Business Ethics

Making decisions is not always an easy task, and in most cases, it requires leaders to seek advice from fellow leaders or followers. ­­­Often, a moral dilemma is common when one is making pertinent decisions, which requires thorough scrutiny of the issue at hand. After scrutinizing Unilever’s case study, this paper will discuss the preferred decision on what the company should do next regarding the USLP strategy. It will discuss the options in light of ethical frameworks, explain how the decision will be communicated, and a debate question that exposes potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the argument.

Defining a Dilemma

Despite Unilever accomplishing most of its objectives in the USLP strategy, the two critical objectives that are creating a dilemma are the reduction of GHG and water usage. The case study posits that the company has already accomplished most of its objectives, but these two, which are extremely crucial, are lagging behind the strategy. The dilemma lies in making adjustments in the USLP strategy or continuing with the objectives set, as it would be the inflection point of the program. Some advisers advise that the CEO should acknowledge the inability to meet the two objectives, but others feel that building external partnerships would help meet these objectives.

Regarding the dilemma, there is a set of mutually exclusive alternatives I would recommend. Polman could consider forming external partnerships with the government and other organizations or do away with the two objectives and focus on the rest of the objectives in the USLP strategy. The first alternative is motivated by values such as respect for human dignity, responsibility, philanthropy, and fairness. For instance, maintaining the level of GHG gases to a lower level is a responsibility of all organizations that seek to show respect for human dignity. Thus, by partnering with other organizations, Unilever will be showing its responsibility toward respecting human dignity and promoting a fair environment for all people. The second alternative is motivated by values such as honesty, truthfulness, and sincerity. By admitting and acknowledging that the two objectives are beyond the company’s reach, Polman will remain honest and sincere to the sustainability team, and they will perhaps set more realistic objectives.

Ethical Analysis

In this case, the ethical frameworks are the rider and the elephant and virtues ethics. The rider and elephant framework supports the first alternative of forming partnerships with other organizations. The framework provides directions for behavior change, where it asserts that a rider is rational while the elephant is emotional. In other terms, it means that leaders might know where they want to go, but if they want to reach there, they must control the elephant by tapping into its emotions (Creativehuddle, 2021). In this case, Polman knows where he wants to go. Because he cannot accomplish the objectives alone, he might require to tap into other organizations to shorten the distance and remove obstacles to achieving the objectives. Unilever might not accomplish the GHG and water usage objectives because these are the things that affect other organizations. Also, even if Unilever works so hard to reduce GHG and other companies are not working towards it, results might not be visible. Thus, to accomplish this, he needs to form external partnerships with other organizations, and by working towards minimizing GHG gases, and water usage, the objectives can be achieved.

Stakeholders that will be affected by this alternative and framework are the public, competitors, customers, and employees. The public will be affected positively by having a GHG-free environment. Customers will also enjoy products that do not affect their health, and employees will find pride in working at an environmentally friendly organization. The competitors or organizations will also be affected in that they will start being environmentally friendly.

The virtues ethics framework supports the second alternative: Unilever could do away with the two objectives. In this case, it could seek to achieve or do what it is able to accomplish within its means. One of the philosophies of virtues ethics is doing what is right no matter the consequences rather than acting to bring out good consequences from a deed (Arjoon, 2006). It emphasizes doing what is right regardless of the consequences. In this scenario, Unilever could concentrate on doing what is right toward sustainability without necessarily having to measure the consequences of its actions. For example, instead of looking at the consequences of its actions on the level of GHG and water usage, it could just ensure that it is doing the right thing, which will automatically have positive results. Doing what is right in terms of sustainability will automatically lead to improved GHG and water usage, even though the objective will not be on the list.

Stakeholders that will be affected are employees and customers. For the employees, they will be pushed to do what is right in their practices. They will be needed to play their role in ensuring their actions are morally right. Customers will also be urged to use the products in morally right ways. For example, after using a margarine container, they should dispose of it in the right ways and places, just as a moral person would act. Besides, the organization as a whole will have to take its place and do what is right to fill its gap.

