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Opinion - The ethical dilemma of the red line

2021-06-11  Staff Reporter

Opinion - The ethical dilemma of the red line
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Robert Gatonye

The veterinary cordon fence (VCF) or the red line remains critical to the entire livestock industry of Namibia, says Meatco on their website. However, keeping it will continue to curtail the north from selling livestock products abroad while the south can sell everywhere.

I could not resist the urge to test my new instruments for decision-making after discourse with my professor and class of business ethics. Because I am not an expert in animal disease control, I steer away from alternatives to the Red Line. Therefore, I test the decision to retain it, remove it, or find a win-win solution by asking these five questions:

Can we apply moral philosophies to appraise the decision?

What benefits from this decision are derived?

What are the motives and means used?

Does the decision have the hallmarks of our values as a country?

Does the decision exude justice to all the parties affected?

Question 1: Several moral philosophies exist to support an ethical decision-making process. For this matter, I use three of them posited by various scholars of business ethics. The first one is the economic value that determines the monetary value of an action. Using the red line denies economic benefits to the farmers north of it. The second one is ideation (idealism), the process where you generate ideas and solutions in the context of the world’s view. The idea of the red line is to protect the lucrative beef markets. The third one is realism. Whatever we think as a country, the reality is, we cannot turn a blind eye to the perspective of the world regarding the Red Line as a means guaranteeing safe beef for their citizens.

Question 2: According to the literature available, disease control was the only benefit of the red line in 1896 when it was first erected (a monist view, only one goodness). 

In the 1920s and throughout the apartheid regime, control of animal disease and movement of people were the benefits (pluralistic, there is more than one intrinsic good in the method).

Today, protecting our lucrative beef markets is the only good worth mentioning.

These two goodness theories (monist and pluralistic) typically focus on the results of decisions and the goodness or happiness they bring, ignoring the means and motives.

Question 3: Some scholars contend adequacy of the goodness theories in supporting the generation of an ethical decision hence propose obligation theories. These theories consider the means and motives of actions. 

The obligation theories have two schools of thought. One believes actions have consequences (consequentialism). In their view, actions are the basis for assessing morality. The other one believes individuals have rights that must be respected and protected, rather than the consequences.

Two behavioural traits of egoism and utilitarianism underpin obligation theories.

Egoism behaviour views acceptability in terms of the consequences for the individual. For example, without prejudice, if the board of Meatco decides the fate of the Red Line and a good number of the directors are farmers in the south, the decision is likely to be an egoist one. Humans are naturally selfish according to Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher, even enlightened egoists who accommodate the interest of others, are bound to make decisions that will favour them.

But other consequentialists support decisions that will benefit the majority (utilitarianism). For example, keep the Red Line and seek and develop markets for meat from the north.

A nonconsequentialist decision is to remove the red line because it is curtailing the north’s beef exports. The perception is an infringement of the rights of northern livestock farmers.

Question 4:Two national values of inclusivity and shared prosperity come to mind when discussing this matter. For example, locking the north out of the beef economics, we are not inclusive. Equally, you cannot talk of shared prosperity while only the south is benefiting.

Consistently applying values in an organization’s decision-making process is a manifestation of a strong culture. Various studies have shown that a strong culture results in a more efficient and productive organisation. According to a scholar in my class, the Sicilian Mafia’s strong culture makes them an efficient crime machine. Within the world of ‘The Godfather’ integrity, means doing what you say you will do. If they promise to eliminate you, negotiate or say your last prayers because they will do it.

Question 5: Fairness of the decision in dealing with perceived injustices of the farmers from the north is the focus. For instance, new benefits will come to them after the decision (distributive justice). Is the process objective in terms of dispute resolution and allocation of resources (procedural justice)? And lastly, did the decision-makers treat the affected farmers with respect and sensitivity with the rationale (interaction justice)?

In summary, taking a position consistent with nonconsequentialism will affect the lucrative beef markets resulting in the south and the country losing income. Leaving the status quo contradicts our values of inclusivity and shared prosperity. I am fully alive to the relativist perspective that ethical decisions are subjective based on individuals and groups. But my position on this matter is, an ethical decision is one consistent with utilitarianism. Keep the red line, but look for and develop markets for livestock products from the north.

2021-06-11  Staff Reporter

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