they are increasingly becoming effective. By advertising, pharmaceutical companies influence the behavior of the consumer. Instead of doctors being the ones doing the prescriptions, it has now turned to be the consumers’ responsibility. Based on the ads they see on television, they walk into a doctor’s office with their minds fixed and request for the drug they have seen being advertised. The doctors are then left with no choice but to comply (Murray, 2003).

It is illegal for a pharmaceutical company to advertise a drug for their own selfish gains. As aforementioned, some of them use physicians or doctors to market their own labels. This can be equated to fraud. Other ads can also be termed as indistinct and unfocused. They are in essence conducting a brand awareness campaigns for them to have a place at the physician’s or doctor’s office. Pharmaceutical companies should be the ones responsible for the rampant misprescription and overprescription of drugs. The drugs which they advertise often have no benefit over the ones that are already in the market, while some have dangerous and unpleasant effects. According to Murray (2003), the pharmaceutical industry has been successful in distorting the normal process for prescribing or approving drugs. Studies done have shown that most information contained in the ads are false, misleading and violate the laws and regulations that deal with advertising.

We can clearly see that direct to consumer advertising has its advantages and disadvantages. This has had tremendous effects on the quality of health care. Some ads make patients create appropriate and inappropriate requests. Physicians should therefore learn to negotiate inappropriate requests without compromising the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors should follow their professional judgment without damaging their relationship with the patient. Physicians look at these ads as affecting time efficiency, increasing inappropriate requests for clinical tests, referrals to specialists, and changes in patient’s medication. Half of these requests have unconstructive consequences on healthcare expenditure. Advertisement should instead be focused on interventions that advance health outcomes. It is sad to note that doctors now feel that their authority on health issues is being challenged because if they don’t comply with the patient’s demands, the patients end up seeking a second opinion, change their doctors or change their entire healthcare plans (Findlay, 2001).

These advertisements have been made much easier by the ‘adequate provision’ clause which has definitely changed the rules of direct to consumer advertising. This clause states that the ads provide consumers with an alternative where they can get information. Such alternatives include: a website address, a toll-free telephone number, a print advertisement, or a healthcare provider. They also have to comply with a ‘major statement’ clause which requires that only major risks and most common effects be given out. These new set of rules only welcomes more advertisements as long as the ads state that ‘you should consult your doctor’. The question that remains to be asked is whether it is morally right for prescriptive drugs to be advertised just like the other ads which are supposed to entice buyers. Are drug companies doing enough justice to the public by giving out this kind of information? Is the advertising in the public’s best interest? These and many more questions need to be addressed.

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