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Sabtu, 14 Maret 2009

Collective Moral Responsibility

As a social practice, as well as a topic for philosophical analysis, moral responsibility has been reserved primarily for actions occurring in the scope of interpersonal relationships, such as those between friends, family members, co-workers, professionals and their clients, and neighbors. Consequently, the harm or injury at issue is private harm sustained by an individual and resulting from the actions or inactions of another individual. There is growing concern in contemporary societies about locating moral responsibility for widespread or collective harms affecting large numbers of people or even entire communities. An oil spill, the manufacture of a defective product, corruption in a government agency, or the unethical and/or illegal manipulation of elected officials by interest groups, are examples of circumstances in which harm can be extremely widespread. It is infrequent that harm can be clearly attributed to the particular actions or inactions of specific individuals in such cases.

1. Feinberg's Typology of Collective Moral Responsibility Arrangements

Collective responsibility extends moral accountability beyond the relatively narrow scope of interpersonal relationships, but it remains a contested topic in moral philosophy. Joel Feinberg (1968) describes and compares four distinct and logically possible types of collective or group moral responsibility arrangements. These are: group liability without fault, group liability with noncontributory fault, contributory group fault: collective and distributive, and contributory group fault: collective but not distributive. It is the fourth of these types that has attracted the most attention from scholars during the past several decades, and it is this type that is the most relevant for addressing widespread or collective harms where no culpable individual or individuals are identifiable. Thus, it is this fourth arrangement that will be the subject of the subsequent sections of this essay.

Feinberg first describes the collective responsibility arrangement, group liability without fault. According to this conception, a whole group is held morally responsible for the actions of one or several of its members. This type of collective responsibility usually involves a significant degree of solidarity among group members. This sort of solidarity is increasingly difficult to find in modern, technologically advanced, mass societies. The ascendancy of individualism as a primary factor in the way in which people perceive themselves and their relationships with others has been a dominant trend, at least in the West, since the Reformation and later the Enlightenment. Feinberg notes that since liability, as well as shame, guilt, and the effects of any punishment directed at the group, will be borne by each and every member as a result of the wrongdoing of one or a few, the liability of all of the others will be vicarious.

Vicarious liability, whether in ethics or the law, is a responsibility arrangement in which the party held to be liable to punishment or other responsive measures is not the party that performed the morally or legally faulty action that caused some harm or other untoward consequence. An example of vicarious liability applied to individuals is the assumption in some organizational settings that the person at the top of the hierarchy of authority is ultimately liable for the actions of the organization and its members. In military settings, for instance, the commanding officer on whose “watch” harm or wrongdoing occurred is held liable independently of any liability ascribed to some lower ranking soldier(s) whose behavior actually caused the harm in question. If the commanding officer has not engaged in any substandard behavior that contributed to the harm, then his/her liability is purely vicarious. In some cases under the law, parents are held liable for the actions of their minor children. But in many such cases, the parents do properly bear at least partial responsibility for their children’s wrong or harmful behavior, along with vicarious liability, due to negligent or otherwise morally faulty parenting.

For the most part, group liability without fault is an arrangement that goes directly against contemporary moral intuitions and the principles of individual agency and personal responsibility. Clearly there have been situations and there continue to be places in which a group’s solidarity and common sense of identity and purpose, which this arrangement both depends upon and reinforces, can be in the interest of a group's survival. Thus, for example, in parts of Africa and central Asia where life is difficult, the physical environment is challenging, and tribe and clan remain the primary social units, it is accepted practice for a family, a tribe, or a clan to be held liable and punished for wrongdoing perpetrated by one of its members. In 1914, Austria held Serbia collectively responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by an individual Serb whose actions had no connection to the Serbian government.

In Feinberg's second collective responsibility arrangement, a group is said to bear liability with noncontributory fault when an entire group is held to be responsible for the morally faulty behavior of every member of the group, although it is only the faulty behavior of some or a few which ultimately results in harm or injury to others. The practice of drinking alcohol and driving is an example of this second arrangement. This risky behavior fortunately causes harm less often than it occurs. Persons who drink to the point of impairment or beyond and drive, but do not cause an accident as a result, are lucky. From a moral perspective, since it is only luck that separates members of the drinking drivers group who cause harm from members who do not, each member bears some degree of guilt and moral taint. It is the willingness of every one of the drinking-drivers to engage in behavior likely to cause harm that justifies liability for the whole group, and this group liability is independent of the additional individual liability of alcohol-impaired drivers whose risky behavior actually results in harm.

