C.E. Harris' Commentary on "Conflicts within a Manufacturing Firm"
The first issue in this case is one of fairness. The
internal tool and die department at T&D Manufacturing has
asked for information about the outside bids before their own
quote is submitted. This gives them an obvious advantage over
the other vendors. There can be little serious question that
this practice would be unfair to the outside vendors. This
practice must be kept secret, or many of the other vendors will
probably not bid on the project.
The question is whether this unfairness and deception is
justified by the loyalty which Purchasing might be expected to
show to the "home team." Thus the fundamental moral issue is a
conflict between the obligations of fairness and truthfulness
on the one hand and loyalty to one's own company on the other.
There is no question but that both obligations have validity.
The question is what should be done when they conflict.
Sometimes the appeal to loyalty is justified. The appeal to
loyalty is often understood as justifying an obligation to
something (call it X) simply because it is our X. Now we do
have special obligations to our parents or our children because
they are our parents or our children. But there are limits to
the appeal to loyalty. While the appeal to loyalty may justify
providing for our child's college education rather than our
neighbor's child's education, simply because he is our child,
it would not justify helping our child to cheat on tests,
simply because he is our child.
One way to see the limits of the appeal to loyalty is to
consider the implications of the principle of universalization,
which holds that a to be morally permissible, an action must be
one capable of being performed by everyone. One of the versions
of this principle is the Golden Rule. We can ask whether we
would be willing for the internal tool and die department to
give our bid to Purchasing if we were one of the vendors. Using
still another version of the principle of universalization, we
could ask whether it would benefit people generally if
supposedly secret bids were revealed to inside bidders. For
example, would such a practice promote the tendency of the
capitalist system to provide the best goods at the cheapest
price? It is obvious that it would be difficult to justify the
violation of the canons of fairness and truthfulness by either
version of the principle of universalization.
The conflict of obligation in this case could be dealt with
by modifying one or both of the obligations by means of a
compromise. For example, the inside tool and die department
could be allowed to compete on the same basis as outside
vendors. This would partially satisfy the demands of the
internal department without being unfair to outside vendors.
Or, the inside tool and die department could be informed of the
amount of the outside bids, and the outside vendors could be
told about the practice.
Cite this page:
"C.E. Harris' Commentary on "Conflicts within a Manufacturing Firm""
Online Ethics Center for Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
Accessed: Monday, March 10, 2014