A Debate – Profitability Versus Human Life

Everybody uses everybody else for their own benefit. That is the justification we give for most of our negative actions. Some follow use and discard policy; others follow use, abuse and discard policy. The complexity arises as it hard to differentiate when it is right to use. Isn’t a wife being used by her family when she is doing house work, looking after the kids and sacrificing her pleasures? Isn’t a husband being used by the family when he is putting ten hours in office to earn a living so that his family has food on the table and leads a comfortable life? What about the hired help in-house, who works twelve hours for minimum wages just because they are poor and uneducated, isn’t that exploitation? Hence, can the public really blame corporate world for perusing profitability at the expense of human life.

1. Scenario – Non-profit Social Organization

A couple of days back in Bangalore, a young footballer collapsed on the practicing field in Banglaore. There was no medical aid or ambulance available on the field and the young player died. Karanataka State Footballer Association is getting the flak and offered Rs 100,000 to the grieving parents. Is the money sufficient compensation for death? If a million was offered, will the negligence of the association be more tolerable to parents? What is the right value of use or exploitation of human life?

2. Scenario – Corporate World

The old 1960’s Ford Pinto case is an example where organizations put dollar value to human life. The Pinto had a gas tank in the rear, and it burst into flames on collision. A number of car users lost their lives or were severely burnt during accidents, but the company continued to lobby for lower safety standards. The engineers knew about the defects, however, the senior management advised them to continue manufacturing. In a judicial hearing, Ford management justified their actions claiming that they had done a cost-benefit analysis for the same. The cost of removing defects was higher to the benefit of saving a human life, hence it didn’t make business sense to improve safety measures. In the analysis, the price of human life was US$ 200,000.

The case is relevant, as Tata Nano in India, has in a few occasions burst into flames without an accident. The car just becomes a fireball. Although Tata Motors management has claimed that the defect was removed, customers are still wary . Therefore, the question is – is it justified for organizations to risk the life of customers for profitability?

3. Scenario – Crime Scene

With increasing crime, the question becomes more complex. Let us take a hypothetical case. A man was hired by group A to conduct a crime on X, to ensure X does something for group A. The same man was hired by group B to conduct a different crime on X, to ensure X agrees to the demands of group B. Now the man double crossed group A and didn’t inform them he was working for group B. He double crossed group B and informed them that he will be successful even when he knew his plan isn’t working. He involved a number of friends and associates to help him with his plans. He double crossed his friends and didn’t inform them about the risks of the crime and how they are jeopardizing their life.

In nutshell, he used everyone to his own advantage for sake of monetary gain and safeguarding his own life. He assumed safety in numbers;   involvement of other people will bullet proof him against the negative repercussions of  group A, B and X. Now in this case, would you say, since all involved except X were undertaking unethical behavior, the use and exploitation of everyone else is justified? If we remove the legal aspect, how should this person be judged on moral aspects of his action? If one is risking another’s life, does loyalty to his own group has value?

Closing Thoughts

In all the above cases, we will say it is wrong thing to do even if we ignore legal aspects of each case. Human beings code of conduct and morality states that use of another for fulfilling duty or a greater cause is justified. However, use of another for personal benefit without compensating them appropriately for labor amounts to immoral behavior. There is a saying that even in the mob world, loyalty counts. There also, using your colleagues or clients which might harm them is not acceptable.  Human life has value and all human beings are expected to respect it. A code of conduct is followed as it keeps all human beings safe and secure. Breaking those always results in negative repercussions.


1. Ford Pinto