According to Feinberg's third arrangement, contributory group fault: collective and distributive, group responsibility is the sum of all individual responsibility. Once the blameworthiness of each individual involved in causing harm or acting wrongly is aggregated, there is no remainder whatsoever that is ascribable to the group, independently of its members. Unlike the first arrangement, there is no vicarious liability involved, because each individual is responsible for the harm or wrongdoing in question. In most cases of this type, degrees of individual responsibility will vary and will depend on the degree and kind of contribution each member of the group made to the untoward outcome. Feinberg uses an example of one thousand experienced swimmers relaxing on a beach as a man in the water begins to shout for help. There is no lifeguard on duty, the shouts for help are audible to all, but not one of the swimmers on the beach responds to help the man. This is a case of contributory group fault that is collective and distributive. For group responsibility to be of this type, the group must lack an identity, internal solidarity, or any kind of formal or informal structure and cohesiveness. Groups (more correctly referred to as organizations) that do possess these characteristics fall under Feinberg's fourth and final type of collective responsibility. In this third type, moral responsibility is aggregated individual responsibility, not the responsibility of the whole group as an entity, independent of individual members. Groups often referred to as random collectives, such as mobs or crowds, are those appropriate for the application of this third arrangement.

The final type of collective responsibility is the only one of the four in which culpability is not reducible. This fourth type, contributory group fault: collective but not distributive, is an arrangement which provides for group moral responsibility that is independent of any responsibility or moral fault ascribable to all or any of its individual members. It is the group itself that is at fault and the group's moral responsibility is not equivalent to the sum of the responsibilities of its members. Group moral responsibility of this type is a concept that allows the entire issue of widespread harm associated with organizational activities to be treated differently in many respects from the approach that has been dominant. More individualistic assumptions have tended to prevail in both morality and the law, and these assumptions have informed social practice in cases of widespread harm involving large organizations. Also, as mentioned above, the whole focus of questions of moral responsibility, blameworthiness, and punishment has been primarily on individual actions in the context of interpersonal relationships. In modern societies, the tremendous power of large formal organizations, when exercised negligently or recklessly, not only presents the potential for widespread harm, but the very nature of bureaucratic organization, whether public or private, obscures the specific contributions of individual group members to harm or wrongdoing. Group moral responsibility and the related notion of group moral agency have probably received the considerable amount of scholarly attention they have because this fourth type is considered more controversial than the other three of Feinberg’s collective moral responsibility arrangements. If a group, separate from its members, can be morally responsible and liable to punishment, concerns regarding the moral status of such groups are raised, including what similarities and differences in moral status exist between groups and individual human agents. Further, if groups can be morally responsible agents, regarded as entities distinct from their members, questions about their ontological status are also raised. Although such metaphysical questions are beyond the scope of this essay, issues regarding the moral status of groups will be addressed in the next section.

2. Positions For and Against Organizational Moral Responsibility

As the debate concerning the moral status of groups, and in particular, formal organizations and especially corporations, has evolved, three broad positions have been developed. First, there are various versions of methodological individualism, all of which imply that formal organizations cannot be held morally responsible, and that they have no moral status beyond their individual members. Second, there is the position that such organizations are full-fledged moral persons capable of being held morally responsible and of possessing the same rights and privileges as any other (e.g. human) members of the moral community. Finally, there are a number of related positions that fall somewhere between these first two, i.e. individualism and moral personhood.

Methodological or atomistic individualism holds that all statements and explanations referring to organizations, organizational actions, intentions, motives, beliefs, or the like, can be restated with no loss of meaning using terms referring only to individual humans. Consequently, only individuals, not organizations, have a metaphysical status that qualifies them as morally responsible agents. It is necessary that organizations be entities whose actions, as well as the intentions, beliefs, interests, or goals upon which these actions are predicated are not reducible to human actions and predicates in order for them to bear ascriptions of responsibility and blame.

Manuel Velasquez (1983), focusing specifically on corporations, presents a fairly straightforward individualistic viewpoint. A corporation, in spite of its organizational complexity, is ultimately a group of human beings engaged among themselves in various specific occupational/professional relationships that each believes to be in his/her self-interest. Corporate actions result from policies and procedures intentionally designed by members of the corporation to achieve specific goals. When harm or wrongdoing occurs, individual members are morally responsible in proportion to the degree each participated in policy formulation, implementation, or oversight. Velasquez does support vicarious liability for corporations in cases in which punishable humans are absent and/or in the interest of compensating the victims of corporate malfeasance.

