Stealing from Corporations

The article linked below starts out with an interesting question, but ends up with an odd answer. The author asks whether it’s ok to steal from big companies. She points out that stealing is generally bad, but that the (moral) rule against stealing is also generally thought to have exceptions. And, she suggests, one such exception might be when corporations aren’t holding up their end of the social bargain. If they’re acting badly towards us, then why shouldn’t we act badly towards them?

In the end, the author suggests that we should adopt a different approach, instead of stealing from corporations. “Rather than stealing from corporations,” she writes, “we should use our powers as consumers, workers, shareholders and citizens to push private sector organisations themselves towards behaving more ethically.” But this, of course, assumes — probably wrongly — that people who steal from companies do so because companies aren’t living up to their end of the bargain. If you’re stealing from a big company in order to feed your hungry children (one of the most cited exceptions to the rule against stealing), then you’re probably not that concerned whether the company in question deserves it, based on for example their (in)action on issues like climate change.

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LINK: Is it wrong to steal from large corporations? A philosopher debates the ethics (by Emma Borg for The Conversation)

If you ask someone whether it’s okay to steal, chances are most people would say no. This absolutist approach – stealing is wrong, no matter what – finds philosophical backing in the work of 18th century thinker Immanuel Kant, who held that there can be no exceptions to moral rules.

But things may be more nuanced than Kant suggested. We often judge the near-destitute worker who steals bread to feed their family differently to the thief who steals granny’s money to fund a lavish lifestyle. In the current cost of living crisis, for example, supermarket workers have spoken of turning a blind eye to theft by customers who are clearly struggling. New chief inspector of constabulary, Andy Cooke, has also reportedly suggestedthat police should use “discretion” over whether to charge those who steal so they can eat.

If we allow exceptions to moral rules, the question then becomes: Is there anything which could make it right, or excusable, to steal from a large corporation?

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What do you think?


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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.

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