Pipeline Whistleblowing: Getting the Ethics Right

It was reported recently that an engineer for TransCanada, Evan Vokes, has now gone public with claims that the pipeline company has been lax in the standards it applies to having its pipelines inspected.

Whistleblowing is among the most complex ethical issues in the world of business. Whistleblowers are people who demonstrate that there is — there must be — a limit to the loyalty of even a dedicated employee. Whistleblowers go outside the boundaries of their organization to report actual or immanent wrongdoing. They often prevent grievous harm, but in doing so they inevitably impugn the character of their organizations, and sometimes of their co-workers. And of course, there’s always the worry that the self-appointed whistleblower is actually just a malcontent bent on revenge. But such cases aside, whistleblowers perform an essential public service.

A few points are worth making about the TransCanada case in particular.

The first is that, at least as the story is told by the CBC, Vokes is the perfect whistleblower. He’s got the relevant expertise (he’s both a welder and an engineer) and he’s got a reputation for honesty and integrity. Further, Vokes carried out the whistleblowing properly: he proceeded in perfect ethics-textbook fashion by first making his concerns known to his superiors, and then escalating up chain of command. Only when it became clear that internal channels weren’t working did he go outside of the company to bring his concerns to the relevant regulatory agency.

Second, the fact that Vokes felt the need to blow the whistle suggests a failure of leadership within the company. According the the CBC’s report, Vokes made his concerns clear all the way up the corporate hierarchy, and everyone “right up to the chief executive officer refused to act on his complaints.” A

“It’s fine” — just like NASA’s space shuttle Challenger

The latest update to this story, of course, is that TransCanada has now temporarily shut down its Keystone pipeline, citing safety concerns.

10 comments so far

  1. DarryleHuffman on

    This is the prime example of how to report unethical behavior, In you own companies you work with you need to know the proper reporting proceures that are in place and use them.

  2. Manisha on

    The question here is : Is whistle blowing an good or bad?

    What i feel:- What Vokes has done is ethically correct. He followed the proper channel, which is to approach his manager, seniors and that companies head.

    He was dissatisfied with the overall support he received from the company, which is when he decided to go a head with whistleblowing.

  3. Mayanka on

    I would start with a question as to the need to justify. The need to justify does not arise unless there is a reason to believe it wrong. This opens the conversation as to the reason of whistle blowing.
    In the blog Chris acknowledges whistle blowing as a complex ethical choice made by an employee. It might be pushing it a bit too much in branding Vokes as a perfect whistleblower. However he has demonstrated many traits which can justifiably be branded as act of moral whistle blowing. So the question of need to justify, from Vokes perspective, is the reason to believe something as morally right or morally wrong.
    Chris has rightly pointed out the position of Vokes and his approach before going public as a whistle blower. Actions and approach of Vokes is very much in line with the theory of complicity (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2009). This is demonstrated by the facts in the blog that Vokes has moral reasoning to go public as:
     His revelations were in line with his area of expertise
     He was working voluntarily as an engineer
     He believed that TransCanada are doing serious moral wrong
     His belief that his non-disclosure might affect the members of public in future
    However my point of view changes from here for Vokes as not a model whistle blower. Standard theory of acceptable whistle blowing requires the whistle blower to identify serious harm to public and requires believing that the act of whistle blowing would prevent reasonable harm in future (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2009). There is evidence indicating that as per governing agency NEB the pipeline “do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment”. Also as a result of Vokes’s act the pipeline was shut down temporarily and it resulted in financial loss to the company (CBC News, 2012).
    To a certain degree it is also right to say “a limit to loyalty of even a dedicated employee”. Again I am with Chris to a larger extent but would still not call Vokes as a perfect whistle blower on scale of loyalty. Vokes’s actions are in line with standard theory of acceptable whistle blowing by the facts that:
     He exhausted all the internal procedures within TransCanada
     Reported potential harm to his immediate superiors and the harm to public
    According to Ronald Duska there are many authors to believe that ultimate aim of the company is to make profit and not an emotional relationship where you can expect loyalty. Money is what ties the companies together and not loyalty as a basis of binding (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2009). This argument is also supported by Kant’s categorical imperative that there should be the duty and respect for law, which apparently was done by Vokes. Kant also advocated to make it a universal law to not to use others as means to meet your ends (Wikipedia, 2012). Combining this with the fact that money is what ties the company together then Vokes did the right thing by blowing the whistle and even if he is called as disloyal he is morally justified as he believed TransCanada comprising public safety for their own good.
    Strictly from my perspective I would not brand Vokes as loyal or disloyal branding him as a perfect whistle blower. If I place myself in Vokes’s shoes I see upon me paradoxes of burden, harm, missing harm and preventing the harm (Davis, 1996). As Vokes I have a strong reason to argue that my obligation was derived from my involvement as an engineer and so to blow the whistle to prevent potential harm. However it is questionable from here if due to my personal belief system I am automatically avoiding the paradoxes of preventing and missing the harm. From a Utilitarian ethics maxim of greatest happiness, Vokes compromised his duty of loyalty to the company and public and his act did not eventually result in greater happiness (Wikipedia, 2012). The evidences that pipeline was found safe at that time of inspection by NEB and that it was temporarily closed. However, later on, such inspections by independent contractors were made compulsory for such businesses increasing the overall cost of operations. Ethicist Sisela Bok and author Norman Bowie considers such act of whistle blowing as an act of disloyalty. Both Bok and Bowie say that such act of disloyalty can be supported only if the greater public good is done (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2009). But in reality did Vokes act of disloyalty override and do a greater public good?
    Chris is right in sayings that “whistle blowers perform an essential public service” however such an act cannot be encouraged as a universal law and would not fit many criteria of virtue ethics. Even though if we follow footsteps of Vokes in terms of his engagement at work and pointing the leadership failure then also the virtue of having insider information can be misused by a whistle blower as an act of revenge or personal greed. The consequences could lead to major economic loss such as financial loss to corporation, job loss of employees, lack of trust within the company, spying and corporate espionage (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2009). The cost to whistle blow and the cost to the society should both be considered at the same time.
    To conclude and keeping Vokes in perspective I would say it is a question about paradox of knowledge. Knowledge for Vokes was what he believed due to his role as an engineer. However it has to be justified that both in future and at present the belief was justified and true in nature. The belief that my current belief cannot be proven wrong in future. This also answers the issue of loyalty as to whether to show if we know anything or not. Hence Vokes fits right in most of the paradoxes but still falls short of being called as a perfect whistle blower referee to stop the game.