An interesting version of the individualistic challenge to corporate collective or organizational moral responsibility has been presented by the agency theory of Michael Keeley (1981) and has its ideological roots in classical liberalism and the economic theory of F.A. Hayek. A corporation, for Keeley, is a contractual nexus, representing mutually self interested human contractors. Central to this nexus, shareholders hire managers and directors in order to maximize their financial investments, and these agents for the shareholders are themselves also motivated by various, chiefly financial, incentives. Viewing a corporation as nothing more than the context or the arena for the voluntary, self-interested dealings of various individual human actors, renders questions concerning the nature of a corporation as some sort of independent entity, simply irrelevant. For Keeley, the only intentions are individual human intentions. The goals that guide corporate actions and the various functions of its members are an inseparable admixture of overlapping individual goals.

John Ladd (1970) has described formal organizations as "machines" in order to emphasize the constraints on their options for action. Even the most complex machine is only capable of performing those functions that it has been designed or programmed to undertake. An organization must be capable of non-programmed behavior, such as responding constructively to moral blame or disapprobation, to qualify as a morally responsible agent. According to Ladd, non-programmed action is not in the repertoire of either an organization or a machine. In his view, organizations have neither moral responsibilities nor moral rights. Ironically, with the advances in artificial intelligence since Ladd proposed the analogy between organizations and machines, it is now, more than ever, a matter of debate whether computers are capable of the kind of thinking upon which non programmed actions are predicated.

Meir Dan-Cohen (1986) has proposed a thought experiment in which all the employees of a corporation, including management, are replaced by computers that are responsible, in addition to more mundane functions, for all planning and decision making. He believes that such a development is both conceivable and credible, and that the replacement of humans by computers would have little effect on the actual operations of the firm. The point of Dan-Cohen’s “personless corporation” thought experiment is to present the metaphor of an intelligent machine as a heuristic device that he believes is better suited for understanding the unique nature of formal organizations than alternatives, such as Ladd’s metaphor of a non-thinking machine. Ladd’s metaphor suggests that organizations are incapable of the kinds of considerations, decision making, and non-programmed responses to moral evaluation necessary for an entity to qualify as a morally responsible agent. Of course, the choice of a metaphor for organizations is more likely to reflect one’s already formed conception of organizations than it is to provide a basis for developing an alternative one.

The individualist elements in liberal political culture have strongly influenced the ways in which both philosophers and social scientists, working in the Anglo-American tradition, have understood the nature of corporations and other formal organizations. They also help to explain why the notion of collective moral responsibility applied to organizations has not been as widely accepted as might otherwise be the case. Until modern organizational theory emerged in the 1960's and 70's, the aggregationist or reductionist approach to organizations dominated both the empirical and normative perspectives. It has become increasingly evident to many students of organizational behavior that a view that explains organizations completely in terms of the actions and the interactions of individual humans is incapable of fully and accurately describing important organizational properties.

Individualistic positions, such as those of Velasquez, Keeley, and Ladd, fail in at least two ways to adequately account for important organizational features. First, the relation between an organization and its members is a purely contingent, rather than a necessary one. Members may join and leave an organization, but the organization persists. Usually, an organization predates the membership of any particular individual, and therefore new members are socialized to conform to an already existing structure. Second, while it is true that an organization (with the exception of ones, such as Dan-Cohen’s fictional “personless corporation”) can only take action if its individual human members take actions, it is not the case that the reasons that organizations have for what they do are reducible to the reasons and motives of their members. An individualistic view, i.e., one that conceives of formal organizations as ultimately being socially complex aggregates of individuals, is unable to account for the distinctive normative features that organizations possess.

Increasingly, organizations are being viewed as something greater than the sum of those individuals who are their members at a particular point in time. An organization is an entity that is not equivalent to any determinate set of individuals. A holistic (as opposed to atomistic) conception of organizations as distinct and distinctive social entities makes possible an appreciation of moral dimensions that were previously obscured.

The position staked out by Peter French (1979) on the status of corporations has been particularly influential and is widely cited in the relevant literature. Although French’s theoretical focus is chiefly on corporations, he notes that the elements of his position apply to formal organizations in general. The heart of his position is the claim that corporations are intentional agents that are morally responsible for the consequences of both their actions and omissions. Additionally, he asserts that they are "full-fledged" moral persons. French obviously represents the second of the three broad positions on organizational moral status outlined at the outset of this section, and he claims specifically that as full-fledged moral persons, corporations have all the same rights, duties, and privileges as human members of the moral community. It is this claim that is the most controversial feature of his position. The core of French's argument is the possession by a corporation or other formal organization of a functioning internal decision structure (IDS). It is this structure that makes corporate decisions and actions possible by coordinating, subordinating, and synthesizing the actions and intentions of various individual human members of the organization and by transforming them into a corporate action taken for truly corporate reasons. An IDS is the feature that makes it possible for a corporation to adjust and respond constructively to moral blame, censure, or taint. French describes an IDS as being composed of two elements: an organizational or responsibility flow chart that delineates stations and levels within the formal corporate power structure and rules, usually contained in corporate policy statements, that guarantee the recognizability of decisions as authentic corporate decisions. It is such a decision structure that provides continuity in the identity of an organization as changes in individual membership are constantly occurring. In direct opposition to the ontology of methodological individualism, this conception of formal organizations presents them as entities whose actions and intentions are not reducible to the actions and intentions of individuals. It is important to note that French makes it clear that he believes that holding a whole corporation morally responsible in no way prevents or obscures ascriptions of individual responsibility, aimed at all or several individual corporate employees, for any harm or wrongdoing in question.

