When the Call Comes from Inside the House

Written by FASPE Business Fellows Brian Hathaway and Courtney Kaplan

What makes individuals complicit with objectionable policies? How should companies respond when legal, profit-maximizing behavior is viewed by some stakeholders as unethical?

Companies have become accustomed to challenges from legislators, regulators, and social movement activists. A recent wave of protests reflect the emerging power of a different set of stakeholders: junior employees. These public challenges “from within” call on company leaders to sever ties with problematic clients. The emergent debate touches on questions of complicity and corporate citizenship that are integral to FASPE’s treatment of business ethics.

Online furniture retailer Wayfair recently became the latest instance of this trend. As this article summarizes, a tweet from a non-employee drew attention to the company “fulfilling a $200,000 furniture order for detention centers on the US-Mexico border.” As the news spread, employees organized a walk-out, arguing that the company was profiting from the inhumane treatment of migrants. Executives responded to the uproar by donating $100,000 to the Red Cross, while reiterating a policy of selling “to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate.”

In addition to Wayfair, many consulting and technology companies have experienced similar employee protests on a wide variety of issues. These encounters raise many worthwhile questions. How should a company respond to diverse and divergent views their employees hold? How and when should employees mobilize? And who gets the final say in defining a company’s activities and exchange partners? While definitive answers remain elusive, we expect employee protests to become more frequent and even more consequential in the coming years.

Read the original article from the Boston Globe.

Time’s Up for the “Gay Panic” Defense

Written by FASPE Law Fellows: Shannon Joyce Prince and Carson Thomas

In June, New York joined six other states in banning gay-panic and trans-panic defenses.  These defenses allow a criminal defendant to claim that a violent act was a sudden emotional response to an unwanted sexual advance from a person of the same sex.  They descend from centuries-old common law “heat of passion,” or provocation, defenses. In the mid-twentieth century, progressive legal thinkers called for penal codes to recognize the decreased culpability of defendants whose capacity was diminished by past mental and emotional trauma, including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.  This shifted the focus from a specific set of external circumstances that would cause a “reasonable person” to act violently—i.e., finding one’s spouse committing adultery—to the mental and emotional capacity of the individual defendant. The elimination of the gay-panic and trans-panic defenses seems to stem from a laudable desire by state legislatures to ensure that LGBTQ persons are afforded the full protection of the law.  This article identifies some positive outcomes from the expansion of provocation defenses and questions whether the elimination of the gay-panic defense might lead to unintended consequences, including potential limits on the ability of women to claim self-defense against men who had previously abused them. Provocation defenses also raise difficult ethical questions for criminal law practitioners. Should a defense attorney rely on a gay-panic defense to acquit their client despite the fact that the defense is predicated on prejudice?  Do bans against gay-panic defenses prevent defendants from protecting themselves against inappropriate sexual advances simply because the advances were made by someone of the same sex? Where do the concepts of trans-panic and “rape by deception” intersect, and what ethical questions should guide us in navigating that space? In making charging and sentencing decisions, how much should a prosecutor consider a defendant’s prior trauma?

Read the original article from The New Yorker.

Are Google’s Publishing Profits Fake News?

Written by FASPE Journalism Fellows: Ian KullgrenChristine Rushton, and Dustin Volz

Journalists, like everyone, can easily fall victim to their own confirmation bias, especially when the issue hits close to home. The New York Times this past week published an article based wholly on a study conducted by a group called the News Media Alliance that asserted that Google had made $4.7 billion from the work of news publishers last year through its search and Google News enterprises. The implication was that a monetary figure could be attached to the damage done to newsrooms across the country that have seen revenues fall as tech behemoths steadily taken more eyeballs–and advertising dollars–away from news publisher websites.

The methodology used to determine that dollar amount, however, was quickly scrutinized by other journalists, and many concluded it lacked merit. As FASPE Journalism faculty member Bill Grueskin noted in a series of tweets, the calculation relied on an offhand “comment (former Google vice president) Marissa Mayer made 11 YEARS AGO” and data extrapolation that appeared more like guesswork.

Publishing an entire article based on one study from a group with a thin track record would raise concerns in many cases about whether a news organization had done enough to verify the information being provided. Journalists are taught to always seek confirmation from other sources, especially if the source may have a particular perspective or agenda. But it is a constant challenge to maintain standards of verification when the information comports to a journalist or newsroom’s preexisting views and prior reporting. When it does, journalists must consider whether a heightened level scrutiny of their reporting is required, and how to weigh the demands to produce clickable articles against the expectations to act prudently in order to get it right.

Read the original analysis by Nieman Lab.

Giving Beyond the Pews

Written by FASPE Seminary Fellows: Cornelia DaltonFr. Andrew J. De Silva, and Alissa Oleson

Last January, during a month-long time of spiritual and material fasting, Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA raised $150,000 by eliminating frivolous spending. At the end of the fast, church members were asked to donate the money to the church. They were not told where the money would go, just that it would go back into the community. Two HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) received the funds: Howard University and Bennett College. 

Alfred Street Baptist Church’s donation prompts the question of the responsibility that communities of faith have in helping those struggling in the community. While houses of worship often give firstly to those inside their faith family, Alfred Street chose to use the material result of their spiritual fast to assist the needy not necessarily in their community or even known personally to the community. Instead, as the assistant minister Marc Lavarin explained, it was an opportunity to both “support HBCU’s and ease a burden borne by individual students.” The worshipers’ generosity showcased their understanding that as a church, ethical responsibility extends beyond the recognizable faces in their pews. It also raises awareness to the rising cost of higher education followed by the rising student debt in the country. In raising awareness, it begins a discussion in and beyond the immediate faith community of why college education is climbing so drastically, as well as how to help ease the burden this places on so many.

The responsibility to give to the needy—espoused in all major religions—is particularly lived out in this case by addressing communities in which high cost of education limits access to education. Alfred Street Baptist Church partnered directly with HBCUs, but each faith community could work with partners or justice allies to address material needs beyond their spiritual community, raising awareness in the process.  

Read the original article at NPR.org.