    CBC News. (2012, October 17). Whistleblower forced investigation of TransCanada Pipelines. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from CBC News Canada: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/10/16/transcanada-whistleblower-neb.html
    Chris MacDonald. (2012, October 19). Pipeline Whistleblowing: Getting the Ethics Right. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from The Business Ethics Blog: https://businessethicsblog.com/2012/10/19/pipeline-whistleblowing-ethics/#comment-8792
    Colero, L. (2010). A Framework For Universal Principles of Ethics. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from http://www.ethics.ubc.ca: http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/papers/invited/colero.html
    Davis, M. (1996). Some paradoxes of whistleblowing. Business and Professional Ethics Journal , Vol 15, 3-19.
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2009). Business Ethics. Some Paradoxes of whistleblowing , p. Reading 2.3.
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2009). Business Ethics. Whistleblowing and employee loyalty , p. Reading 2.2.
    Wikipedia. (2012, November 16). Categorical imperative. Retrieved December 2012, 5, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative#cite_note-Ellington-1
    Wikipedia. (2012, November 21). Utilitarianism. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism#cite_note-78

  4. Ashley on

    In your blog you say that even the most dedicated that there must be a limit to the amount of loyalty that an employee has towards the business. I would argue that there should be no reason why any employee should have any loyalty to the company they work for. A business exists is to make profit because if they aren’t making a profit the business will eventually cease to exist. The only exception where an employee might be loyal is where they have an interest in the business, for example a family business where there is sentimental value or tradition. Loyalty is reciprocal and in my experience is not reciprocated by any business. For example if a business can make more profit or less loss from making some of their employees redundant or firing them they would without a question.

    Vokes demonstrates this quite clearly as he has done everything right as he could’ve just blown the whistle without even going to his superiors. The fact that he has gone up the hierarchy in his company to bring these issues to light and nothing was done about it to me shows how disloyal a company can be. As this is internal whistle blowing it would’ve been in the best interest of the company to investigate such claims at this point and dealt with it rather than having it go public where claims of substandard pipeline inspections would have a negative impact on the company.

    I would also question the ethics of those that did nothing when they were informed by Vokes of these issues. Once Vokes had raised these issues with his superiors it should’ve been the ethical duty of the company and those that had been informed to make sure that the standards were being met as it would be their responsibility to ensure a safe work place and clean environment. The fact that external whistle blowing was needed in this case reflects badly on all those that were informed and Trans Canada as a company.