It can be objected to French’s position that his definition of a corporation’s IDS is overly formalistic and places too great an emphasis on those features that make it logically valid to attribute actions and moral responsibility to the corporate entity. In particular, his emphasis on corporate recognition rules, whether embedded in policies or in procedures, may be taken to imply that the rules that authorize the description of a particular decision or action as corporate are anterior to the decision or action. Such an account risks lending support to Ladd’s account of corporations as structurally constrained, complex, non-thinking machines which lack moral status. A more sociologically realistic, less logically formalistic description of the IDS would make it more clear how, in the ongoing process of corporate decision making, standard operating procedures and corporate policy are themselves modified and often changed greatly. In corporations, as in legislative bodies or administrative agencies, negotiations over the “rules” by which things are done in the name of the whole organization are most often at the heart of the issues in which individual organization members consider themselves to have the most at stake. An action is a collective rather than an individual one, not because it conforms to a rule, but because it is the outcome of individuals acting in various roles within the formal and informal aspects of the organizational power structure, and because the action is capable of generating consensus among members of the organization that it is consistent with the organization’s goals and needs.

The most serious objection to French’s position challenges his claim that corporations and other relevantly similar organizations are full-fledged moral persons with the same rights and privileges as individual humans. This claim is controversial indeed. Being responsible and possessing rights are not correlative moral attributes. In fact, French describes corporations as human inventions whose primary purpose is to meet human needs more efficiently and plentifully than economic arrangements that preceded them. Such a description underscores the instrumental nature of corporations and the priority of human over organizational interests. This description also does not seem to support an equality of moral rights for corporate and individual agents.

Finally, a third set of positions rejects both a strict individualistic interpretation of organizations at one end of the spectrum, as well as rejecting moral personhood at the other end. Thomas Donaldson (1982), discussing the moral status of corporations specifically, presents a very significant distinction between moral agency and moral personhood. He believes that corporations (and formal organizations generally) are moral agents capable of bearing ascriptions of responsibility, but unlike humans, are not moral persons or full fledged members of the moral community as French asserts. Donaldson specifies two conditions required to qualify an entity as a moral agent: (1) the capacity to include moral considerations in its decision making and (2) the capacity to maintain and modify its IDS in order to maximize its likelihood of achieving its goals. Donaldson conceives of corporations as having obligations of two classes: direct and indirect. Direct obligations are formal, explicit, and are often contained in written contracts, such as collective bargaining agreements or legal statutes. Indirect corporate moral obligations are less straightforward and unambiguous than direct ones. A firm's indirect obligations are those owed to constituencies, such as the members of a community in which the firm operates and conducts business, or to the citizens of foreign countries where it might also operate and do business. In some foreign locations, relevant legal and regulatory guidelines may often be lax, poorly enforced, or even nonexistent. Such circumstances require a corporation to exercise independent moral decision making that fall within the purview of indirect obligations. Donaldson proposes the idea of a social contract between business firms and society as a useful way of supporting better organizational decision making on diverse issues that arise under the heading of a corporation's indirect moral obligations.

David Risser (1996) calls his approach organizational moral responsibility, because corporations are only one kind of formal organization capable of bearing ascriptions of moral responsibility. A key element in his position, as it is in Donaldson's and French's, is the notion of an IDS and the manner in which they function in organizations. The IDSs of most corporations, for example, tend to be hierarchical and provide a highly unequal distribution of power among employees. As an example of a very different kind of organization, a democratic legislative body will have a comparatively flat IDS that distributes power among members more equally than in most other organizations, whether business, cultural, or political in nature. Risser’s definition of the IDS emphasizes those features that explain how it functions to transform individual actions and motives into organizational actions taken in pursuit of organizational goals. This contrasts with French’s conception of the IDS, which as discussed above, gives primary emphasis to the way in which it makes possible the logically valid redescription of the actions of the various members of the organization as an organizational action.

