Many newspapers reported about this and the debate whether it is good taste, let alone ethically sensitive, to have people dining and wining in the resort of Labadee while 160 kms to the South people have hardly anything to eat for their naked survival. The case raises a typical dilemma for business ethics which shows how important moral imagination and a sound command of ethical theories can become for a company.
Royal Caribbean International, one of the companies whose ships still dock in Haiti, takes a clear utilitarian stance on this. Their CEO was quoted saying:
"My view is this -- it isn't better to replace a visit to Labadee ... with a visit to another destination for a vacation. Being on the island and generating economic activity for the straw market vendors, the hair-braiders and our 230 employees helps with relief while being somewhere else does not help. People enjoying themselves is what we do. People enjoying themselves in Labadee helps with relief. We support our guests who choose to help in this way, which is consistent with our nearly 30-year history in Haiti."
Indeed, cruise liners bringing business to the island is resulting in the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’, compared to them stopping it or going elsewhere. But it seems to be more a question of fairness and equity, which raises the eyebrows of some commentators. In some ways, the strongest argument comes from what we refer in our book to as the ‘postmodern’ view on ethical questions, as one blogger put it:
"To me it's like going to a funeral and singing and dancing around the casket."Yesterday in the Canadian News they showed thousands of people sitting in the port of the capital but unable to leave the country because of lack of fuel. Watching a white cruise ship with a nine hole golf course swiftly gliding by is not what these people need right now. Maybe the fact that people ‘enjoy’ themselves in poor countries is a problem in the first place. The earthquake just makes this unfair and unequal distribution of wealth on the globe just that little bit more visible. Even on a normal day in Haiti, there is still this grotesque gap between luxury on the ships versus abject poverty starting meters away from the fence of the resort in Labadee. Why else would one need to guard it by armed security even on a normal day?
For companies such as RCI these are no easy times. But they are in the moral maze of solving this dilemma, as it were by default. And one cannot say they are not trying, having also pledged $1m in food relief which they will deliver with the help of a local NGO. Engaging in blogs, working with local players and to find a pragmatic solution on the ground, reflects some lessons in discourse ethics. At the end of the day, RCI's behavior just reflects the demands of their stakeholders, most notably their customers: only very few of RCI’s customers are reported to have cancelled their cruises...
(We would like to thank our colleague Nancy Sutherland at Schulich for alerting us to this story.)