Hard Times: Ethics on the Chopping Block?

When hard times come along, should ethics be the first thing you cut, or the last thing?

Over at the Research Ethics Blog, my friend Nancy Walton has posted an interesting (and frightening) story about cuts in the world of bioethics: Ethics on the chopping block.

Here are the basics:

The University of Tenneessee is considering closing down The Department of Human Values and Ethics in the College of Medicine along with a number of other science and medicine programs.
….
Across the globe in New Zealand, the government will sign off on disbanding the country’s Bioethics Council on Monday. The Bioethics Council was created in 2002 in response to public concern that the government was making decisions — in an ad hoc and unadvised manner — on complex and controversial biotech and genetic issues ….

Nancy’s analysis of why these are stupid moves is thought-provoking, and goes beyond the obvious. She points out that, in the world of bioethics, at least (and I would argue elsewhere too), ethics departments serve outreach, advocacy, and educational roles that go beyond their literal job descriptions.

My own question is whether we should expect the same bad moves in the corporate world, during this global economic downturn. We already know there have been layoffs. But has anyone heard of any CSR or Ethics & Compliance departments being cut at major corporations? If anyone knows of any current examples, post a comment below or email me.

2 comments so far

  1. Doug Cornelius on

    Chris –There are obviously cost pressures at every level of every organization in this economic climate.I think most big companies are hesitant to significantly reduce the size of their compliance groups. Except as a proportion of the downsize of the company as a whole.)Compliance is a cost center and we always need to prove value. That value is showing up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal most days. The downturn is revealing fraudulent and ethically challenged companies on a regular basis. We are also expecting more regulations to come out of the current administration, which means more work for compliance.

  2. Jack Zufelt on

    Ethics should be the last thing that gets cut. If you’ve cut your ethics during the bad times, you might forget to bring them back during the good times. In such a case your reputation will suffer.


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