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Case Study of

Living and dying with asbestos

Course Name: Business Ethics


Course Code: Phi 401
Section: 6
Submitted To:
Professor Dr. Mohammad Kamrul Ahsan (KRL)

Submitted By: Group A

 Maisha Beenta Syful


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 Aklima Rahman Mitul
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 Redhwanul Bashar Ridoy
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 Najiba Nuren Khan
o 123 0119 630
 Shamsun Nahar Anika
o 123 0142 630
 Shanila Tasnim Chowdhury
o 112 0955 030
 Tanvir Ahmed Shuvo
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Acknowledgement
With regard to the case study, we would like to thank each and every one who offered help,
guideline and support whenever required.

First and foremost we would like to express gratitude to our most honorable course instructor
Professor Dr. Mohammad Kamrul Ahsan for his support and guidance. Without him we
could not visualize the case study. His valuable advice, guidelines and continuous monitoring
have made this task possible. We would like to add a few hearty words to the people who
helped us in numerous ways.

We are proud to be students of Sir Kamrul Ahsan. We have thoroughly enjoyed working for
the case study and hope it will be appreciated.

A special acknowledgement goes to the North South University for providing us with
resources that we got whenever needed.
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Table of Content

Titles Page no
Cover page 0
Acknowledgement 1
Table of Content 2
Introduction 3
Objectives 3
Kantian Theory 4
Ethical issues of Manville Company 4- 11
Conclusion 11
Reference 12
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Introduction

This case study is about The John’s Manville Company. From the case we found out that the
John-Manville Company’s behavior was detrimental not only to the company but also to the
corporation. The company ignored the health and safety issues of the employees over several
decades. Asbestos is a mineral which is used for fireproofing, electrical insulations, brake
linings, building materials etc. Although asbestos is useful in many aspects but it is also
harmful because of some reasons. Because of asbestos particles people may develop a
chronic lung inflammation called asbestosis which causes breathing problem and infection
may occur. People may also suffer from mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest lining. Although
people came to know about the dangers of asbestos in 1964 after the major scientific
conference was held, the asbestos industry knew of its dangers over fifty years ago. As a
result by 1982, Manville was being filed by an average of 500 new asbestos cases each
month. Thus the company was losing more than half of the cases that went to trail. Moreover
20,000 cases had been filed against the company by August. And as a result the company
filed for bankruptcy in federal court. Thus the company had to give up much of its earnings
over the next twenty five years.

Objectives

Through our research we found out that the behavior of the company was just the opposite of
the Kant’s Theory. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) tried to justify fundamental rights claim. So
our first objective is to find out the ethical dilemmas that Manville’s company faced and our
second objective is to analyze their options and decision they took for the company. From our
objectives, our expected outcome is to understand the impacts that they had for the company
and to provide some insights based on the implementation of Kantian Theory in business
ethics.

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Kantian Theory

Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) defined his system of ethics in his book named,
"Groundings for the Metaphysics of Morals." It is said that human beings must follow a
categorical imperative which is an absolute moral standard that does not vary based on
individual circumstances. He said that a behavior is only ethical when it would remain
beneficial and performed universally by everyone. For example, a rich person is not
required to work hard because he has all he needs. But the decision to abandon work would
be unethical in Kant's view because it cannot be taken universally without harming society.
Therefore working hard is a categorical imperative even if it does not fit the individual
circumstances of the rich man. Ethical behavior under the categorical imperative is not a
means to an individual end but an absolute end in itself.

Ethical Issues of Manville Company

Issues that raised from this case:

Issue 1: Violation of rights of employees.


Issue 2: Insecurity of employees’ health.
Issue 3: Environmentalist and potential employee’s rights were denied.
Issue 4: Not letting the worker’s to know that they were suffering from asbestosis.
Issue 5: Asbestos-cancer connection.
Issue 6: Placing warning labels.
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Issue 1: Violation of rights of employees.

Unethical in the light of: Kant’s morality and rights theory.

In the very first place Kant talked about the rights of the employees, employers, business
executives and the environmentalists. This list also includes the rights of all creatures, human
rights, rights to medical care.

When the editors of the trade journal Asbestos wanted to publish an article on the dangers of
asbestos and thus seek permission from the president of the Raybestos-Manhattan, the president
denied the request. Because from a letter to Vandivar Brown who is the secretary of John-
Manville the president observed that the less it is said about asbestos the better they are.

So, here Johns-Manville didn’t thought about the rights to medical care, rights to employees
and human-rights. The employees have the right to know what is harmful for their health.
They didn’t thought about the medical care of the employees.

