Relevance of Business Ethics in R & D Decisions

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on February 19, 2014

It is now evident that the unintended consequences of the technological advancements in the field of information technology, genetic technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, Neurological-technology cannot be prejudged. Many would argue, however, that this cannot be reason for stalling advancements in these fields. Others would argue that non-directed and misguided advancements in these fields may create more human social problem than it promises to solve, especially at hands of the corporate sector, because it is driven by the sole motive of maximizing shareholders value. Hence it is a big question mark for companies engaging in high end R&D and have to face criticism by society at large of brewing trouble in the laboratories.

image courtesy: Photokanok,

It is often a huge controversy whenever the advancement of science comes into conflict with the very goal of scientific progress, i.e. when the discoveries and research begins to threaten mankind itself, and the trade offs in case of mishaps and unguided research could be severe. The benefit derived from advanced technology, for e.g. in treating incurable diseases by Pharmaceutical Companies or technological IT prowess by IT companies, versus the very genesis of the human resource wherein man himself is held hostage to this progress.

For instance if it were feasible to create and replicate DNA structures and culturing the fetus according to the wishes of the stakeholders, is a dangerous type of intervention in the natural process of nature. If a company were to master this technique and offer its services to parents worldwide, it could lead to severe compromise of natural balance on the planet, with only artificially created humans being born to parents across the planet, it also makes one question the rights of the unborn child.

On the other hand, there are arguments that substantiate on the rationale that a parent would only want the best for his or her offspring, thus such decisions when made would be made keeping in mind the best interest if the child. Thus such restructurings and artificial control over the future human generations would entail a healthier and  more competent society, comprising of only desirable traits, for e.g. traits of intelligence, physical attractiveness etc. Many have even said that in the very long term it could generate homogeneity in the human race, whether that is for the better or the worse, one cannot predict with certainty.

Thus irrespective of the offerings of a company or a value proposition in the market, the final call of whether to engage with the company or not depends on society at large, hence the onus of responsibility is not on the maker but rather the user of that product/service, to cater to the possible consequences of that product/service. However the code of conduct and quid pro quo of the company towards the society gets severely questioned in such a scenario.

In such a situation of conflicting  opinions and fervors its imperative that a universal standard becomes the guideline for further course of action. Such a framework is provided by a core understanding and interpretation of ethics. Especially since the goal of any advancement is to cater to the needs of the humans, and induce human welfare, it becomes imperative that an ethical standard is established and becomes the influencer in order to discern for what is right and wrong. For instance developing genetic technology for creating identical DNA and culturing human cells could work wonders for curing burn injuries and even dangerous ailments like cancer, but at the same time it could be used to create clones and use these duplicate identical human bodies for criminal purposes. This is where the role of ethics as the over-riding guideline and principle becomes indispensable.

Science and Advancement can never be held in the wrong, it is the use of that knowledge and technology that can make a sociological impact on the human race. The establishing of the ethical code  ensure that this impact is positive, thus highlighting the crucial role played by ethics in the bridging of Science, Technology, Advancement and Human Welfare. It become the beacon marking the correct path for the company as well as its consumers.

Ethical Standards help us understand and make the wise choices, in order to do what is correct and upheld by these standards, for the better good of society or Human Welfare. However to articulate such a standard becomes a challenge in case of futuristic developments, the consequences of which activities shall be revealed in the time yet to come.

One should try to reduce the uncertainty with respect to the consequences of a technological/scientific advancement in order to make the right ethical choices to the limit that costs undertaken to do the same permit us. All persons should equally share the benefits of such a advancement and be equal bearers of the risks. Disparity in the shouldering of risks and the reaping of benefits could lead to personal motivations of the people garnering the benefit to accelerate the onslaught of such advancements at the cost of those who bear the risks.

However at the same time persons should be able to choose the extent of risk they should shoulder with respect to the extent of benefit they stand to gain, and those not gaining any benefit from the scheme of things, should not be made to shoulder any risks. It should be kept in mind, that value of a benefit is different with respect to the economic disparity between the beneficiaries, also the impact of such advancements could occur over the long term, and hence their consequences should be valued not over only costs but over time. It is important to realize the fallacy of truism, that no one person can claim that he or she is right and that the others are wrong irrespective of the standing/position of the person in a company. Hence it is crucial to let the stakeholders of the issue at hand discuss and collectively conclude on the correctness of the actions and consequences permissible to them at large.

It has been seen from precedence and empirical data over the years that the optimum balance of the negative consequences of futuristic advancements concerning a large group of people is exponentially lesser as compared to that impacting  smaller group of individuals. This is a robust argument because as the number of people shouldering the risks of activity increase, the uncertainty of the consequences per capita decreases. Thus in order to achieve the ease of decision making it is always of assistance when the entire universe of stakeholders is considered rather than a segmented set of individuals.

The article has been authored by Ankita Balyan, IIM Calcutta




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