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Posted on May 2nd, 2014, by

What is the Do No Harm principle and how is it used in determining Safety versus Acceptable Risk? What is the difference between Corporate Liability and Strict Liability? How does it relate to safety? What are the ways in which the Do No Harm principle can be used in the ethical amelioration of pollution?

According to Richard De George, sufficient business should be based on the ethical principles, and “most moral judgements in business, as in other areas of life, are made on the basis of such generally accepted rules as “Do no harm,”¯ “Do no kill,”¯ or “Tell the truth”¯ (De George 73). The “Do no harm”¯ principle comes from medical ethics, also known as a Latin phrase “Primum non nocere.”¯ It means that sometimes it is better not to do anything than to risk and cause negative consequences and make matters worse. It is, in other words, more important to do no harm than to do good. Besides, the freedom of an individual ends where the freedom of another individual begins. And no one else should be injured while someone’s liberty is exercised. In business, it means that while an entrepreneur or corporation is trying to satisfy its interests, the interests of the society should not be ignored either.

Each employer is responsible for providing safety for the employees through the working process as well as end consumers of the products. In each product design sufficient care should be taken. “Some jobs are inherently dangerous, and with these, the general rules of determining acceptable risk come into play,”¯ De George (279) claims. Even in the most dangerous spheres like firefighting the employees should be provided with certain measures of precaution; use safety equipment and so on. When there is a necessity for risk, safety conditions should be still available and affordable. What is more, to make risk acceptable, the employee should be provided with profound training and be anyway aware of the levels of the risk he is expected to take.

Further, it is necessary to speak about corporate liability and strict liability. Corporate liability is the liability of a corporation for the acts and omissions of its employees. There are number of debate about corporate liability, and there is no clear and distinct definition within the international law. The lack of international legal norm of corporate liability leads to confusion. Meanwhile strict liability does not require the fault to be testified to make an agent legally responsible for any damage or loss resulting from their activities. “The doctrine of strict liability also makes it more likely that defects will be brought to the attention of the manufacturer,”¯ De George (279) specifies. But the advantage of corporations, which is one of the reasons for why they are being established, is that they exercise only limited liability. However, it refers only to legal liability. Moral liability is still not abandoned.

In particular, it refers to environmental pollution for which so many manufacturers are liable. The problem of environmental harm has become one of the critical business ethics concerns, and the main thing to understand here is that harm is not done by any corporation separately. But harmful effect comes from their united actions, and thus they all becomes responsible for polluted air, water and soil and other negative outcomes. When it comes to harm, there is a term of “harmful threshold,”¯ until which harmful effect is not seen. And it is easy to prevent crossing the harmful threshold in the terms of environmental pollution by one firm. It seems that it would be enough to reduce the wastes given off by this firm. But both technically and politically it would become a problem to do it, especially when there are numbers of sources producing destructive pollution. Ā Ā Ā Ā  And the problem becomes even more obvious because environmental pollution is a kind of harm affecting everyone to a certain extent. “Because pollution can involve harm to others, it has a moral dimension,”¯ De George (289) reminds. And while the first task of each corporation is to do no harm, these negative effects should be prevented. The best way out is to prevent them at the very source, not to wait for the negative consequences when millions are already harmed. If the firms are not able to keep away from taking part in these collective environmental harms, the issue can be mandated by government. This issue is partly solved by the technique of social audit. The corporations are required to report on the levels of pollution, on handling toxic wastes and so on at the governmental level. De George also calls it “moral audit,”¯ but explains that it is restricted to what is morally required, not what environmentalist see it to be. The problem of pollution is decided at the local level mostly, and when the levels of wastes poured into the city river, for instance, are not exceeding the norms, no measures are taken. However, environmental safety is one the necessary obligations a corporation should take towards employees, customers and all the community they are going to work within. Each corporation’s report is a tool to indicate “whether it was providing adequate safety protection for its employees,”¯ “its quality control and the safety of its products,”¯ legal suits and out-of-court settlements would indicate “how if fulfills some of its moral obligations with respect to its customers”¯ (De George 144).

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