What Drives Unethical Behaviour? Lessons from F1 McLaren Mercedes driver featuring Santander UK

Published: 18th March 2010
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The way organisations conduct themselves can affect lives. Organisations continually face ethical issues. Unethical behaviours can lead to highly visible and expensive consequences. Nevertheless, organisations and their staff at times do behave unethically. So, what drives them to unethical acts? The main drivers are highlighted by the UK legal case Chagger v Abbey National & Hopkins (2009), where the conduct of Abbey National and Mr Hopkins caused Mr Chagger to lose his job and future career and be awarded the unprecedented £2.8 million compensation award, and led the UK to create new legal laws.



Abbey National is the British high-street bank featuring Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1 driver for the McLaren Mercedes F1 racing team) and the Lego bridge in its marketing and promotion. The bank was taken over by Banco Santander and is now called Santander UK. The new name was launched together by Emilio Botin (the Banco Santander chief) and the McLaren Mercedes F1 racing team driver Lewis Hamilton, in January 2010.



Balbinder Chagger was an employee whose employment Abbey Santander UK terminated in 2006, claiming the termination was due to a completely fair compulsory redundancy exercise. He, on the other hand, alleged that race discrimination was the real reason behind his dismissal. He was of Indian descent. He had been reporting into Nigel Hopkins at the McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and Lego bridge featuring Abbey Santander UK when it terminated his employment.



Although a wide range of factors can drive organisations to behave unethically, the key ones are: pursuit of personal interests; the amount of discretion an organisation affords its officers; the degree of autonomy in decision-making and action-taking an organisation permits its officers; and the organisation's orientation. These drivers are highlighted by Emilio Botin's Abbey Santander UK legal case.



Organisations and their officers sometimes put the pursuit of personal interest above other considerations. Pursuit of personal interests can be a strong incentive to behave unethically. For example, the Employment Tribunal found that Nigel Hopkins had personally desired to terminate Balbinder Chagger's employment with Abbey Santander UK and had arranged it to occur; he had used the organisation's compulsory redundancy procedure to achieve his personal aim.



Organisations sometimes afford their officers some degree of discretion; the greater the discretion afforded, the greater the opportunity the officer has for acting in his personal interests. The Employment Tribunal found that Abbey Santander UK had allowed Nigel Hopkins a very wide range of discretion in selecting whom to make redundant; it allowed Mr Hopkins to use highly subjective and un-measurable redundancy selection criteria. Nigel Hopkins was basically left to select whom ever he personally desired.



Organisations sometimes afford their officers some degree of autonomy in decision-making and action-taking; the greater the degree of autonomy, the greater the opportunity the officer has for acting in his personal interests. The Employment Tribunal found that Abbey Santander UK had allowed Nigel Hopkins a very wide range of autonomy in decision-making and action taking; he was able make an employee redundant entirely single-handedly.



The organisation's orientation can also drive unethical behaviour. An orientation towards results regardless of how they are achieved can send the message that 'the ends justify the means'. For example, the Employment Tribunal found that Abbey Santander UK and Nigel Hopkins had breached the UK's laws regarding discrimination and employment in terminating Balbinder Chagger's employment.



These then are the key factors that drive organisations to behave unethically. They apply to a wide range of specific ethical issues, such as miss-selling, misleading advertising, harassment, exploitation, victimisation, unethical employment practices, unethical environmental practices, health and safety, and so on.





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Court of Appeal judgement: Chagger v Emilio Botin Abbey Santander share price and Ethics Principles, highlighted by Lewis Hamilton F1 McLaren Mercedes driver featuring Santander UK

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