2017 COMPETITION

The 2017 International Business Ethics Case Competition will be held from April 19-21 at the J. W. Marriott Hotel and Spa in Santa Monica, CA. The event will begin on the evening of the 19th. Full presentations will be given on the 20th; 10-minute and 90-second presentations on the 21st; winners will be announced at an awards program that evening. The registration fee for IBECC is $450 (or $700 if a school sends both undergraduate and graduate teams). The room rate at the hotel will be $279 per night, which includes complimentary internet in guest rooms and 20% off spa services. Check back for instructions about how to register for IBECC and how to make reservations at the hotel.

We will once again conduct the optional “World’s Most Intellectually Daunting Biathlon”–our academic/athletic competition. We’re still working out the details, but the “athletic” part will be a 4 mile walk or run “time trial” along the Santa Monica bike path. Check back for more information.

A NOTE REGARDING TOPICS:

First, teams are free to choose whichever topic you want. However, please be sure that your topic relates to a business ethics issue. Even though topics related to nonprofits, public policy or governments may have a financial dimension, this doesn’t make it a problem in business ethics.

Second, one of the most distinctive features of IBECC is the ability of teams either to identify ethical issues before anyone else has or to come up with creative solutions to persistent problems. Accordingly, I would like to encourage teams to apply their talents to two particular, ethical issues—one that’s been intractable in the U.S. (gun deaths), and an emerging global issue (the spread of “false news” via new technologies). Teams still have the option to work on any topic they choose, and working on either of these two topics won’t give a team an advantage in scoring. But these topics do represent important and interesting challenges.

Thomas White, Founder and Director, IBECC.

  1. In the last few years, more than 200 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States. This includes the slaughter of nearly 30 children in Newtown, Connecticut. In response, nearly 90% of the American public supports some sort of increased gun control. Household gun ownership in the U.S. has been dropping and is now at only about 36%. Attempts to enact legislation to address this problem, however, have failed. This raises the question of whether firearms companies might be more effective in finding a way to protect the lives of innocent people while not compromising the welfare of their companies and the rights of their customers.

    Companies deciding to take action could certainly do so under the rubric of being good “corporate citizens.” After all, from an ethical perspective, when a company sets itself up in a country, it agrees to abide by not only a community’s laws, but the fundamental ethical principles that undergird that society. Any U.S. company, for example, can reasonably be expected to respect the basic idea that in a democracy, the will of the majority should be respected. It’s also reasonable to expect that a principle of protecting innocent people from foreseeable harm should be respected. Companies in all industries regularly recognize that being ethical means going beyond simply following the laws and being a leader.

    What, then, are the ethical obligations of the companies that make up the $8 billion firearms industry? What concrete actions could they take in order to reduce the number of preventable deaths of innocent people?

  2. The last few months have shown new, troubling ethical challenges emerging for businesses in the “information industry.” Central among them is the ease with which lies, propaganda and other attempts to manipulate the vulnerable populate platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

    An article in The Economist entitled “The post-truth world: Yes, I’d lie to you,” is plain about the dangers of an assault on truth:

    “There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts more freely and with less resistance than used to be the case. Helped by new technology, a deluge of facts and a public much less given to trust than once it was, some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.”

    Read that last sentence over and over again. Technological advances have given us an “information industry” that makes it possible to widely distribute completely false information with no check whatsoever. It’s impossible to exaggerate the harm this could produce.

    Facebook has recently announced some actions, but do you think they’re strong enough? Twitter has come under fire for allowing the spread of lies and harassment. Are the “Twitter Rules” for users strict enough? Do webhosting companies have a duty to monitor the content of the websites on their servers? At the very least, do they have a duty to investigate and take actions if a complaint is filed?

    From an ethical perspective, the search for profit must be tempered by the duty to protect the importance of the truth. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to argue that businesses that facilitate the distribution of information have a duty to take action to try to prevent the spread of falsehoods–especially those aimed to sow fear, hate and distrust.

    What concrete actions can companies in the “information industry” take in order to meet their ethical obligations?

    CAUTIONARY NOTE: Please note that explorations of this issue must focus on the “business ethics” facets—not political issues. Before the internet, the main channels for the mass distribution of information via newspapers, television and radio had at least some gatekeepers (news editors and editorial boards) who would try to make sure what they reported was true. With the decline of these traditional outlets, “fake news” and the harm that can come from it are widespread. This topic asks teams to look for practical solutions to the problem of limiting the spread of falsehoods.