    In this case I would say that not only did Vokes do everything right but he also had a ethical duty to whistle blow as the standards ensure a safe place to work and would also protect the environment from possible harmful pollutants that may flow through the pipeline. In fact I would say that Vokes has shown loyalty, by going to his superiors first so that they could have a chance to investigate his claims before he went public. Vokes may have loyalty to his fellow work mate but even here I think it would be more a sense of ethical duty in that if the means to a safer work place was to whistle blow then this would increase happiness or decrease suffering overall and is therefore justified.

    This is also supported by Ronald Duska’s claim that loyalty is an emotional response to another person, whereas the only obligation an employee has to their employer is a contractual one and no loyalty owed. “Duska’s claim is that one can have obligations of loyalty to, and expect loyalty from, real people with whom one has personal relationships, such as friends and family.”2 An employer (business is not something you can have a personal relationship with and by Duska’s claim there would be no loyalty owed.

    From the point of the employer they would want to instill as big a sense of loyalty as possible to its employees. As Paul R. Lawrence says “Ideally, we would want one sentiment to be dominant in all employees from top to bottom, namely a complete loyalty to the organizational purpose.”1 This would obviously be of benefit to any organization if everyone was committed to the organization purpose as productivity would increase as employees would be willing to work longer, sacrificing their own time for the good of the business, there would also be less turnover in staff which would benefit in retaining the intellectual property that individuals hold in relation to their roles.

    In conclusion I would say there is no loyalty between employer and employee as it is merely a contract between two parties and therefore no loyalty exists between them. The only obligations each would have to the other are stipulated within the employment contract.


    1. Paul R. Lawrence, The Changing of Organizational Behavior Patterns: A Case Study of Decentralization (Boston Division of Research, Harvard Business School, 1958(, 208, as quoted in Ken
    2. The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2012). Module Two. In 71203 Business ethics. Lower Hutt, NZ: Scholes.

  5. Nicole on

    What is loyalty in regards to the loyalty a person has for their employer? What does an employer expect in the way of loyalty from its employees? These questions are very complicated as there is not one correct answer for either. The general statement you have made regarding the limit to the amount of loyalty a person has for their employer demonstrated by whistle-blowers is a very one sided view. A whistleblower that has made the attempt to contain the issue internally which is the case within the TransCanada situation, should be viewed as a loyal employee. Considering internal whistle-blowing would normally be a positive thing for a company as it is within their best interests to take an opportunity to find out about and deal with any problems that could cause harm to the company if disclosed (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2009). The internal whistle-blower should be seen to be protecting the primary business function of profit making as the issue the whistle-blower is most often raising could cause potential harm to the business in many different ways often creating profit loss to occur. The blowing of the whistle internally should be seen to be acting according to the contractual agreement made between both employee and employer as the employee is only fulfilling their work conditions by reporting any issue affecting good work to be produced. Within any contractual agreement made there would be no mention of loyalty and should not be a specific expected, if not given. “It is important to recognize that in any relationship which demands loyalty the relationship works both ways and involves mutual agreement” (Duska, R. F., 1990, p.144) which has not occurred within the TransCanada situation as the employer has shown no loyalty to their employee by ignoring their concerns. The ignorance towards whistle-blowers can be very crutial proven by many situations including the disaster of the Pike River Mine. Internal whistle-blowing had occurred in this particular situation in a very large scale in a very short amount of time (Department of Internal Affairs, 2010). Ignorance of the whistle blowing lead to a massive tragedy of 29 lives being lost. This tragedy could easily have been avoided. The leak of information to an external source would no doubt have done a lot more good than the internal attempt which gives external whistle-blowing a more positive light. Applying Kantian moral theory to the TransCanada situation shows that the agent should take the whistle-blowing to an external source. It could be passed as universal law to speak out about the situation as well as telling the truth which is also respecting people as ends in themselves. The Utilitarian approach would also support external whistle-blowing in the TransCanada situation. Though the company would suffer financial losses and be forced to reduce employees the greater good would be achieved by preventing harm to people living around the pipeline. Not speaking out about the situation would be seen as immoral. Without an ideal relationship reflecting loyalty and loyalty uncovered within the contractual agreement there becomes no obligation to keep the whistle-blowing within the business when unheard. The need to go to the extent of external whistle-blowing shows that the business itself has no loyalty towards their employee as the privacy of the employee becomes jeopardized, the very real possibility of retaliation becomes a threat, as well as the pure fact that the business should never want an employee to suffer through a situation of choosing between honesty and ignorance. Taking all of this into account shows that a whistle-blower attempting to deal with a situation internally is loyal to the employer they work for by trying to protect the business from harm or financial loss. But forced to blow the whistle externally shows loyalty for those possibly affected as the correct actions have not been taken by those in positions to cure the situation. The action becomes a moral action. The only disloyalty being internal or external whistle-blowing is held by the employer. The loyalty limit does not exist for the employee blowing the whistle.


