Based off of a paper by: Stephen Nicholas
Ethical Case Study by: Stephen Nicholas
April 13th 2013
Foods Market is a supermarket chain that sells natural and organic
products. Whole Foods was founded in 1980 by John Mackey, and is based
in Austin Texas. Over the past 30 years Whole Foods Market has grown at
an incredible rate, having over 300 locations. Whole Foods has always
been a well respected company with their "going green" style of
operations. The company placed 4th according to U.S Environmental
Protection Agency list of Green Power Partners. In 2012, reports were
made about how companies sold unlabeled genetically modified foods in
their supermarkets. Whole Foods was one of the companies that was
investigated. Many products were found in Whole Foods Markets that were
modified, which goes strictly against what they stand for. For a
company that has advertised that they sell "Nothing Artificial, Ever",
this is clearly a case of false advertising. Analyzing this case
different stakeholders side and from the four ethical perspectives of
Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and the business virtues will
give a clear verdict on how unethical Whole Foods Market has been
throughout this controversy.
The stakeholders that are involved with this situation have not been
happy with Whole Foods Market. The stakeholders of this controversy are
Whole Foods employees and management, customers, and stockholders.
Everyone who has been affected by this has not helped any of them in the
long run. Management and employees have lost their jobs because of the
unlabeled modified food. Customers have lost their trust in Whole
Foods because they were deceived by the false advertisement. Lastly the
final stakeholders are the stockholders. Investors believe that the
company is going to take care of the stockholders and act in their best
The first ethical perspective that I will analyze the Whole Foods Market controversy is from the
perspective. The defined meaning of individualism is, pursing the
interest of the company, such as profits, but to do so within the
constraints of the law and human rights. Whole Foods has the right to
do anything to maximize profits, as long as they don't break the law.
Selling the unlabeled genetically modified food is not illegal and Whole
Foods has the right to do so. However, claiming that they sell only
natural and organic food causes this perspective to believe that Whole
Foods Market has been unethical. An executive from Whole Foods said in
an interview "I don't think that Whole Foods does anything to try and
make people think that we don't have food with GMOs in them". This is
obviously incredible untrue because Whole Foods tries so hard to create
an all natural environment. The slogan they chose to attract their
customers was "Nothing Artificial, Ever." That is clearly an act of
false advertisement and that is why Whole Foods Market is unethical in
the eyes of an individualist.
The next ethical perspective that will be analyzed is Utilitarianism.
This ethical theory states that businesses should try to maximize
happiness for all people. Selling unlabeled genetically modified
products is clearly going to upset people. Whole Foods Market sold
these products in order to make more money and give customers a more
selection. However, adding these products went completely against what
Whole Foods stands for. Customers were outraged that Whole Foods would
betray them like this. Even though Whole Foods could be making a couple
extra bucks by selling these products, the customers have lost their
trust and are not happy with the company. Most products in Whole Foods
stores are more expensive than usual supermarkets. Customers spend more
money in these stores, to ensure that they are buying pure and natural
foods. Basically, the customers spent more money, for something they
could have bought for less at another store. That is why from the
Utilitarianism perspective, Whole Foods Market has been unethical.
Continuing on with the next theory, Kantianism is defined as a duties
theory, it states to do what is right because it is the right thing to
do. Don't treat people as means and respect humanity. Whole Foods has
completely missed the mark on this theory and is clearly unethical.
First off, selling these unlabeled modified products, doesn't even allow
the customers to make a rational decision. Customers believe that
everything in the store is natural, and not labeling these products
forces customers to just assume that these products are natural. Whole
Foods completely treated their customers as just a mean to make money.
Whole Foods should be looking out for the customers and showing them
exactly what they are purchasing. Instead, deceiving them and trying to
trick them out of their money by purchasing modified products. In
conclusion, Whole Foods has been very unethical according to Kantianism
because they were deceiving their customers. Customers put their trust
in Whole Foods that the products they are purchasing are natural and
safe to put into their body.
Lastly, the final theory that will be analyzed is the Virtue theory.
Whole Foods completely deceived their customers by selling these
unlabeled genetically modified products. Customers main priority when
they shop at Whole Foods Market is to buy the healthiest and most
natural products available. Even if the cost more people trusted Whole
Foods products, that they were only consuming the purest foods.
Instead, customers discovered that they were buying genetically modified
foods and never having the chance of finding this out on their own.
Whole Foods Market has been incredibly unethical selling these products
to its customers.
Salazar, Heather. Western New England University. Spring Semester 2013 Class Notes.
Adams, Mike. "Whole Foods caught in GMO marketing deception, false
advertisement-heres the proof". October 8, 2012.
Baden-Mayer, Alexis."Whole Foods Admits Selling GMO's - Tell Them Where
They Can Stick It." Organic Consumers Association. February, 2011.
Whole Foods Market. "We Are Earthlings" 2013. California Transparency
In Supply Chain Act Disclosure.