21 April 2008

Paper Ethics

Corporate employee-protective policy writing is a word game. The goal is to create a policy acceptable to all stakeholders and then publish and disseminate it in compliance with legal and industry standards. The resulting policies usually exist as a gray blanket spanning the full scope of all Equal Opportunity and Sexual Harassment issues.

Such all-encompassing policies necessarily create subjective rulings of policy-violating accusations. Is a case-by-case determination the wrong answer? Not at all--in fact today, it is probably the only approach. The lack of societal moral standards in the realms of both anti-discrimination and harassment prevention, coupled with the fact that "the U.S. Supreme Court has never established comprehensive criteria for legally valid" plans, forces each unique situation to be considered separately, "balancing the interests of affected parties (Ethical Theory and Business, 188)."

Equal Opportunity (EO) policy includes such terms as affirmative action, preferential treatment, and diversity. Affirmative action is a set of steps for creating increasingly favorable environments for discriminated groups, and preferential treatment expands on this idea as an end-state that an organization strives to meet (ie. goals, quotas). Both concepts have been said to act as compensation for past and previous "wrongness" dealt to certain groups of people.

Some moral philosophers, such as George Sher, find it difficult to justify current preferential treatment for past wrong doing. An instance where I see Sher's point of irrelevance is in the allowances provided to contemporary descendants of the North American Indian. These people, who from my skewed perspective are as "American" as the rest of the melting pot of United States' citizens, have unfair advantages over their streamlined, law-abiding neighbors. Celebrate their peoples' history and the Native American Indian tradition--yes; but provide an immeasurably disproportionate compensation for an inexact cultural offense that totally blows away the restrictions in place for the rest of U.S. economy--no. Absolute sovereignty for some requires the moral consideration of all.

Thinking of affirmative action policy structure as an involuntary practice imposed by regulatory law though, and preferential treatment as a voluntary means of expanding EO aims, the compensation of the Native American Indian people should not entirely be dismissed. Preferential treatment's more flexible implications, as well as the introduction of the idea of diversity, points back to the case-by-case method of determining ethical appropriateness. Diversity, albeit its cloudy definition, "is less controversial and legally less worrisome than the language of 'affirmative action' (Ethical Theory, 189). Take the diversity-dependence of a state's economy such as Arizona's--per se--and the balanced interest of all affected parties may completely agree with the justness of the national sovereignty of a historic group of people.

Paper ethics and stated policy are a good starting point and "CYA" (cover your ass) tactic for discriminatory and related issues, but the real penny is in the process.


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