Accommodating asylum seekers in Middlesborough in houses which have doors painted the same colour of red, probably only as a result of these homes being refurbished as part of collective programme and then being acquired cheaply by the company with a contract to accommodate asylum seekers as a job lot. On the face of it, neither refurbishing houses using a single door paint (no doubt to save cost), nor acquiring a job lot of (part) refurbished houses for asylum seeker accommodation, would have clear ethical dimensions. Beyond perhaps the quality of the cheap accommodation and its habitability.
Yet the “marking” of asylum seeker’s homes, albeit apparently accidental, can and seemingly has led to victimisation. And one does not need great imagination or historical recall to see the similarity in outcome to the marking of Jewish homes in Nazi Germany. Of course there is a massive difference between the unintended accident here and the Nazis’ calculated and religiously motivated intent. But marking out any group potentially subject to bigotry and abuse is not, to most people, an ethically sound decision.
This is a perfect example of what we call “accidental ethics”, where an ethically-loaded decision is taken without appreciating the ethical dimension exists. This is generally the source of greatest ethical and reputational risk for businesses and other organisations today.
It is a difficult risk to address, requiring decision-makers at all levels and in all operational areas – including those with little immediately obvious ethical impact – to be vigilant every day for potential ethical consequences of decisions and actions. It is why business ethics needs to be part of the workplace way of life, and not a project or annual training or e-Learning event.
For more information on managing accidental ethics and our people and behavioural approach to addressing ethical and reputational risk using proven psychological approaches, contact us.