Friday, November 21, 2014

Wounded Warrior Project: Exploitation (2014)

WWP logo

The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was established in 2003 in Roanoke, Virginia by Albion Giordano, Jim Melia, Steven Nardizzi, John Melia, and John F. Melia. These individuals started the non-profit organization with a vision to “foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.”[1] The WWP uses the acronym FILIS to describe their core values of Fun, Integrity, Loyalty, Innovation, and Service. Using the core values of FILIS the WWP is hoping to establish “the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in our nation's history.”

Stakeholders are any type of person that can be affected by a company or organization. This is a large ranging term which could describe the environment, people within the company, the local community, or future generations of community members. When it comes to the Wounded Warrior Project there are two major stakeholders. The primary stakeholders are the consumers of the company, which are U.S. combat disabled veterans. These are the people that the entity was designed to provide their services for. The secondary stakeholders are the generous donors that support the WWP. These people are the primary financers of the company and allow for the proper revenue and income to keep the company in business. These people are extremely important because without them such a company would not be able to stay in business.

Individualism is an economic theory in which it the sole responsibility of the employees, CEO’s, and managers within the company are to maximize the profits of the company for the shareholders or owners within the confines of the law. Individualists believe that for any type of change or consideration towards stakeholders the laws must be changed first to accommodate those considerations. This theory relies heavily upon the “invisible hand” of the free-market to influence the directions that company’s take in regards to their business practices.
Wounded Warrior Project they are very moral in an individualist sense with regards to marketing. The brand logo of the WWP is an image of one soldier carrying another wounded soldier through battle. They constantly have commercials where they show soldiers with missing limbs and other disabilities to drum up attention to their organization. Many people agree that these displays exploit the wounds that these veterans have suffered in a result of serving their country. Their exploitation of wounded veterans has helped to create one of the most profitable brands in the country. In the individualist sense the main goal of the marketing department of WWP is to try to create images that will maximize the most amount of revenue for the company possible within the confines of the law. Since there is no law against using images of wounded veterans for marketing purposes, they are acting morally. Individualism is not concerned with how they spend their revenue by any means. If enough people in this country had a problem with their marketing practices then they would refuse to buy products associated with the WWP, thus forcing the WWP to change their branding and logos.

WWP advertisment, showing a wounded Veteran missing his left leg

To apply utilitarianism within the constructs of society the governmental leaders must try to add up all of the aggregate happiness or pleasure for an issue and also add up all of the pain created by the issue at hand. Whatever outcome produces the most amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people is the outcome that the governmental leaders should use with regards to that issue. It is easy to think of Utilitarianism as dealing with consequences of a decision or the end result.
The Wounded Warrior Project currently has over 10 staff members that make over $100k annually.[1] Last year the WWP only spent 38% of its revenues on services for veterans.[2] The unemployment rate for veterans in September 2014 was at 6.5 %.[3] The National unemployment rate was at 5.9% in September 2014[4] One only needs to ask, couldn’t a large and profitable company due something with their excess of funds to help correct this problem? From a utilitarian viewpoint the WWP is acting immorally when they choose to use their excess funds to pay their top employees extravagant salaries exceeding $100k, especially considering that the business is a non-profit organization. The salaries should be cut to a more responsible rate of around $60k yearly, which would make more money available for the stakeholders involved with the WWP. There would be a greater pleasure ratio for the vast majority if only a few people were willing to take less money to work for the WWP.

Kantian ethics is a form of deontological theory developed by Immanuel Kant. Kantian ethics is focused solely on the purposes behind actions. Good will is the only intrinsically good moral and it is the duty of moral law. With regards to the marketing practices of the Wounded Warrior Project ascribed by Kantian ethics, their branding and logo practices are extremely immoral. The WWP is using images and commercials depicting wounded veterans in battle for the sole purpose of increasing revenue for their company. The primary victims that are being exploited are the veterans themselves and secondly the American public that shows empathy for the wounded veterans. The wounded veterans are not paid for these images of their likeness, nor have many consented to these images. They are exploiting the veterans based upon the images of their battle wounds. The maxim of these acts could never be taken as universal law because exploitation of people for the purpose of increasing personal revenue and profits is wrong. The WWP rebuttals these claims of exploitations, on the premise that they are instead creating an awareness for veterans; and imply that this couldn’t occur or be possible without their help. The Wounded Warrior Project told the Jacksonville Business Journal that their branding “creates the awareness needed to help veterans.”[1] However, donors don’t know where the money is going but believe that they are donating for a good cause. When the public doesn’t fully understand the issues concerning veterans but still donates generously, the lack of transparency with non-profit companies like the WWP can mask the real issues that veterans have. This is an example of exploiting the generous public while also engaging in means that hide or mask the real issues with the veteran community.

