Household and personal care super giant, Procter and Gamble’s (P&G) overly popularized laundry detergent brand, Tide Pods has once again been scrutinized due to a recent article published by the journal Pediatrics divulging potential health risks to children under the age of six. It was not too long ago that Tide Pods exploded into the market in 2012, becoming the only triple compartment unit dose detergent of its kind. According to the P&G’s Corporate Newsroom, Tide aimed to revolutionize the process of laundry by transforming a “frustrating chore to a delightful and rewarding experience” (“New Tide Pods: Pop in, Stand Out”). It is hard to deny the simplicity and efficiency of these brightly colored and “fruity” smelling laundry packets.
However, the ever so convenient “unit-dose” has turned into a serious and common hazard for young children. The study released by the journal Pediatrics investigated “incidents reported in 2012 and 2013, and found that 17,230 children under six years old were exposed to laundry detergent capsules,” mainly by consuming a portion of the highly concentrated detergent held inside the packet (Ziobro). As reported by the Wall Street Journal, “About 4.4% of these children were hospitalized, and one death has been linked to the product” (Ziobro). The study was carried out by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and could be the major push needed to see change in manufacturing and packaging techniques. Children commonly confuse the bright colors, specifically, swirls of blue and orange and the rounded shapes as a jar of candy.
This is not the first report on the product’s risk to children. Incidents with detergent pods have been circulating for sometime now. An article released by the Wall Street Journal last November reported on the heightened concern over the “single dose packets.” Since the introduction of Tide Pods in 2012, it was reported “U.S poison centers counted more than 14,000 instances of young children eating or otherwise coming into contact with the products from all companies” (Ng).
There has been no official statement released by Procter and Gamble addressing the study or the ongoing incidences. However, over the past year and half, the company has made attempts to diffuse the issue by bulking up its packaging with extra warning labels and phasing to “opaque” containers and bags, moving away from the clear ones that resembled candy jars. The extra warning labels are to remind parents to place containers in areas that young children cannot get to. These efforts appear to be obsolete since “monthly calls to the poison control centers referencing the product rose sharply from 137 in March 2012 to 1,021 in April 2013” (Ziobro).
With quite a lot of hype from news sites, there is obvious concern about how this industry leader will handle this issue face-on. At the moment the company has discretely handed the reigns of responsibility to the next guy, in this case, the American Cleaning Institute, a trade group for cleaning-products industry. The group has issued a statement saying that companies have been formulating a solution since 2012 to reduce the accidents involving young children and laundry packets (Ziobro).
The Tide brand is one of P&G’s most well-known and lucrative brands, “with roughly 40% share of the North America laundry detergent market and accounting for over $3 billion of the company’s $83 billion in annual sales” (Ng). Moreover, the “sales of unit-dose laundry detergent totaled $779 million on the year ended October 5, 2014, according to market-research firm IRI, representing 11% of the total laundry detergent sales” (Ziobro). “P&G is by far the largest player, with its market share just above 75%. Its Tide Pods and Grain Flings are two top selling products in the category” (Ziobro). So is the health risk of their product just “white noise” and a blimp on the radar for the company?
Nevertheless, the “Tide Pods situation” clearly illustrates the firm’s opportunity to show good corporate citizenship. The circumstances call for P&G’s top management to take a firm position emphasizing their social responsibility to their consumers. Up until now, the company has taken a utilitarian approach, in other words, the ethically correct action is the one that will produce the greatest amount of pleasure or the least amount of pain (Brooks and Dunn). P&G’s ethical intentions could be seen as utilitarian due to the fact that the Tide brand brings in approximately four percent of their total annual sales all the while dominating the market share in its category. Would it make sense from a utilitarian point of view to concern the company’s resources like research and development and pour money into such a “small” figure? No. In addition, by passing the buck off to smaller trade groups and not addressing the issue directly to its consumers, it could be argued that the company has committed “blow-through ethics,” that is, that harm is not intentional and the social construction of calamity i.e. the company not making much noise about the situation redefines it as normal.
Rather P&G management should consider a deontological approach, potentially humanizing any future actions. The best principle under the deontological approach that the company could pursue is the categorical imperative. Categorical imperative is the supreme principle of morality- “it demands that you should only act in manner such that you would be prepared to have anyone else who is in similar situation act in a similar way” (Brooks and Dunn). Typically, we view corporations like Procter and Gamble as a corporation and not a corporation made up of people, but in fact it is. It is reasonable to assume that whether an entry-level employee all the way up to an executive had found themselves in the shoes of its troubled consumer would undoubtedly want the company to act ethically and fix the problem immediately. Some solutions that could pave way to better ethical responsibility could be to release a public statement addressing the issues regarding their product, Tide Pods. P&G should make it clear that the company has an obligation to help its customers, parents, and families at every turn. In addition, the company should state the number one priority is safety for its customers. Moreover, the company should solicit feedback from parents and welcome ideas on how to use the product and protect children. Research and development could look into making the product’s lid harder to open similar to that of a pill bottle or screw-on lid. These actions could be the solution to restore goodwill with the parents who buy the brand.
Ranked by Forbes as the 84th most innovative company in the world, clearly, Procter and Gamble have the means and the money to find a solution to the problem (Procter & Gamble). Will we see changes in the Tide Pods product in the future? Only time will tell. Until then parents should keep their Tide Pods under lock and key and consumers like college students will remain faithful to their product.
Brooks, Leonard J., and Paul Dunn. Business & Professional Ethics for Directors, Executives, and Accountants. 7th ed. Stamford: Cenage Learning, 2015. Print.
Ng, Serena. “Safety Experts Raise Concern Over Popular Laundry Packs.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303618904579167980730406864>.
“Procter & Gamble.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, May 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/companies/procter-gamble/>.
“Procter & Gamble.” New Tide Pods: Pop In, Stand Out. N.p., 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://news.pg.com/blog/innovation/new-tide-pods-pop-stand-out>.
Ziobro, Paul. “Detergent Packets Called a Poison Risk.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/articles/detergent-packets-called-a-poison-risk-1415595663?KEYWORDS=procter+and+gamble&cb=logged0.85099322278983 89>.