    Duska, R. F. (1990). Whistle blowing and employee loyalty. In J. R. Desjardins & J. J.McCall (Eds.), Contemporary issues in business ethics (2nd ed., pp. 142-147). Belmont CA: Wadsworth.

    Department of Internal Affairs. (2010). Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. Retrieved on 2 February 2013 from http://pikeriver.royalcommission.govt.nz/Volume-One—Overview

    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2009). 71203 Business Ethics. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

  6. William Coffin on

    Let us remember, this scenario entails a loyal member of staff compelled to whistle blowing due to a potential environmental disaster in the making, and a question of a corporations social and moral responsibility being discarded for increased production of the company’s primary output; crude oil. TransCanada have placed massive investment in infrastructure into an industry that is a demonstrable hazard. In this article you have focused on 2 key points; from what is publicly known Evan Vokes was a loyal and integral employee, but evidentially felt the expression of safety concerns intrinsic of his ethical duty within the firm overwhelming. This I believe, demonstrates a sense of overriding social responsibility. Secondly Chris, you have suggested that the very fact Mr Vokes felt he needed to go so far as to actually ‘whistle blow’ to the NEB suggests leadership issues with the firm. While I agree with his position I fear that the leadership may well be in touch with the organizational culture that permeates TransCanada’s leadership.

    TransCanada’s dismissive and blatant disregard for the NEB (National Ethics Board) regulations and Canadian safety regulations indicates a corporate culture of ‘by any means’. This behaviour does not appear to be codified, however there appears to an intrinsic understanding that the engineers are to do as they are instructed, even when issues of safety and procedure are raised. In reference to the shuttle challenger the sad fact is this wasn’t merely a lack of following correct procedure, it was a failure of existing procedure and conduct which is exactly what appears to have driven Evan Vokes to Whistle-blowing to the Canadian NEB (National Ethics Board). The company may suffer a loss of capital, and TransCanada’s stock market value will fall, distributing fault to shareholders. Corporate responsibilities to shareholders can override moral accountability within business culture. This doesn’t lessen the burden of social responsibility of providing disclosure with topics of public safety. The corporate conglomerate also attempts to avoid memberships’ full moral accountability for relevant topics such as climate change, and social responsibility via joint decisions made by unaccountable senior managers. This removes the membership of senior management from the field of responsibility. Cohen considers the membership organization as a ‘permanent self-perpetuating bureaucratic apparatus that constitutes an organization. (Cohen, 1986, p 22). This may suggest that the apparatus’s primary objective is self-perpetuation, at any cost. This however fails to consider that corporate sustainability requires companies thinking of the consequences of their business activities. TransCanada have invested heavily in crude oil drilling and distribution, a finite energy source with demonstrable consequences of utility.

    Your concern in this blog appears to be a whistle blowing counter argument concerning the detriment of character suffered by the organization, and potentially co-workers, or former co-workers as in this case. This is a valid retort, I believe a corporation can and must be held morally responsible. The topic of corporate accountability requires research of additional criteria that constitute an organization that’s morally accountable:

    According to French (1984) corporations are considered not so much moral persons, so much as moral actors. Each has the ability to act with intentionality and for moral responsibility. Therefore it suggests that the corporate form of agency bears responsibility for the consequences of its intentions.

    David Risser (1978) defines the organizational differentiated roles as labour, and communication. These definitions of acting roles demonstrate the relationship between actions and their moral actors, and their compatibility with organizational goals.

    Virginia Held rejects French’s position and states corporations are unable to feel shame and lack the emotional capability of the morally accountable person. Held (1986) claims corporations have visions and goals but lack the criteria of an emotional life.

    Moral accountability for TransCanada perhaps then calls for the aggregate distribution of moral responsibility across the conglomerate. To be just, this would need to consider lesser degrees of accountability for person(s) outside the field of exchange between the communication and labour action. Aggregate moral liability Zimmerman (1985) claims should not be ascribed on a basis of a members contribution of harm. I disagree with Zimmerman, as leadership is ultimately responsible for driving the decision making process within the organization, the leaders should share more responsibility for the group as part of the duties of leadership.