Virtue Theory
WWP CEO, Steven Nardizzi

Virtue ethics is very different from utilitarian and principled ethics like Kantianism. Where these two ethic platforms focus primarily upon rules or principles that should guide individuals on moral decision making, virtue ethics focuses on “a full and detailed description of those character traits, or virtues, which would constitute a good and full human life”.
When it comes to the Wounded Warrior Project they are not the most functional business entity. From a virtue standpoint one only needs to look at the functionality of a non-profit organization, which is to provide the best service to their consumers as possible. People join or start non-profits with the goal of helping society and providing a service. The idea of profits and exemplary personal salaries are more conducive with the for profit section of the market. This is part of the reason why there are so many tax breaks for non-profits given by the U.S. at the end of each year. Millions of dollars’ worth of grant money is made available by local, state, and federal governments each year solely for non-profit organizations, which is unavailable to the for-profit sector because law makers understand the need for honorable organizations that are simply designed to help society. The WWP in my estimation is taking advantage of society’s generousness when they accept all of the benefits of having the title as a non-profit but then give the top 10 employees’ salaries that are over $100k with the top salary over $300k. This is all money that the company could use to better serve its consumers with. There is also the issue of the WWP outsourcing the vast majority of their services to other companies both for-profit and non-profit, but taking credit for the completion of these activities. According to columnist Alex Graham, the WWP had an excess of $95.5 Million of outsourced payments. Aristotle would ask the question, “are the leaders of WWP happy”? I would reply to him that they indeed are not happy because they are not the most functional organization that they could possibly be. They extremely overpay their top employees who take money away from the consumers and also fail to perform many of their reported services by outsourcing millions of dollars’ worth of work.
Aristotle would also most likely judge the WWP based upon three distinct virtues of prudence, temperance, and concern. The WWP mostly acts in a prudent manner, meaning that they are cautious in their business ventures. They don’t typically allow themselves to be in a position where outside sources or competing non-profits can make them look like an unethical company. If another organization does attempt to do so, then the WWP can be swift to act upon it. For example, they are tied up in a civil-suit with Dean Graham, founder of Help Indiana Vets, for reasons of defamation that cost the WWP lots of revenue. This cautiousness to put an end to a problem before it gets too large keeps the WWP at the top of most businesses in the non-profit sector. The WWP also doesn’t follow the virtue of temperance, a synonym for moderation, when it comes to their pay structure. They follow the same suit of many corporate organization in giving large salaries and big bonuses to the key leaders at the top of the company. This lack of temperance can negatively portray the company in a bad light. Lots of veterans see the WWP as a bunch of “money grabbers” when they are banking so much money with their salaries, compared to the veterans living in poverty that they serve. The WWP mostly enacts the virtue of concern very often. As much bad publicity that the WWP can receive, we still need to be mindful that their organization was started with the intent of helping to empower combat veterans. There was a time in this country when there were very few organizations that cared enough to do so. Their concern for veterans overall should be commended. When we look at how Vietnam era veterans were treated in this country we see a generation of people shunned, neglected, and often times verbally abused upon their return home. This is a stark difference from the culture and mindset of today’s America. It’s because of companies such as the WWP that have helped to play a role in influencing the general public and congressional law makers into holding veterans into their hearts. Their concern for the treatment of veterans has aided a societal shift of understanding, empathy, and appreciation. To most veterans the ideas of understanding and empathy are the most meaningful, thus the WWP really has shown throughout their history a following of the virtue of concern.

[1] Byerley, Catherine. "Wounded Warrior Project under Fire…” (2014)
[1] (2014)
[1] Hundley, Kris. "Charity Investigator: Wounded Warrior Project…” (2014)
[2] Graham, Alex. "Wounded Warriors Project A Legal Scam." (2014)
[3] (2014)
[4] (2014)

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