Risser's position elaborates on French’s argument that holding an organization morally responsible as an entity, independent of its members, in no way prevents holding individual members responsible for the harm or wrongdoing in question. Two factors need to be assessed in determining whether and to what degree an individual bears some share of moral responsibility for group-caused harm. First, the extent of an individual's actual participation in the harmful/wrong action, including participation in the decision process leading to the action, must be determined. Generally speaking, the power to participate in organizational decisions will be a function of a person's position in the IDS. Harm caused by organizations is usually the result of negligence or recklessness, rather than purposeful or knowing conduct. The second factor required for determining individual moral responsibility is the level of knowledge a member had or should have had concerning those organizational activities that caused harm. Usually, the level of knowledge that it is reasonable to expect of an organizational member will vary according to that employee's position in the IDS. Individuals at the top of the decision hierarchy are generally in the best location to gain information about the organization and its activities and thus, are more likely to bear moral responsibility when things go wrong.

Risser's position asserts a different moral status for corporations and other formal organizations than for humans. Following Donaldson, he classifies organizations as moral agents, but not as moral persons, as does French. Although organizations are morally responsible agents, they do not possess moral rights. This claim is based on the premise that the goals that organizations pursue are in the service, ultimately, of human interests. Organizations are human inventions, and although they have interests that are not reducible to the interests of their members, their existence, in the last analysis, is justified by their service to individual human goals and/or to the common interests of society. Organizations can and have been granted legal rights, but such rights are justifiable only on grounds of social utility.

The positions of Donaldson and Risser have received criticism from both the methodological individualists, as well as from those theorists who agree with French that formal organizations are full-fledged moral persons. For the individualists, only individual humans can be morally responsible. For individualists, holding organizations, such as corporations, legally responsible is an application of vicarious liability made possible by the fiction of organizational personhood in the law. For French, organizational moral responsibility implies full moral personhood and with regard to moral rights, equivalent status for corporations, other relevantly similar organizations, and humans. Those who agree with the full moral personhood view will disagree with Donaldson and Risser, for both of their positions imply a moral community in which the status of humans and of organizations are quite different.

3. Punishment and the Regulation of Organizational Conduct

It is harm or injury caused by corporations that usually comes to mind when one thinks about organizational misconduct. During the 1980’s, one of the highest profile cases of corporation-caused harm was the oil spill in Alaska from the tanker, Exxon-Valdez. At the dawn of the 21st century, the financial malfeasance, such as represented by the cases of the Enron and Tyco corporations, has come to be synonymous for many with corporate wrongdoing. Thousands of employees, particularly in the case of the now bankrupt Enron, lost their jobs and their company pensions as it became clear that Enron and Worldcom had intentionally misrepresented their true financial conditions by submitting false and misleading accounting statements. It has been troubling that most of the high-ranking executives who were individually culpable for the accounting malfeasance at these companies have been able to avoid legal punishment, but the collective or corporate dimension of the wrongdoing is equally important to address. Both individual executives and the corporations themselves bear moral responsibility for submitting false financial information with the intent of misleading investors, directors, regulators, and others. In such cases, it is important that individuals in the organization who are responsible for wrongdoing are punished, but it is equally important that the whole organization itself be punished.

Moral responsibility implies liability to punishment or other responsive behavior. In both legal and moral contexts, an individual human being is the model on which punishment is based. Organizations, such as corporations, are obviously very different entities from humans. In the famous words of Edward, First Baron Thurlow, Lord Chancellor of England: “Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned, and no body to be kicked?” Until relatively recently, the unique features of organizations have not been taken into account in developing punishments for them. Traditional punishments have usually included some sort of fine. Often, such fines are of an insignificant amount given a corporation’s financial resources and can simply be included in its costs of doing business. Fines of more significant amounts can rather easily be passed onto consumers. Newer strategies for corporate punishment are receiving attention from moral philosophers and legal practitioners.

Christopher Stone (1975) has made the case regarding corporate punishments, that traditional punishments, such as fines, do not address a firm's inner processes, and thus miss what is needed to change future conduct. Stone argues that what is required are sanctions which bring about changes in a culpable corporation's IDS. An organization's IDS makes truly collective decisions and actions possible, and it is during the decision making process that principles and ethical values enter the various stages of organizational deliberation. The organizational punishments most likely to deter future misconduct are those designed to directly or indirectly affect changes in the IDS of a culpable group. Stone asserts that traditional organizational sanctions, such as fines, are particularly ineffective in this respect. Traditional sanctions only bolster the view that the inner workings of a corporation are a “black box”, beyond the reach of organizational punishments. Newer interventionist approaches have been proposed and several have been used in the sentencing of corporations.

