Jeffrey “The Insider” Wigand: Inner Journey of a Whistleblower

Most of you will have heard of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, or will at least have heard of the movie, The Insider, that chronicled Wigand’s harrowing experiences as a tobacco-industry whistleblower.

Most of you will not know, that Wigand is still involved in the fight against Big Tobacco. More specifically, he’s the head of a nonprofit foundation called Smoke-Free Kids.

You also may want to know that Wigand will be appearing this Tuesday (January 12th) on the internet radio show Ethics Talk. The title for that show will be: From Knowledge to Action: An Interview With Jeffrey Wigand.

It’s good to know that one of the few true celebrities of business ethics is still involved in trying to make the world a better place.
(You can follow Wigand on Twitter, here: @jeffrey_Wigand.)

1 comment so far

  1. Kelly Mudgway on

    It is no secret that Jeffrey Wigand is one of the most prolific whistle blowers of the 20th century. It is common knowledge that he spoke out about the truth within the tobacco industry. However, what can be argued is: were his actions of whistle blowing justified by applying Utilitarianism theory and Virtue ethics as well as applying Standard and Complicity theory?
    Jeffrey Wigand – The contractual obligation he broke
    Insofar we should first take into account what Jeffrey Wigand’s position was within the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation. He was the head of Research and Development. This was a senior level role within the organisation and within his contractual agreement he had a clause of confidentiality. Tina Mario brings up the point about loyalty and what it entails. Wigand had a contractual obligation of confidentiality. Therefore, it implies loyalty to his employer. For loyalty to be existent it needs to have an emotional relationship between two parties. The argument is however, that a relationship between an employer and employee is not of an emotional nature. It is purely based on the end needs of both the parties. It is a cycle; the company needs to make a profit, which is achieved by the employee completing the job at hand. In turn the employee receives remuneration for their effects. Wigand was bound by contractual agreement and his act of whistle blowing is a classic example of disloyalty towards his employer.
    The option Jeffrey Wigand could have taken
    In this situation Wigand chose to speak out. There is no evidence to suggest that he attempted to whistle blow internally but, based on his contractual obligations he should have exhausted all options before going to the media. Wigand’s whistle blowing act was one of the most controversial cover ups of the 20th century. If Wigand was to follow the correct internal channels he would have gone to his CEO and if that did not work then gone to the Board of Directors. Personally, I think that he tried to go internally even though I cannot find any evidence to suggest this. I also think that the CEO and the Board of Directors were all well aware that smoking was causing death. They made a conscious decision to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. It did not protect their interests of maximising profits should they of done something about it. The tobacco industry was infamous for its bribery and corruption in those days. Whenever something came to light they would just sweep it under the carpet. I believe that the CEO and the Board of Directors are just as guilty in the situation as Wigand, who spoke out.
    Applying Utilitarianism to the action Wigand took
    If we look at the two options Wigand had. It was to speak out or remain silent. Utilitarianism’s main question to apply is what action would help produce the greatest amount of happiness and least harm? If you were to apply this question, then you can argue that he chose the right decision to speak out. Based on the truth being told he make the public aware of the addictive nature of nicotine. He made it quite clear that the company was hiding incriminating evidence of lawsuits that had been filed by sick or dying smokers. He also provided information about how the flavour enhancer caused cancer.
    This all illustrates the prevention of harm. The only argument is what happiness did this whistle blowing act achieve? In my opinion the only happiness that was achieved was that the public now knows the truth about the impact of smoking. There is no technical measurement on happiness. It is of my opinion that the perception of smoking in the earlier years was perceived as the ‘norm’. Nobody knew the true effects of it. I believe the happiness achieved from Wigand is the public had an answer for the sicknesses smoking caused. It gave them a choice as to whether or not they would smoke in the future. The happiness for Wigand himself would be that his conscious was cleared and that he could sleep at night knowing the truth had been told.
    Applying Virtue ethic’s to the action Wigand took