    Organizational loyalty played a crucial part in the time frame in which this incident takes place. Mr Vokes was for all accounts a model employee who performed his duties to specification. Even as he raised the issue he did so through the organizational framework channels only to be arbitrarily dismissed for his integrity. TransCanada have had issues with the keystone pipe more recently, having the local population protesting their presence due to fear of local contamination. In a previously confirmed incidence of big oil misconduct; For a decade, legal activists have been trying to sue Chevron Texaco in Ecuador, for dumping contaminated water in open ponds in that country’s rain forest that, they claim, harmed both health and the environment.

    ‘Oiling the wheels’ has become a term associated with the high level government organization corruption that takes place in order to exploit the oil riches of A region. Speed boats and Fur Coats (economist.com) traded for access to oil in less democratic nations by unscrupulous agents of big oil. The government of Canada needs to demonstrate integral political leadership and enforce the legal responsibility required of the TransCanada corporate conglomerate. Express concerns should be heard. Whistle blowing should enforced in company policy and therefore not perceived as a detriment to company operations. Whistle blower support policy helps define a sustainable long term strategy, and provides a public service. The compliance with environmental and safety regulations is essential to the long term profitability and value received from the venture that is the Keystone pipeline. This compliance is of great importance considering the foreseeable social, financial, and environmental repercussions.
    Main Article: MacDonald, C. (2012). Businessethicsblog.com, ‘Pipeline whistle-blowing: Getting things right’. Retrieved Friday, May 17, 2013 from https://businessethicsblog.com/2012/10/19/pipeline-whistleblowing-ethics/
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. T. Nagel, ‘Concealment and Exposure’, 1998, Princeton University Press. Retrieved Monday, April 29, 2013 from http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/nagel/papers/exposure.html
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. reason.com, ‘Rethinking Social responsibility’. Retrieved Monday, April 29, 2013 from http://reason.com/archives/2005/10/01/rethinking- the-social-responsibility
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. ‘Marketing and marketers: Use the dark arts for good’. Retrieved Monday, April 29, 2013from http://www.ethicalcorp.com/communications- reporting/marketing-and-marketers-use-dark-arts-good
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Eccles, R. Ionnou, I. Serafeim, G. ‘Essay: Is there an optimal degree of sustainability’. (2012). Retrieved Tuesday, April 30, 2013 from http://www.ethicalcorp.com/governance-regulation/essay-there-optimal-degree-sustainability

    Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: ‘Collective Moral Responsibility’. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy from http://www.iep.utm.edu/collecti/

    Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: French P. ‘Individual and collective responsibility’ Columbia University press, (1984).
    Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: David, C. ‘Collective Actions and Secondary Actions’ American Philosophical Quarterly, (1979), p 177-186
    Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Risser, D. ‘Power and collective responsibility’, (1978), pp 22-33.
    Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Held, V. ‘Can a Random Collective Be Morally Responsible?’. (1970). Journal of Philosophy, p 471-478.
    Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: M. Zimmerman, ‘Sharing Responsibility’, American Philosophical Quarterly, (1985), p 115-122.
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Webb, T. ‘Business paradigms: Government can’t do it alone‘, Ethical Corporation. Retrieved Saturday, April 27, 2013 from http://www.ethicalcorp.com/governance-regulation/business-paradigms-government- can%E2%80%99t-do-it-alone

    Additional Material: economist.com, ‘ Big oils dirty secrets’, (2003). retrieved Saturday, May 11, 2013 from http://www.economist.com/node/1770490
    Additional Material: Credit Agricole (Banking firm), corporate profile. retrieved Saturday, May 11, 2013 from http://www.credit-agricole.fr/
    Additional Material: oecd.org. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Retrieved Saturday, May 11, 2013 from http://www.oecd.org/about/
    Additional Material: wctc.edu. ‘How to do an APA Reference or Works Cited Page’. 6th edition. Retrieved Saturday, 25 May, 2013.

  7. Pauline on

    Thank you for your inspiring blog, my respond below is a school assignment for a Business Ethics course that I am taking. By posting my comment it is part of the requirements for my assignment. Regards, Pauline.

