Plasma International Company is in the middle of a dilemma, both moral and corporate. Plasma International provides “safe, uncontaminated and reasonably priced whole blood and blood plasma” to disaster areas as well as to other people in need. It seems that this company has turned to local African tries to provide a pure blood supply at prices as low as 90 cents per pint, and resells it to desperate hospitals for $150 per pint. Politicians and the media were having a “field day” with this latest-breaking story. The local community of Tampa, Florida is in an uproar, and has demanded that Plasma International’s licenses to practice business be revoked. One of the company’s founders, Sol Levin, has already been called into testify before the House Subcommittee on Medical Standards regarding Plasma International’s “sale of blood for profit.”
Some of the issues hotly debated include the moral abuses of the naive African persons, the “exorbitant” profit netted, and the company’s earning from others’ pain. Community leaders and spokespersons have expressed their shock at Plasma International taking advantage of the “poor” Africans, by paying them a pittance for their blood. The company counteracts with tribal chieftains, after negotiating with the State Department and the national government. The money they earned, the company argues, is spent on unspecified commodity maintenance costs. One can guess there would be fees for storage, screening, and transportation, to name a few. The company is also providing a needed service, being that reliable, pure blood is short in stock and highly demanded in times of crises.
Though this company is under fire for many of its activities, several widely accepted ethical procedures can be interpreted to approve of Plasma International’s work. Similarly, popular moral standings condone its decisions and feel that the business strategy must change.
One of the main ethical theories is that of utilitarianism. This procedure details that an action is morally sound if it produces “the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.” The good produced must outweigh any harm inflicted. By applying this to the case, one can see that more people are helped than harmed – Africans are paid for undergoing a simple donation act, and injured persons receive the desperately needed blood required for survival. The only party unsatisfied is the general community. Since thousands can live thanks to the blood transfusions, and only a couple hundred will vehemently protest, there is a greater good. Therefore, it is ethical for Plasma International to sell the blood at such prices.
In fact, in pure utilitarianism, they would be forced to sell the blood at this rate. Pure utilitarianism states that any actions are worth taking, as long as they maximize profit. The supply will be demanded at the price of $150 per pint, and should be sold for that amount. The African tribes entered into a legal contract after several levels of conference, and can be held accountable for their decision. Perhaps these persons are “naive,” but that is not the issue in this utilitarian application.
Both hedonistic and eudaimonistic utilitarianism confirm that these actions are viable and proper. Hedonistic measures ethics in the basic values of human pleasure and pain (lack of pleasure); eudaimonistic suggests that we measure in happiness not pleasure, which differs in quality and quantity. Both the pleasure and happiness in this situation are attributed to the victims receiving the blood. Since they can now survive, they are satisfied with the conditions. Pain can possibly be accredited to the Africans for parting with their blood, but some pleasure and/or happiness is added for the idea that they have now saved someone’s life. Again, positive is outweighing negative, and further operation is feasible.
Unlike the different types of utilitarianism, which agree on a quasi-compromise, the three categories of duties – special, familial, and role – each produce a varying outcome. Duties are defined as obligations that one must carry out.
Special duties declare that “a firm that harms others must make good that harm.” (DeGeorge, 99) This means that Plasma International cannot morally continue paying so little to the Africans without making additional amends to their community. Taking the blood can be a “harm,” and the people deserve reparations and gratitude for their obligations. Though one can consider the contract with the tribal leaders a “promise” which must be carried out, a case can be made for the naivete of the Africans. They did not realize they were being “suckered” into a disadvantageous agreement.
The duty acquired by role conflicts with special duties. When one accepts a position in a firm, they must accept certain responsibilities with it. They are now “obliged to do legitimate activities that their role within an organization demonstrate and for which they are paid.” An example of a ‘legitimate activity” is profit maximization. each manager and executive keeps this idea in perspective while running their department. They are earning almost all of the money they charge for the blood they sell – nearly 100% pure profit. This is an ideal way to be running a business, and it ties in with the responsibilities of a specific corporate role.
Familial duty agrees with both special and role. Relations to others serve as the basis for this type of duty. We are “obliged to help those to whom we are related in a way we are not obliged to help others, or we may be obligated to help them first, if we are in a position in which we are forced to choose between their need and the need of those to whom we are not related to in any special way.” (DeGeorge, 99) This concept goes both ways. One can say that we have a moral responsibility to help these Africans and these disaster victims from being ripped off by big business, since the business will not stop its mistreatment through extortion. However, we are also not intensely involved in the African’s plight. They signed a contract that holds them liable for the cheap fees they are paid, and for the lack of negotiations. They are thousands of miles away, and many people do not have direct relatives or concerns in this area. Familiar contracts are nonexistent.
Moral laws tend to side with the people of Tampa. it states that an action is morally right if it has the proper form: consistent, universal, respectful, priori (not based on experience), and stemming from the autonomy of “rational beings.” Moral law contracts bind unconditionally to these terms. By applying it to Plasma International’s situation, one can deduce that their procedures do not fit these standards. If every company needed inexpensive “supply” went to a third-world nation to buy it, there would be more human rights violations. This is comparable to the sweatshop uproar, in which unknowing persons, desperate for survival, worked excessively for pennies in pay. This is an illegal trade, but that did not stop Nike, Reebok, and Kathie Lee Clothing from utilizing this method. Clearly, by paying minimal fees to workers, you can run a successful international business, but it is immoral. Moral law will not allow people to be universally subjected to injury and “theft.”
Giving people what they are due is justice, the next framework. It is often figured by using the veil of ignorance method. When an unbiased opinion is submitted, since the person dies what is “fair” and “just” regardless of societal standings, this is a veil of ignorance. Two kinds of justice are at work in this case – compensatory (payment for suffering) and distributive (if resources and gains are divided equally, the process to find them is negligible). Plasma International is attempting to compensate the Africans for their donations with a payment of 90 cents per pint of blood. Despite the fact that the Tampa community thinks this is unfair, it may be pleasing to the tribe. Often times money has little worth in these areas, and the African people may merely be happy to aid their fellow man. A way to satiate the Tampa public would be to insure distributive justice. By sharing profits earned, the Africans would be “business partners” rather than “servants.”
Rawl’s Distributive Justice explains the conditions embedded in the concept. The main point behind it is that all humans have an equal right to freedom and liberties. The other relies heavily on the “difference principle.” Differences are fair if and only if greater expectations of the more privileged improve those of the least privileged. In other words, as long as an action does not harm the worst-off group, it is acceptable. Plasma International’s purchasing of blood is somewhat bettering the lives of the Africans, through the monies paid and the charitability of the donation, and definitely bettering the conditions of the blood recipients. However, if the company was to give a larger part of the profits to the Africans, then it would be a more fair arrangement, paying them for not only their contribution but also beyond.
It can also be argued that Plasma International has a social responsibility to pay the African people more money. Social responsibility is to whom and for what a company is accountable. This can be applied to several of the groups involved: the tribe, the Tampa community, and the disaster victims. The company is bounded by ethical customs and constrained by law, and can therefore. There is additional difficulty in that the market is not always self-sufficient. People are unaware of when the market is injuring them, or when to apply necessary pressure. They do not get the “direct” effect of the market.
The company should be held liable for their taking advantage of both the nave Africans and the helpless victims. They are socially responsible for taking other factors into consideration when making these choices. In this frame, donors should be paid more than their current wages, and the hospitals should be charged less because they are in dire need.