Brown even said that any article on asbestosis should reflect American, not English, data. But
Kant emphasized on equality of every rational being.

From our point of view, John-Manville Company should have thought about the rights of
the people. It’s true that the main aim of business is to earn profit but they should do this
legally. It’s because of the general people they are earning profit. And they do not have the
right to snatch away the right claims of the general people. And they should also consider
data of every nation but not a single nation.
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Issue 2: Insecurity of employees’ health.

Unethical in the light of: Kant’s morality and rights theory.

Anthony Lanza of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, who was working on behalf of
Raybestos-Manhattan and John-Manville and their life insurance carriers conducted
research on 126 workers on asbestos exposure for three or more years. Through his research
Lanza found that asbestosis was more serious than silicosis- a lung disease caused by long
term inhalation of silica dust and resulting in chronic shortness of breath.
But Brown was unhappy with this report. He said that Lanza was unable to portray
asbestosis less mild than silicosis. He requested Lanza to depict asbestosis as less serious
than silicosis. Lanza changed his published report even though the fact that out of 67 of 126
workers were suffering from asbestosis.

According to Kant’s theory, the rightness or wrongness of an action is not determined by the
actions consequences but by the intentions and motives of the agent.
Here we can clearly see that the intention and motive of the Johns – Manville Company was
wrong. For their own benefit they didn’t want the people to know how harmful asbestos is. They
were only thinking of earning profit. They didn’t want to let the people know about the
drawbacks of asbestos. Because if they had done this then their company would have suffered
loss. In spite of being the leading company they shareholders would have reduced drastically.

Kant’s theory also suggests that ethical standard should apply to all equally. But here we can
see that the company was doing the business unethically.

From our point of view, no business should conduct their activities with a wrong intention
or motive. Because if they do so, they might be earning profit now but in the long run they
will suffer a loss. And the main purpose of business should be long term profit, not short-
term profit. And rather than just suppressing the matter, they should have immediate steps to
solve the problem which they didn’t do. And this is totally unethical. And if a business
conducts its activities unethically, one day they are surely to lose their profit.
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Issue 3: Environmentalist and potential employee’s rights were denied.

Unethical in the light of: Kant’s morality and rights theory.

Why is it unethical: The sponsors were given the right to exercise oversight prerogatives
according to which they could determine after findings were made whether they want any
publication or not. The results would be considered as the property of those who were
advancing the required funds and they would determine to what extent and in what manner
they should be made public. The manuscript would need their approval prior to publication.

So in this way they were basically preventing the environmentalists and potential employees
to know the harmful side of asbestoses they were using in their industry. So it the right of the
environmentalists to and ensure a healthy environment. The employees also need to know
about the environment in which will be working. It is their right to know if there are any
harmful substances used in their work and to what extent they can suffer due to the exposure
to these harmful substances. Also, the company’s intention was to maintain their goodwill
and image ignoring the environment and the people living in it.

Management’s point of view: The image and good will of an industry is the key to success
for them. This is why many companies involve in CSR activities and participate in
campaigns like “GO GREEN” and others. To maximize profit image and good will are
important factors. So the management didn’t wanted people, environmentalists and future
employees to know about the harmful side of asbestoses which in result could have injured
the company’s image and good will.

Outsider’s point of view: General people, environmentalists and potential employees


right to know was violated and that too with not a not an intention to ensure the wellbeing
of others. The industry just thought about their interest ignoring how they are harming
others and the environment. The rightness and wrongness are decided by intentions
according to Kant’s theory and so what the company was doing was absolutely wrong.

Alternative action by the management:

 The management could have come up with a substitute product which can be used in
manufacturing instead of using asbestoses.
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Issue 4: Not letting the worker’s to know that they were suffering from asbestosis.

Unethical in the light of: Kant’s morality and rights theory.

Why is it unethical? : The company didn’t want to let employees know about this disease they
were suffering because the disease is irreversible and permanent. As a result they will eventually
need to pay them compensation. As long as these people are not disabled, it is felt that they
should not know about their health condition so they can work and live in peace they company
could get the advantage from their many years of experience. If the workers came to know about
their disease they will be demotivated and the productivity will go down.

The company had a bad intention of getting their job done at any cost ignoring the physical
condition of the workers and violating their rights to know about their health. So the
company’s activity was wrong and unethical according to Kant’s theory that emphasizes on
intention of the action.

Management’s point of view: The Company wanted to make profit by increasing the
productivity of the employees using their experience ignoring their physical condition. They
just thought how they can maximize profit and get their job done.

Outsider’s view: The decision that the company made of not letting workers know about the
disease that they were suffering was unethical. Everyone has the right to know about their
health condition.

