Unethical Perspectives and Unintended Consequences
Desirable moral behavior implies that a company should go beyond its standard protocol of procedures and look at end user needs. This paper will review Mercury Energy, a state-owned company in New Zealand, linked to the demise of one of its customers. Consequently, Mercury Energys action has been condemned as a company obsessed with adhering to rules rather than reconciling with the concerns of its clients (Pajo & McGhee, 2003; Hooper, 2010). The ethical behavior that a firm exhibits affects its reputation and relation with the consumers.
Summary of the Scenario
Folole Mulianga was discharged from hospital and given two oxygen tanks. She had an obesity hyperventilation syndrome, a lung and heart condition. Doctors thought she would barely live three years because of this problem. On 29th May 2007, Mercury Energy sanctioned a contractor for Vircom EMS to disconnect the electricity supply to Muliagas home (Eweje & Wu, 2010).
The contractor disconnected electricity supply despite Mrs. Muliaga imploring him to keep the electricity supply because of her health condition. Consequently, in less than three hours electricity was disconnected as a result of Muliagas failure to pay an outstanding electricity bill of NZ$ 168.00 (Eweje & Wu, 2010). Soon, media globally broadcasted the unfortunate case of Folole Muliaga attracting the attention of government officials especially those in New Zealand (Eweje & Wu, 2010). Technically, she died because of her inability to pay an electricity bill of NZ $ 168 (Eweje & Wu, 2010). The family had lost a significant portion of its household and was in debt because of Mrs. Mulianga treatment. Mr. Muliagas income was NZ $24,000, and he could barely support the family (Eweje & Wu, 2010).
Reports suggest that Mercury Energy was unaware that halting electricity supply to Muliagas could potentially trigger a loss of her life. Although unintended, disconnecting the power was not only drastic but also insensitive as it resulted in the persons death (Hooper, 2010). However, the resulting actions of Mercury Energy denied the company an iota of sympathy from the unfortunate incident. The quick, unmeasured, and insensitive responses from Mercury Energy portrayed the company as aggressively motivated by the profit at the expense of human life (Pajo & McGhee, 2003; Peterson & Jun, 2009). Predictably, various bodies pressed the government to act to ensure the sanctity of human life against what was seen as untamed corporate greed.
Power disconnection to Mrs. Muliaga home resulted in her premature death. Even though health specialists charged with handling Mrs. Muliagas condition had given her 1-3 years of life, she had surpassed their medical prediction and lived for over five years (Hooper, 2010). When the involvement of Mercury Energy in the incident reached the public thanks to the extensive media coverage, the media became filled up with complaints of how Mercury Energy victimizes its customers. The company was accused of pursuing aggressive, raw capitalist principles in its operations. Mercury Energy was thus charged with unethical behavior for failing to overlook its disconnection policy subject to the patient’s need for operational oxygen machine (Hooper, 2010).
The brand name of Mercury Energy was overshadowed as local and international media associated the death of Mrs. Muliaga with the company. The top management of the corporation did the firm a disservice by vehemently denying responsibility for the premature death of their customer despite the hard facts showing the contrary. Consequently, the management of Mercury Energy was regarded as contemptuous (Bjerregaard & Lauring, 2013).
The public perceived Mercury Energy as a corporation that lacks corporate social responsibility being insensitive to the clientele. Since it is a state-owned company funded by taxpayers, many expected the firm to have looked at Muliagas unfortunate scenario with utmost flexibility. Folole Muliaga was a representative of the many taxpayers that have supported business operations of Mercury Energy for years. The unfortunate death of Mrs. Muliaga resulted in the loss of trust towards Mercury Energy and its model of business operations (Peterson & Jun, 2009).
Legality of the Companys Action
From a legal perspective, Mercury Energys action was lawful. Despite the contractor being furnished on the critical need for continued power supply in the Muliagas house, he went ahead to halt the supply of electricity. Mercury Energy overlooked the fact that disconnecting power from the Muliagas residence would have life-threatening consequences (Bjerregaard & Lauring, 2013). It is clear that in a conflict of ethics and business policy, Mercury inclines more towards business policy. Despite Mr. Muliaga visiting the companys offices to make arrangement for fortnight payment, it did not persuade the company. According to Mercurys policy, it provides service to its customers 6-7 weeks before disconnecting power (Peterson & Jun, 2009).