    In your blog post you raised the issue of whether whistleblowing believed to be morally right or wrong. Michael Davies (2004), an American philosopher specialising in professional ethics states that Whistleblowing always comprises a definite or at least acknowledged an objective to prevent something bad that would otherwise occurs. I believed what Vokes has done is ethically correct. ‘He followed the proper channels, which is to approach his company’s managers and seniors. This is because he was not pleased with the overall care from the company.’
    You have rightly pointed out the position of Vokes and his tactic before going public as a whistleblower. The actions and the approach were in line with Davies (2004) “Theory of Complicity”. This is clearly shows by the fact that Vokes morally required to reveal what he knew to the public by his disclosures were in line with his area of expertise. He was working voluntary as a welder and an engineer. He believed that the company engaged in a serious moral wrongdoing which he theoretical thought that if he doesn’t reveal this it might do a great harm to the company in the foreseeable future.
    Michael Davies (2004) concluded that with its “Standard Theory”, requiring five criteria in order to be morally justified. In shorts, it states that ‘when there is clear evidence of significant, preventable harm to the public and the whistleblower has exhausted all internal avenues to effect’ change then the act is morally justified. For example, Voke has exhausted all internal procedures within the company. He also reported potential harm to his immediate managers and the considerable harm to the public.
    Davies (2004) concluded this with his “Article of Paradoxes of Whistleblowing”. It points out that in the Complicity Theory, the information the whistleblower reveals must derive from his/her work for the company, and it is uncovered as a proper part of his/her job from the evidence with which he/she is entrusted.
    Worldwide, whistleblowers are important since they saved millions of lives. This is supported by Vokes ethical duty of blowing the whistle to make sure there is a safe place to work which will increase happiness and decrease harm.
    A strong argument for an employee act of disloyal being morally wrong is if it means you’re not fulfilling the terms of the contracted employment agreement signed by both parties. For example, if you neglecting your duties in order to seek company wrong doing. The deontologist might say that the rule ‘You should neglect your duties’ cannot be made universal so the action cannot be morally right. Although a consequentialist still might argue that the harm caused to the company by the employees’ neglect is not as significant as the harm caused by the company’s wrongdoing to the people so the action of company’s disloyal is ethical. Therefore, one has to ask how can a practice that has brought about so much good and prevented so much harm not be ethical.
    In your blog post, you also said that “even the most dedicated that there must be a limit to the amount of loyalty that an employee has towards the business.” I should argue that there should be no reason an employee should have loyalty to the company.
    Other ethical theorists like Ronald Duska (2004) claimed that a person may have a casual relationship but they do not owe any loyalty to these casual encounters. Duska (2004) also believed that the main goal of a business is to make profit, if you do not make a profit your business will soon ceased to end. A relationship that requires loyalty is of give and take which involves faithfulness, honesty, reliability and mutual enrichment. Loyalty requires us to consider the needs of others and not to always act in own self-interest. So, loyalty requires only people with constant relationship in our lives whom we trust them but not just any relationship. Some however see it as an act of disloyalty to the employer who is the means of the employee’s livelihood.
    Duska (2004) argues in his article of “Whistleblowing and Employee loyalty” that is no obligation to loyalty because a company is not a person, it’s an instrument with a specific purpose of making a profit. He defines a loyalty relationship as being one in which there is an emotional relationship and that people bound together in a business are not bound together for mutual fulfilment and support but to provide labour so the business makes a profit. If there can be no loyalty to an entity because there’s no emotional relationship, how can one be disloyal? There may be sense of loyalty but an employer will only ever be loyal to their own ends.
    I am totally agreed with Duska (2004) I don’t believe employees owe their company the stage of loyalty that is often expected by those company. However Duska (2004) forgets that we don’t separate those people who work at our company from the company themselves. So, it’s the company’s obligation to treat employees with great respect. Employees should feel free to raise ethical or other issue without fear of acceptance.

  8. Pauline on

    Duska, R. (2004). Whistleblowing and Employee Loyalty. In T.L. Beauchamp & N.E. Bowie (Eds.), Ethical theory and business (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
    Davies, M. (2004). Some Paradoxes of Whistleblowing. In T.L. Beauchamp & N.E. Bowie (Eds.), Ethical Theory and Business (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
    71203 Business Ethics 2nd Edition (2013). The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Lower Hutt
    Mintz. S, (2013, May 20). Is Whistleblowing an Ethical Practice? Workplace Ethics Advice. Retrieved from http://www.workplaceethicsadvice.com/2013/05/-is-whistleblowing-an-ethical-practice.html
    Mintz. S, (2011, November 22). Is Whistleblowing an Ethical Practice? Whistleblowing and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Retrieved from http://www.workplaceethicsadvice.com/2011/11/is-whistleblowing-an-ethical-practice.html

  9. Thomas on

    Hi Chris, I agree with you “Whistleblowing is among the most complex ethical issues in the world of business”. We are hardly to say this ethical practice is good or bad. I would like to break down my opinion.