Alternative action by the management:

 Instead of hiding from the workers about the disease they were suffering, the
company could have provided them medical facilities and compensated them
instantly. In this way the employees would have been motivated in spite of being sick
and productivity would have increased as the company wanted.

 The company could have come up with tools for example mask and others that will
prevent any more employees being exposed to asbestoses and thus protecting them
from asbestosis.

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Issue 5: Asbestos-cancer connection.

Unethical in the light of: Kant’s morality and rights theory.

When the workers who developed cancer in their bodies filed lawsuits against the companies,
another ethical issue raised that time. Though Dr. Smith suggested to the corporate people of
the companies to conduct a cancer study to find out how deeply cancer is related to asbestos,
but all the corporate people in the industry denied that. They claimed that there was no strong
evidence regarding asbestos cancer relationship. They also said that it would be an
unfavorable situation for the industry if they conduct that study.

Here, it can be clearly seen that the employers were acknowledged about the harmful sides
of asbestos, but they show ignorance to open it up to general people who had barely any
ideas about this. They were in an intention to hide the issue from general people as long as
they can. Because they were only thinking about their wellbeing, the profit. In this situation
what alternatives they could practice are:

• They could let Dr. Smith conduct cancer study to find out the relationship
between cancer and asbestos.

• They could aware general people about the harmful effects of health because of
asbestos in the long run rather than only thinking of their own benefits.

Relating the issue with Kant’s Theory:


As Kant’s theory emphasizes on the same standard of clarity to ethical analysis as one finds
in logical analysis, here when Dr. Smith found the necessity to conduct a study, the officials
should let him to do so because it was about a lot of people’s lives. Kant’s theory does not
support different logical views for different people. Kant’s theory supports the same logical
view for all. So when the doctor realized the fact and also the officials had some ideas about
the harmful side of the asbestos, the employees should be known too. Here, we can see the
industry officials really behaved unethically with the employees.

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Issue 6: Placing warning labels.

Unethical in the light of: Kant’s morality and rights theory.

When Dr. Smith was asked before his death about his recommendation to asbestos officials
regarding placing warning labels on hazardous products in the factory, he answered that he
brought the issue to the official that the hazardous products should be warned by placing
labels. He also said that it was all about business decisions taken by the employers. As the
officials/ employers worked for the shareholders to maximize their values and they provided
jobs to lot of employees, the employers were unwilling to place labels on hazardous factory
equipment. The officials realized it would cut their sale if the careful employees leave the job
because of unhealthy workplace. They also realized that their financial conditions would
decline tremendously if the labels were placed. So, this is a clear view of unethical behavior
conducted by the officials as they were concerned about financial situation rather than
employee’s lives.

Here, in this situation, the officials could practice other alternatives such as:

• They could place labels on hazardous equipment to aware employees so that


they could be careful during using these equipment.

• Officials could plan for compensations, it means they could offer extra value addition
on worker's salary scale who are taking risk of their lives after knowing the hazardous
situation of the equipment. It means officials could give them extra benefits who were
working in the factory after knowing the harmful effects. But the officials did not let
them know about the dangerous conditions.

Relating the issue with Kant’s Theory:

As Kant's theory claims that, ''the rightness or wrongness of an action is not really determined by
the action's consequences but by the intentions and motives of the moral agents". Here, the
officials did not act morally according to Kant's theory because they were aware of the critical
health issues caused by the asbestos such as cancer. But they did not inform the people who were
using dangerous equipment in factory by placing labels though Dr. Smith suggested to do so. It
was official’s intention and motive not to let employees know as they

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would be affected negatively by cutting profits. So, it was clear that the critical health problems
were not accidental as accidents happen suddenly. But here, employee's critical health problem
caused by the use of dangerous equipment for long time. The officials did not behave morally as
they knew the harmful effects of asbestos but did not inform employees.

After years, numerous lawsuits were declared against the asbestos industry. When the
workers of Raybestos- Manhattan plant defended against the asbestos industry, the
settlement was reached by providing them compensation fund.

Conclusion

After finding these issues we came up with some ideas that giving rights to employees are
very much important for each and every company. Company should have responsibilities
towards customers as well as employees. If any company faces some problems like this they
should think about alternative strategy without doing any harm to the employees. Their
concern should not be only about earning profit but also taking care of the employees because
employees are the main part of the organizations. To gain long term profit and to survive in
the market, companies should maintain morality and give rights to each and every one. So in
business applying Kantian theory is sometimes important.
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Reference

Shaw, William H. and Barry, V. "Living and Dying with Asbestos." Moral Issues in Business,
4th ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1989. 227-228.
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