My intent in writing this paper is to describe how ethical principles can address organizational issues. The organization that I have chosen to explore is the Boeing Company specifically and the aerospace manufacturing industry as a whole, more generally. I will cover the role that external social pressures play in influencing the industry in both their compliance with government and professional ethics. I will also endeavor to highlight how the pressures brought to bear on the industry by the public and the government is relevant to their decisions both corporately and individually by their employees. Finally, I will share my thoughts on the relationship between legal and ethical issues with regard to the industry. To begin then, let’s explore what role external social pressures have in influencing the Boeing Company and by extension, the aerospace industry’s organizational ethics.
The level of trust that must be present by the public in the company that builds the airplane they fly in is best described in the words of the Boeing employee code of conduct “…must not engage in conduct or activity that may raise questions as to the company’s honesty, impartiality, or reputation or otherwise cause embarrassment to the company.” (Boeing, 2014) Boeing and the entire aerospace industry are hyper aware of their image and the perceptions of the flying public. When social pressure is brought to bear the entire industry takes notice and works to renew and enhance the public’s trust. For example, last year Boeing experienced a public relations nightmare when their new 787 Dreamliner aircraft experienced problems with Lithium Ion Batteries. An aircraft caught fire while waiting to be refueled and prepared for its next use. When news of the incident became known it was received with widespread fear and seeded mistrust of the airframe in the public, in the airline customer and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The entire 787 worldwide fleet was grounded until resolution could be made to ensure public and aircraft safety. The speed with which Boeing and the FAA dealt with the problem shows beyond any doubt that social pressure influences Boeing and the entire aerospace industry. Aerospace companies are constantly working to keep and enhance the trust of the public and to remain in compliance with the strictest government standards. The Core Values of the Boeing Company are Integrity, Quality, Safety, Diversity and Inclusion, Trust and Respect, Corporate Citizenship and finally Stakeholder Success. (Boeing, 2014) It is interesting to me that stakeholder success is the last item on the list. Boeing sees their public owners as being lowest on their corporate priority list with regard to ethics. In other words they see the need to be ethical as higher than being profitable.
The need to be perceived in the public arena as ethical and trustworthy while also remaining in compliance with very lofty government standards demonstrates how Boeing and the aerospace industry strive to perform at a level which helps to mitigate the need for public or social pressure to influence their decisions. The issues the aerospace industry routinely deals with remain relevant and continually influence the decisions made and direct the way the companies involved expect their employee’s personal decisions to be made. Everything Boeing and its employees do have the potential to impact the public trust. In a broader sense the organizational ethics of the aerospace industry are determined by multiple factors. As already mentioned the flying public’s trust is a major factor but added to that are the airlines which operate the aircraft, the government agencies who retain oversight on the industry as a whole and the corporate citizens who build the aircraft.
A great deal of effort goes into ensuring each of these levels of influence are balanced and mesh as seamlessly as possible with the core values mentioned above. As I have discovered, the aerospace industry is heavily influenced by many government agencies. Through regulation and legislation these agencies impact the aerospace industry’s relationship with both the public and its stakeholders. The relationship which exists between these entities creates in many instances a legally mandated set of codes which govern the way the aerospace industry conducts business. In the United States the FAA has the ability and, arguably, the responsibility to mandate that certain rules and standards are met in the construction and operation of airplanes. Whether the airplanes are used to transport the flying public or are designated experimental and only flown under strictly controlled circumstances makes no difference.
The ability of a government agency to enforce rules or a code at a level as invasive as exists in the entire aerospace industry creates a question of whether the ethics embraced by the aerospace industry would be at the level they currently enjoy if the amount of regulation was not the same. In a more direct fashion the question then begs itself; given the influences of the public, the airline operators, and the government agencies with oversight, is the aerospace industry as a whole independently ethically responsible or are they forced to be so? When I attempted to determine if there is a clear definition of what ethically responsible means I fell short. The definition is subjective at best and invariably indistinct. I can therefore only use my personal definition to gage what I can research and see for myself to make a determination much as you the reader must do.
As I stated my intent in writing this paper was to describe how ethical principles can address organizational issues. Strictly speaking, I may have drifted afield of a clear presentation of that description. However, the role that external social pressures play in influencing the aerospace industry in both compliance with government and professional ethics was demonstrated throughout as well as how the pressures brought to bear on the industry by the public and government is relevant to their decisions both corporately and individually by their employees. Last but certainly not least, I sought to determine the relationship between legal and ethical issues in reference to the aerospace industry which left me with an unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question.
Boeing Company. (2014). Boeing.com. Retrieved Dec 1, 2014, from Boeing Ethic Home Page: http://www.boeing.com/boeing/companyoffices/aboutus/ethics/