    As you state, “Vokes is the perfect whistleblower”. The “Perfect” comes from his background. He is an experienced welder and engineer for many years. Also he is technically proficient, honest and responsible which commenced by his university professor (CBC news 2012). Standard theory of acceptable whistle blowing requires the whistle blower to identify serious harm to public and requires believing that the act of whistle blowing would prevent reasonable harm in future (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2014). I will look at the purpose and intention of the whistleblowing. Whistleblowers do call attention to the decision-maker in business and government. They also received the retaliation for their ethical resistance. TransCanada fired Vokes on May 2012. He was 46 years old and it is hard to find the similar job in this industry. Why did he choose to speak out? Sometimes the whistleblower may be wrong in their judgment and their motives are not always pure. In this case, the motive of Vokes to blow the whistle is to save millions of lives (coworkers and people live around pipeline) and environment. But in another hand, his action ruined the reputation of TransCanada and cause serious harm for their business (Financial loss and loss job of employees etc.). The utilitarianism theory is quite approach to this situation. You need to justice which option for action will help produce the greatest happiness and least harm. Vokes spoke out the pipeline issue to pubic did not result in greatest happiness. The TransCanada temporarily shut down the pipeline for inspection at that time. And in the CBC news, the NEB (National Ethics Board) said the deficiencies “do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment.” However there was no significant sign of harm for the public. Was his disloyal been overwritten by the greater public good? I will discuss this question next.

    Davis (1996) state that when there is clear evidence of significant, preventable harm to the public, and the whistle blower has exhausted all internal avenues to effect change, then the act is morally justifiable. There is a moral obligation for the whistleblower to help right the wrong doing situation.

    Let’s go back to the beginningg at his first time identified the pipeline issue. Vokes wrote up a series of emails to a series of project managers to report the major pipeline risk. But the company’s management did not act on his complaints right way. He was exhausted with the internal channel which forced him report to the public. He raised up the concern to the management and provide the company an opportunity to investigate and correct the wrongdoing. Vokes did right to blowing the whistle to high management. He stood on the best interest of the company at that point. But I cannot indicate he followed up the internal procedure properly to report this issue. But he took the extra step of involving the regulator when he didn’t get the satisfying result. He acted as an internal whistleblower which report to the CEO instead of his immediate supervisor. The internal whistle blowing would normally in positive and usually good for a company, because the activity being disclosed is often harmful to the company.

    And I have another question about the “Whistleblowers are people who demonstrate that there is — there must be — a limit to the loyalty of even a dedicated employee” in your blog. What is the obligation of loyalty the employer expect from the employees? Do employees owe employers an obligation of loyalty? Duska (1990) claims that one can have obligations of loyalty to, and expect loyalty from, real people with whom one has personal relationships, such as friends and family. My understanding from here is no loyalty owed between employers and employees as the employer or business is not the object you can have personal relationship with. As the employer, they would obtain an obligation of loyalty with employees. It will bring huge benefit to the company if every employee use their own time to do after hour work, willing to work longer and work more efficiently and productivity etc. But normally there is only a contract between employer and employee. In this case, Vokes shows responsibility to the work and loyalty to other pipeline co-workers. To protect their health and life. At my point of view, he did not owe loyalty to his employer which is TransCanada.

    In conclusion, the internal whistleblowing is kind of loyal to the employer as the employee was trying to protect the business from harm, help to avoid any financial loss and save the company reputation. Voke’s external whistleblowing is not disloyal to the company as to prevent coworkers live and environment is much more important than company’s loss. The utilitarianism theory is to maximize the greatest happiness and least harm. At this point of view, I would say Vokes did the ethical right.