    Wigand’s action of speaking out to the media is what I would say to be a person of countless virtuous characteristics. In my opinion it portrays an enormous of courage to go behind his company’s back to do what he did. Not only did he do this but his honesty showed an immense amount of integrity. His action was selfless as it came with countless consequences. He lost everything at the time. He had to change his life and never got another job in a senior management position. He had to spend a great deal of his life with a constant shadow of body guards to watch over him. He risked everything to tell the public the truth. What he lost illustrates the cost it had on him. The only vice you could argue is that he was disloyal to the company. However, he can have a clear conscious knowing that the truth was made public.
    Applying the Paradoxes of Standard Theory to Wigand’s Action
    The first theory to apply is the “Paradox of burden”. Wigand had a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others. This theory also implies that it should have been done with little cost. Nevertheless, this was the not the case. Wigand lost everything, his career, his family, his finances, his independance and any ounce of self dignity. This was of significant cost. It can be argued that the only measurable outcome would be the loss of his finances. However, his family and independence it is intangible and no amount of cost can be measured for that.
    The second theory to apply is the “Paradox of prevention of harm”. Wigand’s whistle blowing action was justified as his clear intention was to prevent harm and to expose Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation for the company it really was. Wigand said. “But I wasn’t disloyal in the least bit. People were dying. I was loyal to a higher order of ethical responsibility.” (Salter, C, 2002). Davis brings up a good point. “He has no excuse for revealing what his organisation does not want revealed. Instead, he claims to be doing what he should be doing. If he cannot honestly make that claim-if, that is, he does not have the intention-his revelation is not whistle blowing”. Davis, M (1996). The key point here is to prevent harm. People dying is a clear illustration of harm. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise.
    The third theory to apply is the “Paradox of failure”. Wigand’s testimony does not completely prevent serious and considerable physical, financial or psychological harm. The failure present here is for those who smoked already. It was highly probable that it caused a huge amount of despair as to what damage it was doing to their body. It has not prevented physical, financial or psychological harm. The only argument that could be made is that the truth is out there and hopefully it deterred non smokers to continue being non smokers as well as future generations. This alone would be an accomplishment in its own right as future harm would be reduced.
    Applying the Paradoxes of Complicity Theory to Wigand’s Action
    I agree with Tina Mario’s opinion in that it partly complies with the Complicity Theory. Wigand’s information was completely evidenced from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation. Wigand was not a voluntary member of the organisation as he was contracted to work on behalf of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation where he received remuneration for his work. Complicity theory argues that one has to be a voluntary member of the organisation which Wigand was not. Wigand had evidence to believe that the organisation was misleading the public. His statement made to the public outlined the health effects of smoking.
    Jeffrey Wigand in my opinion is a hero. He believed that if he didn’t stand up against the wrong doing of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation then he would have felt like he was responsible and accountable for the harm caused. As stated above, “People were dying. I was loyal to a higher order of ethical responsibility.” (Salter, C, 2002). His action of speaking out was justified. If Wigand had not of spoken out it would only have been a matter of time before someone else had or the company was investigated. Wigand’s whistle blowing only brought forward the inevitable. There is no measurement possible for the number of lives he would have saved with his action.
    Jeffrey Wigand will go down in history as one of the biggest whistle blowers of the 20th century. By applying Standard Theory you could argue that his action was justified and by applying parts of Complicity Theory you can also argue that it was justified. In my opinion I believe that Wigand did the right thing and will be remembered in history for it.

    Course Notes
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Course notes, Business Ethics 2011.

    Articles / Journals
    Beauchamp, Tom l., Borman E. Bowie, and Denis G. Arnold, eds. 2001. ethical theory and business, (6th ed). upper saddle river, nj: Pearson/prentice hall.
    Davis, Michael. ‘Professional Responsibility: Just Following the Rules?’ Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 18, no.1:65-87.
    Some Paradoxes of Whistleblowing
    Davis, M . (1996). Some paradoxes of whistleblowing. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 15(1), 3–19.

    Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2010). The Elements of Moral Philosophy (6th Ed). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

    Journal of Statistics Education Volume 12, Number 3 (2004)

    Jeffrey Wigand: The Whistle-Blower
    Article location:
    December 19, 2007
    Tags: Leadership, Leadership mentoring
    Extracted by Kelly Mudgway Thursday 19th January 2012, 3.58pm

    The Insider

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