When Institutions put Secular Goals Ahead of Ethics & Lawfulness

Not all institutions and corporations are evil.  Many do an excellent job of balancing ambitious secular goals with a socially responsible approach.  These examples are less likely to be sensationalized in the popular press, however.  I found some examples on the website Socialbrite.org.  They singled out Molson Coors, Tyson Foods, and Haagen-Dazs as companies that do well while balancing social goals. There are others. These companies enjoy financial success and public support while managing to treat employees, customers and the general public with respect.

When the formal structure includes a code of ethics, honesty and integrity and those in power behave consistently with this code, the achievement of business goals is more likely to be balanced with social responsibility. Social responsibility might mean respect for employees, customers and the general public; stewardship of the environment; or safety for vulnerable groups – children, elderly and disabled folks.

Instant news and the transparency of America’s legal system are airing some organizations’ dirty laundry, however.  We’ve seen recent examples of what happens when a company or public agency puts secular goals ahead of all else.  The secular goal might be winning or sustaining a winning team, protecting one person’s power, getting a gossip scoop or putting profits ahead of employee and customer health.

When a less-than-ethical workplace culture aligns with an organization’s strong push toward secular goals the result can be an atmosphere in which wrong-doing is overlooked or even rewarded.

When the formal structure does not include a code of ethics and the secular goal is compelling, leadership may support decisions and people who further the goals and ignore or silence those who challenge them.  In this dynamic, those involved most closely with the secular goal have power (perhaps the athletics staff at Penn State) and may actually become more powerful than the formal power hierarchy. Strong college athletics means recognition, endowment donations and more potential students.

Following this line of thinking, a college athletics department could use everyone’s desire for winning to create an atmosphere where folks hesitate to speak up for fear of offending those with the real power. They may also fear more overt retaliation or being discredited. This power can be so strong that it might make employees question what they saw with their own eyes.  It might also lead them to think that the right place to report it is the athletics leadership or college security instead of community law enforcement. When this kind of dynamic takes place in a public agency of college and when it involves children it is an extreme violation of the public trust.

The former Schenectady, New York’s school maintenance chief was able to commit serious crimes against fellow employees with impunity because he held great power.  Steve Raucci created an all-powerful position for himself as both management and union chief in the city’s maintenance department. This inappropriate dual power position allowed him to control a wide range of employees.  He could use his power to punish those who questioned him (punishments ranged from marginalization and public berating to vandalism and attempted bombings!), and to favor those who towed the party line.

Here’s a list of what seems to be a pattern of values miss-steps:

The Catholic Church seemed to have wanted to protect the church’s reputation and it’s financial assets more than it wanted to protect children. Molestation was covered up; victims were discredited; allegations were administratively ignored. Much of the funding for the church’s activities comes from well-meaning Catholic families.

Boston Globe Spotlight

Steve Raucci’s power apparently inoculated him from the consequences of his intimidation, abuse and crimes against Schenectady school employees. Union leadership spoke up repeatedly about the inappropriate dual role and employee “enemies” were ignored or victimized by vandalism and attempted bombings. Aside from the employee fears this dynamic caused, this corrupt campaign of power was carried out with public funds.

NPR’s Petty Tyrant

Penn State’s athletics department and college administration appears to have protected the athletics program and covered up or ignored sexual allegations against one of the coaches. Employees ignored what they saw; employees went to athletics leadership instead of the police; victim allegations were mishandled.  Other allegations of misconduct by athletes in the program went unpunished and the executive in charge of disciplining students apparently quit over it. As a public university, activities are funded with public money.

Penn State Grand Jury Report 

News of the world wanted gossip scoops so badly that crimes committed to get them were apparently worth the potential risk. Cellphones were hacked; victims were paid off; management denies it knew about any of it.

Washington Post on News of the World

Tonawanda Coke’s Buffalo, NY plant continued to pollute the soil and water in the surrounding area with benzene.  This created a blue haze that allegedly led to increased cancer rates. Victims complaints were ignored for years.

NPR on Tonawanda

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