DoFirmswithUniqueCompetencesforRescuingVictimsofHum...

DoFirmswithUniqueCompetencesforRescuingVictimsofHum... - DO...

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DO FIRMS WITH UNIQUE COMPETENCIES FOR RESCUING VICTIMS OF HUMAN CATASTROPHES HAVE SPECIAL OBLIGATIONS? CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY AND THE AIDS CATASTROPHE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA Thomas W. Dunfee Abstract: Firms possessing a unique competency to rescue the victims of a human catastrophe have a minimum moral obligation to devote sub- stantial resources toward best efforts to aid the victims. The minimum amount that firms should devote to rescue is the largest sum of their most recent year's investment in social initiatives, their five-year trend, their industry's average, or the national average. Financial exigency may justify a lower level of investment. Alternative social investments may be continued if they have an equally compelling rationale. These duties apply to the global pharmaceutical companies in the context of the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. "Because we can, we must."—Bono, Graduation Address, University of Pennsylvania, May 17, 2004.' T he global pharmaceutical companies are under extreme pressure to increase substantially their efforts to mitigate the AIDS catastrophe in sub-Saharan Africa. Defining the nature and scope of their obligations in this context is a task required of the firms' management, public officials and business ethicists. This paper applies a normative analysis as a means of providing an answer to the dif- ficult question of how much commitment is morally required. As a starting point for this analysis, it is helpful to consider the nature of an individual's duty of rescue in comparable circumstances. Toward that end, consider the following case. Sixth graders visit a honey farm as part of a class outing. A twister strikes the farm, breaking the hives, and causing an angry swarm of bees to sting many of the children. Adult bystanders observe the mass stingings and quickly identify five children with life-threatening allergic reactions. A policeman and the farm's manager attempt to treat the distressed chil- dren, but they do not have special knowledge about bee-sting reactions, and their interventions are not effective. All five children die. Subsequently, it is revealed that one of the adult observers was a doctor specializing in allergic reactions who had medicines and equipment with her that might have enabled at least one or two © 2006. Business Ethics Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 2. ISSN 1052-150X. pp. 185-210
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186 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY of the children to survive. When questioned, the doctor explains that she did not intervene because (1) the medicine in her bag was very valuable and belonged to the owners of the practice group with which she was associated (a property rights argument), (2) it was not her proper role to take action because the policeman was the public official in charge and if the policeman knew that he did not have special knowledge, he should have surveyed the group to determine relevant expertise and then determined how resources should be allocated (a role-based argument), (3) she
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