Whistleblowing could be defined as an act by an employee of making public immoral or illegal behavior of an organization (Duska, 2011). In light of numerous ethical scandals involving companies such as WorldCom and Enron, whistleblowing became a central element of an ethical structure of business organizations and a hotly contested issue. This paper will explore the moral aspects of whistleblowing in the context of social responsibility.
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There is no consensus on whether an employee has an obligation to society that overrides their obligation to an employer; therefore, it should be noted that whistleblowing is a matter of judgment. Even though there are no strict rules as to whether one should engage in disclosing sensitive information, there are conditions for the permissibility of the act (Grace & Cohen, 2010).
In the framework of Frankena’s basic ethical requirements that call for avoiding evil, preventing evil, removing evil, and doing good, whistleblowing could be viewed as “an attempt to avoid, prevent and perhaps to remove evil” (Grace & Cohen, 2010, p. 216). Consider a case of a woman murdered on the street in New York in view of countless bystanders who were not willing to intervene. It could be argued that one is not required to help a person in distress if their vital interests could be endangered by doing so. However, it is a moral duty to intervene in an emergency situation to “the extent that such interests are not threatened” (Grace & Cohen, 2010, p. 216).
Taking into consideration the fact that illegal or immoral actions of an organization might result in significant harm to society, whistleblowing could be considered an act of interference; therefore, its moral position should not be challenged. However, it is necessary to consider sufficient grounds for acting that could justify whistleblowing.
According to Bowie and Duska, personal responsibility for not intervening in a critical situation corresponds to the extent of the need, a person’s proximity to the individual in need, a person’s capacity to help, the presence of others who could render assistance (as cited in Grace & Cohen, 2010). Whistleblowers are usually employed by organizations in which misconduct occurs. Therefore, it could be argued that they are partially responsible for morally reprehensible practices in their organizations.
Sissela Bok argues that an employee who wants to inform the public on the alleged misconduct should consider the following criteria of morally defensible cases of whistleblowing: the issue has to be serious, there should be sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, its threat should be imminent, the information about malicious behavior should benefit the public, “blowing the whistle is likely to remedy a problem” (as cited in Grace & Cohen, 2010, p. 221). It is necessary to note that the duty of safeguarding the public interest could be fulfilled by means other than whistleblowing. Therefore, Bok notes that a person willing to report on the alleged misconduct has to try other avenues for solving a problem first (as cited in Grace & Cohen, 2010). According to De George, if the abovementioned conditions are met, and a whistleblower has documented evidence of the immoral or harmful behavior of an organization, they have an obligation to blow the whistle (as cited in Grace & Cohen, 2010).
It should be noted that there are organizational cultures that create conditions that could discourage whistleblowing; therefore, a fear of retribution or other factors contributing to the silent compliance could excuse inaction.
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Duska, R. (2011). Contemporary reflections on business ethics (2nd ed.). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
Grace, D., & Cohen, S. (2010). Business Ethics (4th ed.). Sydney, Australia: Oxford University Press.