Corporate Social Responsibility / Organizational Strategy

General Motors and the Ethics of Opacity

GM

When shopping for a new car, or maintaining the one they currently own, consumers should not have to worry about their ignition switch having performance issues. Since February, General Motors (GM) caused distress for over 2.5 million of their customers when they issued recalls for various car models manufactured between 2003 and 2011. The faulty ignition switches, which “could be inadvertently turned from the ‘run’ position to the ‘accessory’ position, thereby stalling the car and disabling airbags,” have caused over 30 deaths to date. It is understandable that GM has come under fire recently when it was revealed that 500,000 ignition switches had been ordered months before federal safety regulators were alerted and an official recall was issued.

GM has faced much scrutiny over their handlings of the ignition switch failures. The company itself has admitted to knowing of the problem since the early 2000s, yet “solved” it with a design change. Through congressional hearings and fines placed on GM for withholding information, recent details of e-mail exchanges have arisen concerning the order of ignition switches two months before GM notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) of the issue. Why was GM ordering these parts, but waiting to inform NHTSA and their customers about the problem?

GM’s delay between placing the mass replacement order and notifying their customers and NHTSA brings many ethical issues, on GM’s part, into question. Why did GM wait so long if they knew there was a major issue with a key part of their products? GM’s situation barely passes the basic initial ethical “sniff test” of whether or not someone could be hurt in this situation. At the time of order, there were already questions regarding numerous deaths in GM brand cars.

To further analyze GM , we can look at it using elements of the five question approach for ethics – Is it profitable, legal, fair, right, and virtuous?  Sure, their ordering of ignition switches before notifying other parties is legal, but is it right or fair? The failing ignition switches have a direct impact on consumers, which can be used as an argument for fairness. Ignition switch failure directly impacts consumers’ safety, which should be a larger concern for GM than what it would financially cost to replace the switches. Some critics may view this as GM being too concerned about their profits and neglecting their moral obligations as a vehicle manufacturer to provide the highest level of safety from their products.

When financial obligations come into play, companies may partake in actions that are not in the best interest of their consumers. If the progression of GM’s congressional hearing reveals more details about their actions, they are running the risk of losing even more customers due to their lack of respect for informing them when situations immediately arise. Every detail leaked will be a step back from regaining the trust of their consumers.

Tori Book


Sources:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/automotive/chi-gm-ignition-switch-recall-timeline-htmlstory.html

http://online.wsj.com/articles/gm-ordered-new-switches-long-before-recall-1415584224

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