One proposal, an IDS warning system (Risser 1989), has the goal of preventing harm or wrongdoing from occurring in the first place. An IDS is the “character” of an organization, and as character faults in an individual can help to explain morally substandard behavior in humans, faults in an organization's IDS are essential in understanding the sources of corporate malfeasance. As French observes, corporate IDSs are epistemically transparent. Corporate goals, policies, and standard operating procedures, as well as organizational flow charts, and the formal steps in reaching a truly collective decision, are open for examination, review, and evaluation. Of course, informal lines of communication and relationships of power do develop to some extent in all organizations. Such informal lines of communication and power can be quite influential in an organization and attach themselves to an IDS in a manner analogous to a vine growing on a garden trellis. Students of organizational behavior can gain a sophisticated understanding of both formal and informal aspects of the decision making process in an organization. They can also become expert at discovering the kinds of structural faults that increase the likelihood of morally flawed decisions and harmful actions. Often, bureaucrats in public regulatory agencies, who work closely with particular corporations on a regular basis, are in ideal positions to notice structural flaws. For example, one level of a firm manufacturing medical equipment may place an unrealistic deadline on the unit responsible for completing a product's design so that actual product assembly can commence as soon as possible. Under overly strict time constraints, the design team has tacit, subtle incentives to cut corners, suppress negative information, and underestimate any potential safety risks presented by the new product. Behavior of this kind ultimately threatens the quality and integrity of the final product. A knowledgeable outside observer can often easily recognize the inherent danger such organizational circumstances create. It should not be difficult to institutionalize the issuance of IDS warnings. It would then be left up to corporations, motivated by both moral duty and self interest, to voluntarily make appropriate structural changes.

Social audits are a way which corporations concerned with socially responsible conduct can receive objective assessments of their ethical performance, and there has been significant growth among companies offering social audit services. On a yearly, or perhaps more frequent basis, the audit firm, using various research techniques, will rate the corporation being audited on a number of important dimensions, such as truth in advertising, commitment to environmentally-protective operations, or an established record of treating employees fairly. Neither IDS warnings nor social audits are punishments, although a court, following criminal or civil adjudication, could require a firm to undergo a social audit and perhaps even to publicize the results.

Corporate adverse publicity campaigns are another form of organizational punishment. This approach was first proposed in Great Britain in the 19th century. Peter French's updated version, the “Hester Prynne Sanction”(1985), requires a corporation to undertake the effort and financial burden of advertising, i.e. publicizing its wrongdoing. The sentencing court would have the final authority over the length and content of this sort of negative publicity campaign. For French, the adverse publicity sanction is grounded in a shame-based moral perspective (as opposed to the guilt-based perspective that grounds much of Western morality). French believes that the motivation to expiate shame through constructive response at the corporate level will increase the likelihood of socially responsible behavior in the future. Regardless of the role shame may play, corporations place tremendous economic and symbolic value on good images and will frequently institute structural changes aimed at regaining their reputations.

Finally, changes in corporate governance, either court imposed or voluntary, can significantly affect corporate conduct. Changing the size of the board of directors in order to be able to add “outside” directors has received a good deal of attention in theory and in practice. Because such a change does reach into the corporation's inner workings at an important level, Christopher Stone has been a strong advocate of this approach. An outside director is a director who is neither a manager nor a shareholder in the corporation. Ideally, the board of directors exercises an important oversight function for a firm, a function analogous to that which the conscience serves in an individual human. In fact, many if not most boards are rather passive and routinely authorize all of the decisions and the policies which top management proposes with little or no scrutiny. The addition of outside directors may help to encourage a more active and socially responsible role for directors. Since outside directors come from the same business environment as well as the same educational and social backgrounds as “inside” directors, it has been suggested that outside directors be drawn from constituencies, such as employees, the community at large, or groups concerned with the well-being of the environment.

A 1975 case involving the Northrop Corporation provides an example of court-imposed corporate restructuring. A suit initiated by a Northrop shareholder and the Center for Law in the Public Interest revealed a 13-year pattern of illegal political contributions and payoffs, both in the U.S. and abroad, by the firm. Among the terms of the agreement reached between Northrop and the plaintiffs was a requirement that the board of directors be enlarged and that four new outside directors, subject to judicial approval, be elected. In a further measure, also aimed at preventing similar illegal actions by Northrop, the agreement mandated restructuring and strengthening the social audit committee of its board of directors.