Decision and Explanation

The best option is to form partnerships with other organizations. There are various reasons for this decision. Firstly, it will not only help Unilever achieve the two objectives but will also help other organizations. Most organizations have tried to reduce the GHG levels but have failed due to limited finances, knowledge, and motivation (Meath et al., 2016). This is the same case as Unilever’s since the case study mentioned a large upfront investment that could make the objectives achievable. It means that the company did not have enough finances to fund the program. However, if two or more companies unite to achieve this objective, they will share the resources, and Unilever will also achieve it.

Unilever could have limited knowledge on the objectives, but when they partner, the knowledge will be shared. This will enhance the achievement of the objectives. Also, Unilever leaders will feel motivated to continue pursuing the objectives because it will have a support system from other organizations. Secondly, external partnerships would speed up the exercise and enhance results. It might be hard for Unilever because it is not the only company releasing GHG and using water. Even though it tries to minimize the issues, other companies would still release them, nullifying its trials. However, if they partner, they will have a common goal, and it will be easier to control the situation, unlike when Unilever works alone.

Communication and Reflection

I will communicate the decision by scheduling a meeting with the relevant stakeholders. A meeting is advantageous because it will save time and enhance the deep explanation. The communication strategy will involve a short visual presentation explaining how I arrived at a decision, the factors I considered, and how they will affect the organization and the stakeholders. I will ensure that all the points I discuss are essential to the situation and address the problem. Besides, I will also give recommendations on the kind of organizations the company can partner with to enhance the achievement of the objectives. The presentation will involve word of mouth and visual aids.

My decision reveals two things about my values as a leader. Firstly, it reveals that I am collaborative and believe leadership is about collaborating with others to brainstorm better decisions. This is because I chose to partner with people rather than do away with the objectives. Secondly, it reveals that I am confident and committed to achieving what I want. By suggesting partnerships, it means I am not afraid of failure. Hence, I am confident and committed to the extent of seeking help and motivation from other organizations. These values might shape my future decisions in that I will be making informed decisions with the right influence, which will have positive results.

Debate Question

Since Unilever will consider partnering with other organizations to achieve the two objectives, how will it convince them? It is not guaranteed that other organizations will give Unilever 100% support in building sustainability. It is because some of them are its competitors and could decline the urge. They might decline because they might fear Unilever being the leader in sustainability since it will be the originator of the partnership or decide to enhance sustainability in their way. If this happens, the option might not work, and Unilever will have to seek another option. A partnership could also be hard, given sustainability levels are one of the key metrics organizations use to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors (Reuter et al., 2010).

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The rider and elephant and virtues ethics frameworks could work best in Unilever’s ethical dilemma. Polman can either choose to form external partnerships supported by the rider and elephant framework or do away with the GHG and water usage objectives option, supported by the virtues ethics. However, forming external partnerships with other organizations is preferred because the two objectives require a lot of finances, knowledge, motivation, and coalition. After all, all organizations contribute to the issues. Hence, partnerships would share such resources to make the objectives a success.


Arjoon, S. (2006). Ethical decision-making: A case for the triple Font theory. Journal of Business Ethics71(4), 395-410.

Creativehuddle. (2021, October 12). The elephant and the rider. Creative Huddle | Workshops, Meetings, Facilitation.

Meath, C., Linnenluecke, M., & Griffiths, A. (2016). Barriers and motivators to the adoption of energy savings measures for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): The case of the ClimateSmart business cluster program. Journal of Cleaner Production112, 3597-3604.

REUTER, C., FOERSTL, K., HARTMANN, E., & BLOME, C. (2010). Sustainable global supplier management: The role of dynamic capabilities in achieving competitive advantage. Journal of Supply Chain Management46(2), 45-63.