It is alleged that prior to disconnection, Mr. Muliaga sought to discuss his problems and evaluate whether he can pay the power bill in installments but the company declined. Instead, it chose to stick to its privacy act as the subject account was registered for Mrs. Muliagas name. Nevertheless, Mr. Muliaga went ahead to make two fortnightly payments before the power supply was disconnected (Hooper, 2010).
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As such, with respect to the law, Mercury Energy actions were legal yet unethical. The company notified the Muliagas of the scheduled disconnection of power unless they pay the overdue power bill. When Mr. Muliaga sought to pay in installments on behalf of Mrs. Muliaga, Mercury was handicapped by the privacy act as sharing the details of the account was infeasible (Eweje & Wu, 2010).
The contractor should have sought an opinion from Mercury Energy on being furnished by the Muliagas on the consequence of disconnecting power supply to their house. Mercury Energy should have listened to Mr. Muliaga and worked out a suitable payment plan for the family (Eweje & Wu, 2010).
Are You in Agreement with the Police and Coroner Decisions? Why or Why Not?
I concur with the decision of the police to investigate the incident and find out whether the action of disconnecting the power supply caused the death of Mrs. Muliaga. Investigations were pivotal in determining any information Mercury Energy had concerning Mrs. Muliagas medical predicament. Subsequently, the police ruled that they lacked any justifiable cause to prosecute Mercury Energy and the contractor involved in electricity supply disconnection (Pajo & McGhee, 2003). I strongly disagree with these findings as the electricity firm through its contractor played a visible role in Mrs. Muliagas eventual demise. The disconnection of power to the operational oxygen machine denied Mrs. Muliaga a chance to live (Hooper, 2010).
The coroner ruled that Mrs. Muliaga died of natural causes associated with the severity of her obesity condition. Additionally, the coroner claimed that stress linked to the lack of oxygen supply from the machine contributed to her demise. I concur with the coroner. Mrs. Muliagas life threatening condition was the reason enough to ensure that her power supply should be uninterrupted. The contractor was exonerated from blame by the police as they concluded that the termination of oxygen therapy but not the power cut off caused her demise. The contractors confession that he did not know Mrs. Muliaga further absolved him from any blame (Nam, 2015).
Even though the family lamented that the police was racially institutionalized, there was no substantial legal proof placing the responsibility for the unfortunate death of Mrs. Muliaga on Mercury Energys actions of disconnecting the power supply. Ethically, the contractor was culpable of Mrs. Muliagas death but the police base their investigations on legality first (Bjerregaard & Lauring, 2013).
The Reforms/Guidelines Adopted as a Result of This Tragedy
Several measures were taken to avoid the repetition of the unfortunate incident. Suppliers were banned from using contracts as fall guys because of unmet consumer needs as The New Zealand Gas and Electricity Complaints Commissioner noted. The supplier bears the direct responsibility of customers needs. Agents of the vendor should visit a client that is medically dependent or make at least a phone call to the head office (Nam, 2015).
Mercury Energy has implemented programs to track and assist medically dependent and financially constrained individuals in enhancing its power disconnection policy. Mercury Energy has collaborated with external stakeholders to produce checks and balances before disconnecting the supply of electricity. The company has been subjected to an organizational learning process termed double-loop learning process to ensure that the central thought process of the organization is changed (Peterson & Jun, 2009).
A critical point was when Mercury Energy sent its customers a letter apologizing for the unfortunate incident, Mrs. Muliagos demise, and providing additional resources for others in a similar situation. The companys general manager stated publicly that the corporation had made a commitment to learning from the Muliaga tragedy and enhancing its credit management systems. This was a real turnaround as earlier media reports alleged that the company was unapologetic because it considered its actions as helping the Muliagas by disconnecting their supply of electricity (Nam, 2015). The company excused saying that it disconnected power to prevent the Muliagas from sinking into further debt. Mercury Energy had fumbled its way through the first week of the ordeal apparently lacking decisive leadership thus causing political backlash (Peterson & Jun, 2009).
The case exemplifies that it is important for corporations to prepare for crises and institute policies and protocols to communicate to their stakeholders and the public from the outset of the incident. Business ethics can weaken and crush a companys brand and value even though the company was acting within the law.