Sunday, April 14, 2013

Whole Foods Markets Not So Natural Afterall (2012)

Based off of a paper by: Stephen Nicholas
Ethical Case Study by: Stephen Nicholas
April 13th 2013

 Whole 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 interest.

The first ethical perspective that I will analyze the Whole Foods Market controversy is from the
Individualist's 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. 

This final theory consist of four different virtues, Courage, Honesty, Temperance, and Justice.  To begin to analyze Whole Foods from these different virtues, understanding them individually is crucial.  Firstly, courage is risk taking and willingness to take a stand for the right idea and action.  Whole Foods can easily be seen as unethical because they obviously didn't take a stand to do the right thing.  Whole Foods Market advertised that they sold only natural products and that nothing modified would be in the store.  That was clearly false advertisement, and Whole Foods was unethical in selling these products.  The second virtue is honesty.  Honesty is in agreements, hiring and treatment of employees, customers, and other companies.  The only area where Whole Foods Market has been somewhat ethical is honesty.  They admitted to selling these unlabeled modified products, but it was only after the questions about these products arose.  For years they have been selling these products and customers continued to buy them with no questions asked, that is why Whole Foods still is unethical according to the honesty virtue.  The third virtue is Temperance.  This virtue is defined as reasonable expectations and desires.  Whole Foods created a false environment that everything in the store was all natural.  Customers expected that they were staying away from the modified products by shopping at Whole Foods Market.  Temperance is clearly another virtue that Whole Foods appears to be unethical.  Lastly, the final virtue is justice.  This virtue to be ethical, the company must consist of hard work, quality products, good ideas, and fair practices.  Whole Foods is yet again unethical because they constantly had the chance to stop selling these modified products but failed to do so every time.  Whole Foods is all about selling high quality products and they went against with what they stand for and sold unlabeled genetically modified items.

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.

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