Is Samsung an Ethical Company?

Updated on November 9, 2017
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Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Asteriaa writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

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The Samsung Group is a South Korea-based conglomerate company that includes a number of subsidiaries. It's one of the largest businesses in Korea, producing nearly one-fifth of the country’s total exports with a primary focus in the electronics, heavy industry, construction, and defence industries.

— The History of Samsung: 1938-Present

Samsung simply continues to be exploitative and unethical due to the company’s exploitation of their workers and consumers. According to Friedman’s theory of individualism, the only obligation businesses have is to maximize profit for the owner and stockholders. However, Samsung has done this through illegal methods by hiring and overworking underage employees in China. According to reports, employees at this manufacturer were, in some cases, working twenty-four-hour periods with one day off per month, and the company had hired employees under the legal working age of sixteen years. This behaviour continues since, in 2016, an investigation by Amnesty International has found that cobalt in smartphone batteries is mined by children as young as seven-years-old. By individualist standards, Samsung would be considered ethical.

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Business Ethics Corporate Social Responsibility

Individualism is the political philosophy or ideology that emphasizes independence and self-reliance. Individualists advance the idea of realizing one's goals and desires, while opposing most external interference upon those objectives, by society, or any outside agency.

— A Perspective on Individualism

Galaxy S7 32GB

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From a virtue theorist perspective, Samsung lacks the honesty, justice, temperance, and courageousness that is used to evaluate the company’s ethics and dignity. Samsung did not honestly inform their employees about their work hours. Samsung did not use justice when the company exploited workers. Brown (2006 p.12) suggests there should be a balanced prosperity rather than simply shareholder and investor profits when it comes to a company’s integrity, which Samsung does not do.

Virtue ethics is a broad term for theories that emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one's duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences.

— Virtue Ethics - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Health and Safety Risks to Consumers

The virtues of temperance and courage were also violated through the company’s products posing as a health and safety risk to consumers. For instance, Samsung released the Galaxy S7 in 2016, which exploded due to battery issues. This caused a mass recall and replacement of the product. However, injuries had already been caused before the phone’s recall. A four-year-old girl suffered second degree burns to her face after her dad’s Samsung phone “exploded” next to her while she slept. Samsung did not show integrity or courage when they refused to pay compensation to S7 owners. Samsung did not show temperance since they also released risky replacements for the phones.

According to Wired, Samsung released a statement that some of the batteries sourced from Amperex Technology Limited were missing insulation tape. This highlighted a case of Samsung neglecting to check the safety of their products to rush productions to meet their release date. Integrity implies “relational awareness” (Brown 2006, p.5) which Samsung does not display through their impatience with their deadlines. By not compensating for the injuries caused to customers, they showed a lack of respect and ethical responsibility to their consumer base.

Samsung's Exploding Note 7 Nightmare Continues With Replacement Phones (CNET Update)

How Can Samsung Become Ethical in Practice?

Samsung needs to implement new processes to become ethical in practice. An honest dialogue between the company and its consumers would help resolve current worries about future products. Parties independent from Samsung’s business procedures should be hired to monitor the safety of products, to regularly assure underage workers are not hired, and assure workers are not being exploited. Perhaps a new product safety department should be implemented to communicate with product testers for safety risks. Suppliers should sign contracts to agree they will implement stricter safety checks on their materials. This will allow customers to get the facts, for the company to abide by ethical guidelines provided by the virtue theory, abide by the law, and maintain its integrity.

References

Brown, Marvin, T 2006, Corporate Integrity: Rethinking organizational ethics and leadership, New York, New York.

China Labour Watch 2014, Supplier factory of Samsung, Lenovo violates rights of children and students, China Labour Watch, New York, viewed 29 of July 2017.

McGoogan, Cara 2016, Samsung Galaxy Note 7 replacement phones are overheating, reports say, The Telegraph, London, viewed 29 of July 2017

Murgia, Madhumita 2016, Samsung Galaxy Note 7 replacement phones are overheating, reports say, The Telegraph, London, viewed 29 of July 2017.

Murphy, Margi 2017, Father’s horror Samsung Note 4 ‘exploded’ next to girl, 4, as she slept leaving her with second-degree burns on her face, The Sun, Birmingham City, viewed 29 of July 2017.

Tariq, Usman n.d., Unethical practices of Samsung, Scribd, San Francisco, viewed 29 of July 2017.

Tim Moynihan 2017, Samsung finally reveals why the note 7 kept exploding, Wired, Boone, North Carolina, viewed 29 of July 2017.

Vincent, James 2016, Galaxy Note 7 owners are angry Samsung is refusing to pay compensation, The Verge, New York City, viewed 29 of July 2017.

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