What if You Realize Your Product Doesn’t Work?

business_ethics_highlights_2Not every product being sold is a good one. Sometimes the sellers of bad products know that’s what they’re selling, and sometimes they don’t. People in the former category are clearly acting unethically. People in the latter category — well, what obligation do they have to find out? >>>

LINK: What should you do if you lose faith in what you’re selling? (by Chris MacDonald for Canadian Business)

…The question came to mind when I read recent reports accusing Dyson Airblades hand dryers of spreading germs at an apparently horrifying rate. Now to be clear, there are reasons not to overreact to the hyperbolic headlines. The stories you’ve read about Airblades are based on one study, conducted under lab conditions that might not reflect reality. But what if—what if—the reports turn out to be fair and accurate? What if the highly artificial scenarios used for the lab tests turn out to be validated by field trials? What if Dyson Airblades really are spreading filth? Should Dyson simply say “Oh well, so much for that!” and stop selling them?….

What do you think?

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  1. A comment from Alexei Marcoux:
    “This is an interesting business ethics question and one illustrating the business ethics field’s often counterproductive antipathy to business law. What does it mean for a product to not work? One idea falling out the evolved Anglo-American commercial law is “merchantability”: every product has an anticipated and intended use. The implied warranty of merchantability attaches to any product to the extent of this anticipated and intended use. The Dyson Airblades issue then becomes: “What are Dyson Airblades intended to do and do they do it well?” One answer is that Dyson Airblades are intended to dry hands and they do dry hands. They are merchantable. Another answer is that, in the context of their use, Dyson Airblades are intended to complete a process of hygiene and they actually diminish hygiene when used to complete that process. They are not merchantable. But that raises another question: Where does the _blame_ for the diminution of hygiene properly fall? (With Dyson because Airblades exacerbate it? With providers of restroom facilities whose water is routinely not hot enough for hygienically effective hand washing?) Interesting to the present writer is that common law principles developed in the context of actual disputes are often illuminating of the relevant issues in a way that bespoke business ethics principles (like stakeholderism) often are not.”

  2. I actually think there’s a pretty interesting problem of moral psychology there. Think of the level of excitement that entrepreneurship *requires*, or the psychological commitment one builds up as a loyal member of a team creating a product and selling it. I have genuine sympathy in some cases…even in cases such as automotive safety recalls. Stopping and saying “Wait! Our product isn’t good after all!” requires much more bravery than we normally give credit for.

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