Stone (1975) presents his own detailed proposal for creating two types of public directorships: general public directorships and special public directorships. The first type would be the more common of the two and would apply to all U.S. corporations beyond a certain asset threshold. In short, general public directors would be responsible for collecting all relevant information necessary to anticipate and deal with any moral and/or legal problems that arose. These directors would also have responsibility for helping to identify and repair flaws in the IDS that might lead to illegal or immoral conduct. Special public directors would be added to a board in cases where a corporation has a history of malfeasant conduct or cases in which there has been a particularly intractable problem associated with corporate harm and wrongdoing.

The dominant liberal democratic model of society is one containing two distinct entities: a multitude of individual rights-bearing human beings on one hand and the state on the other. Meir Dan-Cohen argues that this model fails to recognize the distinctiveness and importance of large organizations. Legal theory and practice have developed in a way that recognizes the significance of organizations to a greater degree than liberal democratic political thought does. For example, according to the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code, corporations, independent of their employees, are subject to criminal charges (as they are to civil charges under tort and regulatory law). The Code makes it clear that corporate criminal liability is not merely a form of vicarious liability, and it supports the principle that corporate liability does not protect individual corporate employees from legal liability. Anglo American case law has also developed in a direction that is supportive of the theory of organizational moral responsibility. One of the more well known cases of a corporation as a criminal defendant occurred in 1978, the year that Ford Motor Co. was indicted on three counts of reckless homicide by the state of Indiana.

The 1991 U.S. Sentencing Guidelines mandated ethics compliance programs for all organizations found to be legally culpable. The components of legal compliance programs are designed to influence an organization's IDS and its future conduct. Measures, such as codes of conduct, compliance officers, ethics training for employees, and internal reporting systems that allow employees to report violations and other ethically questionable activities without fear of retribution, make it more likely that organizational decision making will be morally and legally sound.

Organizational moral responsibility has important implications for democratic theory and practice. Holding political officials and the public bureaucracies they manage morally responsible for harm or wrongdoing is as significant a mechanism for maintaining the accountability of a government to its citizens as are free speech, press, and democratic elections. Indeed, citizens have a duty to assist in exercising such mechanisms. The corrupt or negligent administration of a government program, the lax or tainted enforcement of standards by an environmental protection agency or by an agency empowered by Congress to protect consumers are examples of organizational malfeasance in the political arena. It has been suggested that the citizens of a representative democracy are themselves ultimately morally responsible for the actions of their governments. Elizabeth Wolgast (1992) has turned this position on its head and has argued, as suggested above, that a representative government requires the moral accountability of elected and appointed officials to its citizens. Among the difficulties inherent in establishing democratic accountability, is the challenging problem of formulating mechanisms that integrate individual public officials and governmental organizations into the legal system of a democratic political system.

When society is seen as composed of individuals and organizations, and the state is no longer conceived of as a monolithic structure, a more sociologically accurate description of the state can emerge. The state is actually a complex coalition of more or less independent organizations (branches of government, agencies, departments, commissions, etc.), each with its own IDS. Cases involving workers at several nuclear weapons plants, run by the former Atomic Energy Commission, whose health and safety were knowingly endangered by their public sector employer have come to light over the years. During the Clinton administration, a proposal was announced for Congress to compensate thousands of nuclear defense workers who became ill due to radiation and toxic chemical exposure. The compensation plan involved 3,000 workers who were negligently and in some cases, recklessly exposed to dangerous nuclear and chemical ordnance components at former bomb-making facilities in ten states.

The infamous Tuskegee syphilis study begun in 1932 by the U.S. Public Health Service provides an example of harm caused knowingly (rather than merely negligently or recklessly) to study subjects. Approximately 700 African-American men in Tuskegee Alabama were divided into two groups. One group was composed of men who were infected with syphilis and the members of the other, the control group, were not. Members of both groups were regularly monitored, but none of the men with syphilis received appropriate medical treatment. The ostensible goal of this study was to examine the natural course of untreated syphilis. The subjects of the study were neither informed of the nature of their illness, nor of the possible medical treatment options. A class action suit, filed in the 1970’s on behalf of the survivors, resulted in no new law and avoided the issue of government responsibility for the injuries and deaths that resulted from the study. Each survivor received a settlement of about $40,000.

Until the U.S. Congress adopted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946, civil actions against the federal government got nowhere in court. The doctrine of sovereign immunity had meant that in the strictest legal sense, the government simply could not commit a tort, because no law recognized that possibility. The FTCA creates liability for the government as a separate legal entity, but it creates no individual liability applicable to public officials themselves. A number of fairly recent Supreme Court cases have interpreted the FTCA rather narrowly, and for the most part, the principle of sovereign immunity continues to dominate the legal relationship of citizens to their government. Dennis Thompson (1987) has outlined several very strong arguments against the doctrine of sovereign immunity, and he argues that legal liability and most importantly for him, the criminal liability of individual public officials, is an essential component of any approach to holding democratic governments accountable.

