ETHICAL ANALYSIS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE
Discrimination in the workplace is an age-old issue faced by employees who are refused of work because of race difference. The term discrimination in the employment context means supporting workplace decisions or actions on issues not directly involved with the job itself, such as the employee’s age, religious preference, sexual orientation, gender, and the most popular, race. This topic was chosen as the center of discussion of the paper because of its immediacy of need to address one of the most controversial issues in the workplace that has spurred countless debates, raised many eyebrows and affected numerous job seekers the world over. Given the increasingly diverse workforce of New Zealand, it is only timely to take a closer look at the issue of racial discrimination in the workplace. This paper was taken from an article by (2006) entitled ‘Racial slurs said backwards bring discrimination suit’. In summary, article talked of a racial discrimination suit brought against a medical clinic by an African-American file clerk, allegedly because the complainant’s white supervisor used racial code words to intimidate the clerk. The case reveals just one of the many areas in which an employee may be racially discriminated against. Although racial discrimination in the workplace in New Zealand is hardly evident, dismissal of cases filed by employees on the ground that they were discriminated because of their race is surprisingly numerous in number worldwide, particularly in the United States and Australia. The ethical issue to be discussed in this paper is racial discrimination in the field of employment and its relation to two ethics theories namely Kantian ethics and Utilitarianism.
The New Zealand Human Rights Act of1993 specifically stated that ‘it is unlawful to discriminate on the ground of race in any of the prohibited areas of public life’ (.). The Durban Declaration and Action Programme on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance of 2001 addressed the sources, causes, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, and New Zealand is under the obligation to tackle the actions identified in the Action Programme. These act and declaration proves just one thing: that racial discrimination is unlawful, and what is unlawful is almost always unethical. Ethics in businesses, particularly in human resource management, covers issues arising from employer-employee relationship. Foremost concern of such ethical issue is the discrimination of employees because of their race. Although people are more and more enlightened regarding the issue of racial discrimination, there are still places in the world where employees experience intimidation and harassment because of their race difference. In the latter part of the 1990’s, many of the ethical scandals that business conglomerates faced involved massive charges of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Among them were Mitsubishi, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Texaco (2003). suggests that ethical problems in a business have five things in common: (1) that ethical decisions have extended (long-term benefits); (2) that ethical decisions have multiple alternatives; (3) that ethical decisions create mixed (positive and negative) outcomes that are difficult to weigh and balance); (4) that ethical decisions have uncertain consequences and (5); that ethical decisions have consequences for individuals, not just for organizations. In view of this common denominators, business decisions, especially those involving the treatment of racially different members of the organization, need pass a series of judgment tests that require analysis of what is the right or wrong thing to do in the event that the business is required to make decisions regarding them.
Oppression of groups
of people through racial discrimination is a collective violation of the Kantian
morality, whose basic principal is respect for other people. Kantian’s
‘central theme is that equal respect must be paid to the personhood of all human
beings’ (1997). Discrimination treats people as means to whatever ends the
discrimination is supposed to serve, and not as ends, which is another premise
of Kantian ethics, that individuals should be treated as an ‘ends’, and not
merely as a ‘means’ to the attainment of the ‘end’. The practical imperative of
the Kantian ethics, then is that people should not use other people in order to
obtain their goals or seek an edge or unfair advantage and that people should
have rights which would supercede, for example, the tyranny of the majority in
’ 2001). The question to be answered, then, in the treatment of other people, would be ‘In acting this way, would you be treating all the people involved as ends in themselves or merely as means? If you would be treating any person merely as a means, it’s not permissible. If you would be treating every person involved as an end in herself, it’s permissible’ ().
‘Utilitarianism is a normative ethical theory. It is the most well-known and prevalent forms of consequentialism. Consequentialism is an umbrella term for a range of moral theories that state the rightness or wrongness of an action should be based solely on the results produced by that action’ (B.). The central idea of the British thinker utilitarianism accounts for how people should act. The common formulation of the principle that utilitarians advocate requires for people to act in such a way that it would produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Critics of this theory claim that ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number leaves minorities in any society at a distinct disadvantage. Utilitarianism in the strictest form would allow slavery and torture of a few if it increased the happiness of the population as a whole. A utilitarian would argue that a breach of human rights on such a level would lead to tension and mistrust amongst the general population so that slavery would be found to be morally wrong and prohibited. It is necessary to ask if this is a good enough reason for banning slavery?’ ( .). Even John Stuart Mill’s version of utilitarianism, a rather ‘softened’ version of who originated the Utilitarian school of thought, cannot avoid criticism. His mechanism for distinguishing types of pleasures relies only on experience. Yet recognizing that only certain “experienced” people are qualified to make moral judgment opens his argument to unfairness and partiality. ‘Many groups throughout human history have used claims of special moral insight to selfish and unscrupulous ends, defending the superiority of a certain class, race, religion or gender. Subjective decisions are not necessarily arbitrary, but the danger remains that they could be’ (1993). This thus fosters racial discrimination, which could then be used by certain people to deny others of their right to be employed without reference to their race.
In view of Ethics, it could be summarily interpreted to mean that everyone, even those not of the same race as the majority of the population, is entitled to the same respect afforded to the majority. It is therefore unethical, in view of Kant’s principle, to refuse admission of employees who are racially different, pay them a lower wage rate than the others, ask them to take competency tests when the majority was not required to, prefer the major race group over the minority in promotion, use racial slur to intimidate and harass members of the organization belonging to a minority race and a dozen other discriminatory acts against a person of a different race. Respect, no matter their status in life, no matter what ethnic group people may come from, and no matter what the color of their skin may be, should be accorded to everyone. Kant’s central theme of respect fosters equality of human beings, and with this equality comes proper apportionment of the nation’s wealth, society’s public services, and, in line with this paper’s concern, work opportunities.
One major difficulty of the Utilitarian school of thought is that it only focuses on the good of the many. It fails to recognize the intrinsic value of every person, most especially those that belong in the minority number of people in certain races. Utilitarianism is therefore exposed to bias, because it justifies that it is only right to sacrifice the good of the few for the benefit of the many. This theory’s drive on the attainment of the ends even if it means taking for granted a small number of people’s rights is a somewhat distorted line of thinking, which basically fails to consider others. This definition of what is right does not see all the sides of the spectrum, as its main target is the achievement of objectives, no matter what the cost.
Overall, racial discrimination in the workplace should be viewed not only as a legal, but also as an ethical concern that businesses should take serious consideration of. Failure to do such will not only mean additional costs for the company in case lawsuits arise from discriminations. It would also mean bad publicity for the firm to be involved in such discriminatory acts.
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