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Case Study

Unocal in Burma
Business Ethics


QUESTION 1. Answer whether from utilitarian, rights, justice and, caring P e r s p e c t i v e , U n o c a l d i d t h e r i g h t t h i n g i n d e c i d i n g t o i n v e s t i n t h e pipeline and then in conducting the project as it did. In your view, and using your utilitarian, rights, justice, and caring assessments, didUnocal d o t h e r i g h t t h i n g ? A s s u m e t h e r e w a s n o w a y t o c h a n g e t h e outcome of this case and that the outcome was foreseen was Unocal then justified in deciding to invest in the pipeline?
Utilitarian Perspective

Utilitarian is a moral principle that claims that something is right to t h e e x t e n t t h a t i t d i m i n i s h e s s o c i a l c o s t s a n d i n c r e a s e s s o c i a l benefits. Unocal and other companies built schools and roads along the pipeline, small businesses were also growing, the project provided Burma citizens with employment, infant mortality along the pipeline dropped, Thailand was able to enjoy cleaner natural gas from the 500-600 million cubic feet of gas that was piped in daily through the pipeline instead of using dirtier fuel oil. However, the projects also caused the costs, as follows: hundreds of Karen were used asforced labour and also forced to relocate to accommodate the pipeline project Considering the above mentioned benefits and costs, Utilitarian perspective would say that it was right for Unocal to investing in the Yadana pipeline.

Rights Perspective

In general, a right is an individuals entitlement to something. When an entitlement is a result of a legal system, then it is known as a legal right. However, there is a far greater right that encompasses all human beings or better known as moral rights. From the case study, we find that references are made to the rights perspective of ethics violation, including: the report that throughout 1993 to 1996, the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued reports claiming that the Burmese army was using forced labour and brutalising the Karen population to provide security for Unocal workers and equipment. Also, a 1995 report commissioned by Unocal also stated that human rights violations have occurred and continue to occur. All of reports were proves of indirect conflict with the rights perspective of ethics.

Justice Perspective

Justice is giving to each that which is his due. In essence, the justice approach to ethics is ensuring that all are treated fairly, with equal distribution of benefits and risks. It can be examined Unocals position from the three different categories of justice, as follows:

Distributive justice: Distributive justice is concerned with the fair distribution of societys
benefits and burden. From a distributive justice viewpoint, it did appear that Unocal made the wrong decision to invest in the Yadana project due to the fact that although the benefit of the project could have in been distributed to all of Burma via government development, it appears that the burden of the project has been focused on those living within the pipeline corridor.

Retributive justice: Proportionate punishment is morally acceptable for breaking a rule or

a law. From a retributive justice viewpoint, it appears that Unocal was not correct in its decision to invest in the Yadana project as it was sued in both the Federal and State courts in the US.

Compensatory justice: The just way to compensate people

for what they have lost when they were wronged by other. From a Compensatory Justice viewpoint, Unocal was right in investing in the Yadana pipeline as the Karen population who had suffered as a result of the project were adequately compensated through the court settlement.

Caring Perspective :

Ethics from a caring perspective emphasizes the importance of relationships. Since caring about other persons is the heart of the moral life and, thus ethics. Unocal was not correct in investing in the Yadana project from an ethics of care perspective. This is due to the nature of the ethics of care which emphasizes compassion, kindness and the development of relationship. Since the Karen people was treated badly or without compassion by the Burmese army, and with the awareness of Unocal, it violated the ethics of caring perspective.


In your view, is Unocal morally responsible for the injuries inflicted on some of the Karen people? Explain.
Unocal should be held morally responsible and accountable for the injuries inflicted on the Karen people because they violated the three absolute principles, which are as follows: 1. Violation of rights principle, given the reports that show the existence of human rights had been widespread. 2. Violation of justice principle, because the benefits and the costs were not evenly and equally distributed. 3. Violation of caring principle, because the loss of basic compassion for the people of Karen by the Burmese army.

QUESTION 3. Do you agree or disagree with Unocals view that engagement rather than isolation is the proper course to achieve social and political change in developing countries with repressive governments? Explain.
Unocal chose engagement since they believed that they could affect better social and political change. I agree with the Unocals preference of engagement rather than via isolation, to affect changes in a country. Among the benefits derived were: 1. Reduced infant mortality. 2. Provided improving medical care, new schools, electrical power, and agricultural development in the pipeline region. 3. Created of employment along the pipeline region which was an extremely poor and underdeveloped region of Burma.