4. Conclusion

This essay has presented the four collective moral responsibility arrangements outlined by Joel Feinberg, but it has discussed primarily the last of these arrangements in which a group may be morally responsible as a separate entity, independent of any of its members. This type of collective responsibility has generated both controversy and various objections. Its supporters, for the most part, see formal organizations, such as corporations, as among the best examples of whole groups that are morally responsible agents. Three fundamental, but competing, positions on the moral status of organizations have been discussed. This essay has examined some newer approaches to the control and regulation of organizational, and particularly of corporate conduct, which are based on the position that some types of groups are morally responsible as entities separate from their memberships. It has also suggested the applicability of Feinberg’s fourth arrangement, which has been called organizational moral responsibility, to various political entities in a democratic system of government. This possible application of collective moral responsibility has, thus far, been discussed and debated to a much lesser degree than its application to business corporations has.

The development of large, formal organizations and their evolution as a means to more effectively further human interests represents a distinctive and significant historical achievement. Many aspects of modern life around the globe are dominated by powerful organizations. In order to protect the rights and values of individual humans, societies must develop moral and legal practices and mechanisms that are suited to hold organizations accountable, particularly when they cause widespread harm. Further, because organizational moral responsibility also involves distinguishing the liability of the group as a whole for harm caused from the liability of individual group members, it is a conception that helps in framing and maintaining normative distinctions that are necessary in order to preserve a realistic sense of individual merit and responsibility in a world increasingly dominated by organizations.

5. References and Further Reading

Arendt, Hannah, “Collective Responsibility”, in Amor Mundi, ed. J.W. Bernaver (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (1987), p. 50.

Copp, David, “Collective Actions and Secondary Actions”, American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 16 (1979), pp. 177–86.

Curtler, Hugh, Shame, Responsibility, and the Corporation (New York: Haven Publications, 1986).

Dan Cohen, Meir, Rights, Persons, and Organizations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

Donaldson, Thomas, Corporations and Morality (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1982).

Feinberg, Joel, “Collective Responsibility”, Journal of Philosophy, vol. LXV, no. 21 (November 1968), pp. 222–51.

Fisse, Brent and Peter A. French, eds., Corrigible Corporations and Unruly Law (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1985).

French, Peter A., ed., Individual and Collective Responsibility (Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1973).

French, Peter A., Collective and Corporate Responsibility (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

French, Peter A., “The Hester Prynne Sanction”, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, vol. 4, no. 2 (Winter 1985).

Goodpaster, Kenneth, “Morality and Organizations”, in Ethical Issues in Business (2nd ed.) eds., Thomas Donaldson and Patricia Werhane (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1983).

Jackall, Robert, Moral Mazes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Keeley, Michael, “Organizations as Non Persons”, Journal of Value Inquiry, 15 (1981), pp. 149–55.

Ladd, John, “Morality and the Ideal of Rationality in Formal Organizations”, Monist, vol. 54, no. 1 (October 1970), pp. 488–516.

Ladd, John, “Corporate Mythology and Individual Responsibility”, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1984).

May, Larry and Stacey Hoffman, eds., Collective Responsibility (Savage: Rowman and Littlefield, 1991).

May, Larry, The Morality of Groups (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1987).

Risser, David T., “The Social Dimension of Moral Responsibility: Taking Organizations Seriously”, Journal of Social Philosophy, vol. 27, no. 1 (Spring 1996), pp. 189–207.

Risser, David T. (with co-authors: Peter A. French and Jeffrey Nesteruk), Corporations in the Moral Community (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1992).

Risser, David T., “Punishing Corporations: A Proposal”, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, vol. 8, no. 3 (Fall 1989), pp. 83-92.

Sigler, Joy and Joseph Murphy, Interactive Corporate Compliance (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988).

Stone, Christopher, Where the Law Ends: The Social Control of Corporate Behavior (New York: Harper and Row, 1975).

Thompson, Dennis, Political Ethics and Public Office (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).

Velasquez, Manuel, “Why Corporations Are Not Morally Responsible for Anything They Do”, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, vol. 2, no. 3 (Fall 1983).

Werhane, Patricia, “Formal Organizations, Economic Freedom and Moral Agency”, Journal of Value Inquiry, 14 (1980), pp. 43-50.
Wolgast, Elizabeth, Ethics of an Artificial Person: Lost Responsibility in Professions and Organizations, (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992).

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