  10. Sarah Dillon on

    Hello Chris and readers.
    I am also doing an assignment for Business Ethics through Openpolytechnic of New Zealand that require we choose an ethical issue and comment on a blog. I hope you do not mind.
    To begin with, I’d like to make my stance here clear-I fully support any whistleblower in a situation where it is justified. I feel a whistleblower is truly doing society a justice by bringing to light the wrong doings of an organisation-after all it is the consumers that keep the organisations running, who wouldn’t appreciate knowing-especially if their dodgy practices can have serious consequences. However, this bears the questions of what is considered to be a justifiable situation for a whistleblower to act-after all, the company has trusted you with its secrets, to spread them would be an act of disloyalty-or would it?
    I start the answer by briefly mentioning the three factors that make it morally permissible to commit such an act of ‘disloyalty’, and the two factors that make it morally required to commit the act of whistleblowing, according to ‘standard theory’. M. Davis mentions these factors in his journal article ‘Some Paradoxes of Whistleblowing’, I will be summarising his points.
    1. The organisation that the whistleblower belongs to will do serious harm to the public in any capacity.
    2. The whistleblower has identified the threat, and has reported his concerns and the objection of the threat, and has concluded that the supervisor will not act on it.
    3. The whistleblower has exhausted other internal procedures within the organisation ie. Going up the chain of command as far as allowable.
    These are the three points that make is morally permissible to commit the whistleblowing act-that means a rational society will not blame you, per say, for bringing forward these details. In the case of Evan, he has done these things, so his act of disloyalty is considered reasonable. TransCanada is a pipeline company that supplies natural gases across Canada-if their pipelines are not being maintained as they should, there could be a serious spillage on our hands-this is considered serious harm to the public. Not only is the threat of huge importance in this instance, but Evan claims his concerns were disregarded by even the CEO of TransCanada-he has exhausted all internal remedies, and subsequently determined his supervisor will not act on this problem. In this case, you are right Chris, Evan truly is the perfect whistleblower.
    The next points are when it is morally mandatory for a whistleblower to act:
    4. The whistleblower has evidence to convince a reasonable, impartial member that the threat exists;
    5. The whistleblower has reason to believe that revealing the threat will significantly lower the consequences of harm.
    Evan has again adhered to these points-both of them are usable in this situation which makes it morally mandatory that Evan whistleblow. Given that Evan is assumed to have considerable amounts of ‘honesty and integrity’, and he has the skill set to match his knowledge of the company (welding and engineering), point five is easily a given. Point six is another given as whistleblowing this information to the correct regulatory body will understandably cause this company to come under inspection (which is has) and the pipelines to be maintained with a closer eye, thus removing the threat of a possible spillage due to negligence. In this case of whistleblowing, I think we all can determine that it is suitably justified of Evan to release this information.
    For the next question and answer-as to whether whistleblowing is truly an act of disloyalty, I begin by introducing Ronald Dushka, and his journal article ‘whistleblowing and employee loyalty’. In this article, Dushka states “since loyalty is a kind of devotion, one can confuse devotion to ones job with devotion to the company” (Duska, 1990), this is basically saying that while some people will be privy to information on a company that is illegal and could cause harm-they may not act on it because of this misplacement of loyalty or devotion. This is clearly a problem. I believe loyalty to one’s company is fine, however, loyalty to one’s society should be held in a higher regard-especially because companies will not return this loyalty, which truly shows just how misplaced it is. A loyalty to society shows that you appreciate and adhere to the regulations set forth by government, but within that loyalty, there is also a trust that others will follow this loyalty as well-clearly that is not the case. As you say “whistleblowers are people who demonstrate that there is — there must be — a limit to the loyalty of even a dedicated employee” but is that truly so? Clearly there is a limit but only for those select people who put their morals and loyalties towards society and have not misplaced it in a company-just think of all the people who didn’t whistleblow. I believe it is never truly the ‘loyalty’ of a person that stops them from whistleblowing, it is the lowering of morals that inhibits the act, and we can then say that an act of whistleblowing is not an act of disloyalty, merely an act of moral integrity. As De George says, and Davis reiterates, “People have a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others, if they can do so with little cost to themselves” (Davis, 1996). It is this moral obligation that forces the hand of a whistleblower.
    To bring the action of whistleblowing from loyalty to ethics, we can attribute the action to the utilitarian theory of ethics. A utilitarian will consider all plausible actions that can be taken, ascertain their likely consequences and select the action which brings the greatest good or least harm. Evan has done this in his decision making, and no one can deny that had he chosen to stay quiet about this issue, we may have another major spillage on our hands. Just to note, this article was published in 2012, just the year prior TransCanada had 12 oil spills over 2011-which could be explained by their lax standards with their pipeline maintenance.
    In conclusion, Evan is well within his rights to whistleblow-he has tried to being the problem to attention of his supervisors and been turned away, and he truly believed there to be serious consequences of their wrong doing. However, it is not an act of disloyalty for Evan to behave it in this manner-it is an act of loyalty towards society, and a moral obligation that Evan has taken upon himself to see through.
    Davis, M. (1996). Some paradoxes of Whistleblowing. Business and Professional Journal, 3-19.
    Duska, R. (1990). Whistleblowing and employee loyalty. Contemporary isues in business ethics, 142-147.
    MacDonald, C. (2015, 01 28). Pipeline Whistleblowing Ethics. Retrieved from Business Ethics Blogs: https://businessethicsblog.com/2012/10/19/pipeline-whistleblowing-ethics/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: