Academic journal article Journal of Critical Incidents

Apple, Inc., the UAE, and Joplin, Missouri: An Ethical Opportunity?

Academic journal article Journal of Critical Incidents

Apple, Inc., the UAE, and Joplin, Missouri: An Ethical Opportunity?

Article excerpt

Critical Incident Overview

On May 22, 2011, a tornado destroyed a large portion of Joplin, Missouri. The Joplin tornado was the deadliest in the U.S. since modern record keeping began in 1950 by the National Weather Service. Six schools, including the city's only high school, were destroyed. Insurance would cover construction of the new buildings but would not replace textbooks or computers. Joplin used Apple computers extensively to educate their students. Thus, school officials asked Apple, Inc. to specially assist them in purchasing new Macs to replace their destroyed computers. Apple, Inc., refused to grant Joplin School District additional assistance. However, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stepped in and agreed to donate $500,000 upfront and $500,000 in matched donations so the school district could purchase MacBook laptops. The UAE demonstrated social responsibility via its contribution to Joplin schools in its time of need. As an American corporation, did Apple, Inc. shirk an even greater social responsibility to Joplin Schools by refusing to give them support?

This critical incident is applicable for courses in ethics, business ethics, organizational social responsibilities, and public policy.

Research Methods

The authors of this descriptive critical incident followed all procedures and were granted approval of the University's Institutional Research Board. The individual consultant who was interviewed for this project wishes to remain anonymous and names were not used or disguised. All other information was obtained from secondary sources cited.

The consultant interviewed was asked to assist on the technology rebuild of Joplin schools. Often during the consultant's information-gathering sessions, school employees would break down emotionally from the stress of having lost their schools, students, family and colleagues in the tornado. In 2011, Apple was considered a socially desirable company, and yet it refused to assist in giving greater discounts to the devastated district. When the UAE stepped up to donate funds, this was in direct contrast to Apple's reluctance to provide the same level of support. The consultant knew that one day, this story of conflicting social actions could serve as an ethics case for students.

Learning Outcomes

In completing this assignment, students should be able to:

1. Determine what defines an entity's socially ethical soul.

2. Develop contrasting criteria for assessing a corporation's social responsibilities, and a nation's or federation's social responsibilities.

3. Evaluate the actions of Apple, Inc., and the actions of the UAE regarding Joplin, Missouri, using the measure of a socially ethical soul.

Discussion Questions

1. What are attributes of an organization's "socially ethical soul?" (LO1)

2. How do the criteria for assessing a corporation's social responsibility differ from those for assessing social responsibility of a nation or federation of states? Could the criteria be comparable? Why? (LO2)

3. Using socially ethical soul measures, which of the two entities, Apple, Inc., and/or the UAE demonstrated ethical behavior in their actions toward Joplin, Missouri, schools? (LO3)

Answers to Discussion Questions

1. What is a "socially ethical soul" of an organization? (LO1)

Students can perform independent research on what creates an organization's social soul before the start of this lesson. Alternatively, instructors may assign the article, "Business with a soul: A reexamination of what counts in business ethics," by Entine and Jennings (1998).

Students will find integrity, honesty, responsibility, and empathy are universal measures of an organizational soul (Entine & Jennings, 1998). These measures can be summarized as an integrity and accountability model.

The integrity measure means doing the right thing continually, even when it may work to your disadvantage. …

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