Kellogg’s Recall of Mini-Wheats Exposes Unethical Virtues

Written by Michelle Minarcin

Edited by Sarah Mejia

Are recalls a result of human error that go unnoticed, or are the manufacturers aware of a problem and just deliberately overlook it? In the case of Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats, the recall is due to possible contamination of metal mesh pieces in the cereal. The manufacturing company places blame on a “faulty manufacturing part” (Tomson). If they knew that the part was faulty for a while, the question is why was it not fixed properly? Regulations need to be enforced on manufacturing companies more often in order to help prevent this from happening. In the end, Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats were pulled from store shelves and recalled due to this safety issue (Tomson).

One vital element of activist stakeholder groups is “ethical consumers”; essentially, they are active in campaigns to push companies to produce products in an ethical manner, and if companies aren’t, these consumers will refuse the products (Brooks 5). Kellogg’s kept their eye on immediate financial returns and continued to produce despite possible dangers that could have been imposed on the consumers. Kellogg’s cereal has been facing many competitive pressures due to the alternative ways modern consumers get their breakfast, mainly in the form of fast food (Tomson). If Kellogg’s production shuts down for a long period of time, the public might lose loyalty and longstanding cultural interest in Kellogg’s breakfast cereal and spend their money on substitute products. Yet virtue ethics are applicable, and the company would be well-suited to apply such a logic in their management practices, meaning that Kellogg’s actions can indeed demonstrate virtues, or qualities, expected by the stakeholders (Brooks 21).

In this case, Kellogg’s might have been better served by using the “modified moral standard approach” when deciding whether or not they should continue to produce the cereal with a defective machine. This approach involves looking out for those stakeholders who are directly affected if the company finds itself in an ethical dilemma. Kellogg’s should compensate the stakeholders with rewards such as free or discounted products in order to preserve the consumers’, investors’, etc. interests in the long-term. This four step approach includes “net benefits to society, determining whether actions are fair to all stakeholders, whether the action is right, and whether it demonstrations the virtues expected by the stakeholders” (Brooks 22). When considering whether or not there are net benefits to society, the company should have placed themselves in the shoes of those who consume the product and look at the costs that could ensue if the product really did harm people. The manufactures really should have considered if the benefit of revenue really outweighed that potential cost.

The second part of this approach specifically considers all of the stakeholders. Stakeholders include employees, consumers, shareholders, suppliers, environmentalists, governments, competitors, and activists. The company needed to be more accountable to these people; they just looked at their short term financial interests and forgot about the effects on those that are in association with the company in any way, be it holding shares in the company or a consumer of the product.

The third part of this approach determines whether or not the action is “right”. Based on investigation and knowledge, the company should have tested to see if the machine imposed possible dangers to consumers; from that investigation, they should have then decided if it was right to continue production that hid or ignored a problem of potentially grave interest to stakeholders. The final part of this approach talks about whether or not the decision demonstrates the virtues expected by stakeholders. Again, the company should have had a better relationship with the stakeholders in order to cater to their interests. Maybe they could have electronically surveyed a small sample of stakeholders in order to find out what their expectations were in terms of the business practices of Kellogg’s.

Kellogg’s actions can be compared to the Bhopal-Union Carbide incident in 1985 where the failure to fix flaws in equipment resulted in the deaths of a couple thousand people. The manager of this pesticide plant at Union Carbide called the incident a “negligence and criminal corporate liability” (Brooks 41). Fortunately, no one was hurt in the Kellogg’s circumstance, even though the company did generate a huge risk in that the consumers could have reacted negatively to the metal mesh; nevertheless this situation relates to the Bhopal-Union Carbide incident because the company failed to fix a part that played a critical role in the supply chain manufacturing. Due to Kellogg’s recently acquired product, Pringles, the recall didn’t hurt the business as much as the incident at Union Carbide (Ziobro). However, Kellogg’s is still contributing $100 million in order to fix its supply chain, making sure this manufacturing oversight is not repeated (Tomson).

This incident proves fault in the hands of the manufacturers. Ethical practices need to be incorporated in all areas of business and should have been displayed in this circumstance. Due to their ample supply of other products besides Mini-Wheats, Kellogg’s didn’t suffer as much of a loss financially as some other companies may have in equal situations. Regardless, they have still lost the interests of those outside the company due to their mistakes and their lack of virtue ethics.


**Due to technical difficulties, we recently had to switch domains and transfer all of our website content.  Please keep in mind that while we have been publishing articles for two years, the published dates shown may not reflect the initial publish date.


Brooks, Leonard J., and Paul Dunn. “Chapter 1: Ethics Expectations.” Business & Professional Ethics for Directors, Executives, & Accountants. Mason, OH: South Western Cengage Learning, 2012. 2-70. Print.

Tomson, Bill, and Paul Ziobro. “Kellogg Recalls Mini-Wheats.” Online.wsj.com. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2012.

Ziobro, Paul. “Kellogg Profit Rises on 12% Sales Increase.” Online.wsj.com. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2012.



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