The Stakeholder Theory concerns managerial capitalism and the rights of the people involved. A “stakeholder” is any group that provides “critical support” to a business. In the Plasma International case, the stakeholders are the owners, the suppliers (tribesmen), the local community, and the consumers (the hospitals and the injured parties). They must all actively participate in the operations of the business that concern their welfare. This theory states that the corporation should be managed for the benefit of the stakeholders, and must act in the stakeholders’ best interests as their agent. By following these procedures, the rights and long-term interests of the stakeholders are secured, and their welfare is maximized. However, this rationale notes that “each stakeholder group makes itself better off through voluntary exchanges.” (Evan and Freeman, 314) Although the underpaying and overpricing of the blood is considered immoral, the voluntary stakeholder exchanges are the basis, and it is all legal and ethical. The tribes’ chieftains were not coerced into signing anything; they freely agreed to sell blood for a specific price. The consumers receive the goods they need by willingly purchasing it from the company. Three of the four Plasma International stakeholder groups benefit from these exchanges, and therefore the general welfare of the stakeholders is improved.
Opposing the Stakeholder Theory is the Integrated Social Contracts Theory. This declares that a hypothetical contract defines an existing implicit contract among members of specific communities. It is often referred to as the “is”/”ought” – empirical cases are influenced by normative models which declare the ideals of the situation. Encouraged by bounded moral responsibility – human capacity, ethical truth, and the artificiality of economic systems – the contracts are divided into microsocial and macrosocial. Microsocial is the shared agreements of morality related to specific transactions, while macrosocial handles hypernorms and universally acceptable procedures. Since, empirically, we would not want the “human rights violations” to be widespread, this could not be a macrosocial contract. The macrosocial contract influences the microsocial, thereby making the agreement to buy and sell the blood at grossly inappropriate prices null and void. The microsocial contract cannot contradict its controlling policy; the larger policy must be dominant.
Of all of these theories, I believe that the utilitarian assumption is the most accurate. The utilitarian way of decision making contains three steps: to clarify the action to be analyzed, specify those who will be affected, and objectively formulate the consequences (both good and bad) of the action for all parties. The Plasma International case deals with the buying of blood at a minimal price, and the sale of it at a heightened cost.
In the purchase scenario, those involved are the African tribesmen, the government of the African nation, the United States government, and Plasma International Company. The company researched and discussed its actions thoroughly with both the African government and the tribes. The people agreed to sign the contract and sell blood for “as low as 90 cents per pint.” In most African nations, money has little value, and is used sparingly. Prices in this area are sharply lower. By our standards, we are taking advantage of these people, but in their minds, we may be giving them sufficient funds. Their government approved, and so we must assume that they note the value of money with respect to the area. In this sense, Plasma International is promoting the local economy and receiving a needed supply of healthy blood for distribution. This may, however, further promote the international usage of third-world labor. If each company went through the proper procedure by speaking with the necessary authorities and obtaining suitable permission, the impact would be dramatically lessened, and a new market would emerge.
In the second capsule, the blood is being sold at what many people deem a “sky-high” price. The parties involved are the hospitals, the needy recipients, the United States government, and, of course, Plasma International. Founder Sol Levin noted that there were many “private” costs involved in handling the blood commodity. These can include storing, transporting, and testing. Doctors or other trained professionals may be needed on-site at the donation facility. Scientists and researchers must scan, treat and develop the market appropriately. Costs pile up, and the overhead increases. Though the company is making a sizeable profit on paper, many other factors must be subtracted from the net amount. The hospitals will demand a pure supply from the company, and the patients will expect it. The costs incurred by going to another nation are much higher than that of American storefront operations. Importantly, one must remember the role of business. They mainly exist to make a profit, and if others are willing to pay, then they will sell. A downfall is that the medical insurance costs will rise, and nothing can be done to stop that. The hospital bills must be paid somehow. However, many people are usually willing to pay more to save their own life. The benefit of saving lives, as well as churning a decent profit, will transcend that of rising medical costs. There is a greater good for more people.
Plasma International Company has done no wrong. According to multiple theories, they have followed proper business conduct. They had contracts authorized and signed, and are working towards saving lives. Although some feel there is a moral dilemma at hand, they are not considering the fact that different standards exist in other areas, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Profit has driven and will continue to drive other companies. The investigation by the House Subcommittee should be dismissed; Plasma International has capitalized on a fledgling concept, and should not be penalized for it. The majority of the population benefits from their work, and they are following ethical procedures.