Real World Diagnosis and Feedback Assessment
The advent and advancement of mobile technology have brought with it a number of companies that are entirely mobile-based. Some of these companies have had phenomenal growth over the years crossing international borders to become multinationals. Among these companies is the mobile ride-hailing company, Uber, that has not only grown beyond its headquarter to become the leading mobile hailing ride worldwide but has also courted a lot of controversy over its ethical foundations. Founded in 2009, Uber has its headquarters in San Francisco California (Rogers 87). The company operates under the name Transportation Network Company in the U.S., while Uber is its official operation name in other countries. From its launch in San Francisco, the company has grown to have a presence in more than 200 cities in 57 countries including some in Africa as of May 2015 (Chen, Mislove and Wilson 1).
Founded by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, Uber as a technology company develops and offers free software for the different mobile platforms (Windows, Android, and iOS) from which customers can request a ride. The very foundation of the company and its software is to connect passengers to drivers. Through the software, drivers are capable of tracking the customer’s GPS, making it easier for the driver to find the customer regardless of where the customer is. By requesting the service, the user can track the arrival of the driver, receiving a conformation text on the arrival of the driver. On the other hand, the driver cannot directly contact the customer given that he/she does not have the customer’s number; however, the driver can contact the customer in case he/she cannot find the customer. On the app, the driver can hit a button, which sends a message to customer announcing the driver’s arrival.
An interesting feature of the company is that it does not have its cars or drivers (Rogers 88). Users, therefore, hail the cab and a driver responds to the user’s call. These drivers are independent contractors (also known as partners), with their private vehicles and schedules. The company’s success comes from the fact that it is not only convenient but also costs less than traditional taxi. Thus, while customers have to raise their hand and sometimes struggle to get a taxi in cities such as New York, Uber’s competitive advantage is that users only need to hail a cab from their phones, with a guarantee that a cab will arrive at their location.
Uber’s system has two independent yet interconnected apps: the Uber Partner app and the Uber Client app. From the partner app, the drivers show their willingness to offer their services. Customers, on the other hand, use their app to find an available driver and the price for the service. From the central system, the company routes passenger requests to the nearest available driver (Chen, Mislove and Wilson 2). The app then charges the customer’s credit card at the end of the trip, retaining 20 percent of the proceeds while giving the remaining 80 percent to the driver.
Uber’s services come in a wide variety, competing with a number of traditional transportation services. UberX and UberXL are services offered by sedans and SUVs (Chen, Mislove and Wilson 2). The two products are in direct competition with traditional taxis. UberBLACK and UberSUV are more luxuries and compete in the same market as limousines. Other packages include UberFAMILY, UberWAV, UberPOOL, and UberRUSH. UberFAMILY refers to cars with car seats, WAV to cars accessible to wheelchairs while POOL allows different customers to be allocated a single vehicle.UberRush, on the other hand, is a courier service where the driver agrees to deliver packages for the customer as a courier (Chen, Mislove and Wilson 2).
While its success has been phenomenal, many critics, authorities and governments have questioned the ethics and legality of the ride-hailing service. The criticism and lawsuits against the company come even as its valuation has soared to $41 billion (Huddleston n.p.). The ethics and legality of the taxi hailing service have come under scrutiny following accusations by its main competitor, Lyft, customers and local authorities. These accusations have led to the banning of the service in several cities, as well as demonstrations from traditional taxis over the illegality and the predator-like pricing and practices that are eating into their (traditional taxis) revenues.
Part of the questionable ethics used by Uber, according to its competitor, Lyft, has been Uber employees ordering and canceling rides from its rival. According to Fink, Lyft reported the cancelation of more than 5,000 of its rides, all of which it attributes to Uber employees. These aggressive and questionable strategies are what Uber’s rivals claim are the company’s attempts to monopolize the car-on-demand market. While such actions may pass as mere pranks, they have economic effects on the rivals. Fink informs, “Bogus requests to decrease Lyft drivers’ availability, which could send users to Uber instead. Nevertheless, it is not just the company that suffers. Canceled rides jeopardize income that Lyft drivers depend on — plus they spend time and gas money on route to passengers who have no intention of taking a ride.” Moreover, even with the non-cancelation of the rides, Uber’s antics relegate its rivals’ drivers to low-profit jobs, all of which are aimed at enticing them to work for Uber.
Uber’s questionable antics are not limited to its rivals but extend to its employees. Reports have surfaced on the company’s restrictions on its drivers by the claim of illegality of working for more than one of the cab hailing services. This is especially in New York, where Uber has banned its drivers from working for its rival Lyft, citing city regulations. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, however, confirmed that such a statement is misleading; drivers are free to work for more than one company, according to the regulations. It is therefore, unethical for the company to mislead its employees over the regulations that guide their work, all with the purpose of protecting the company’s business. Uber’s poor treatment of its employees also extends to job security. Apparently, drivers with poor reviews and “below par” performances are easily kicked out of the platform. This is regardless of the prevailing conditions. Uber simply wants top performance from its drivers with little concern over how the drivers achieve such a performance. Such high expectations are probably the reason Uber drivers resort to prank calling their rivals, to meet the high-performance target and remain on the platform.
Even more, on regulations are the accusations that the company has entered the transportation market without following proper regulations, and continues to flaunt these regulations by not following the set rules and fair schedules. It is perhaps the flaunting of fare schedules that has led to demonstrations against the company for eating into their market through the predator-like ride prices.
Uber’s unethical practices have also extended to the background checks that the company performs on its employees. While the company’s website has an extensive list showing the protocol for the recruitment of its drivers, the records for the background checks have remained closed to public scrutiny (Weinstein n.p.). The lack of proper records (and perhaps proper procedures) in driver background checks puts customers’ safety in jeopardy. The lack of the proper background checks is to blame for the reports of sexual assault of passengers by drivers. This is in addition to accusations of hit and run in 2013, in which a six-year-old ended up dying after an Uber driver hit a migrant family (Manjoon.p.).
Similarly, customers’ safety has also been mentioned as being in jeopardy through the driver’s multitasking. German and U.S. courts have enjoined the company’s services on safety grounds. The app is a distraction to the driver, who has to keep looking at the app for more customers. This puts the customer and other pedestrians at risk, among them the girl killed by the driver (Rogers 92). Even more is the fact that the driver’s insurance may not necessarily cover other road users, therefore passing the medical costs and damages to the road users instead of the driver or the company. It is this concern over customer safety that has led to the banning of the service in New Delhi in India over rape allegations on a passenger by the service’s driver. The New Delhi ban by extension referred to a licensing issue, where Uber was operating on license meant for other parts of India (Huddlestonen.p.). Uber has also been banned in other countries including Spain, Thailand, Netherlands and Germany for concerns over the fact that the service is putting public safety at risk (Huddlestonen.p.). Interestingly, apart from jeopardizing public safety, most of the bans and service suspensions cite flaunting of established laws as the chief reason for the actions against the company and its cab-hailing service.
Passenger privacy concerns have also emerged as an ethical problem for Uber. It is apparent that the company tracks passengers in addition to keeping journalists, elected officials and investors’ personal information (Rogers 94). The fear is that the company may use this information for sinister motives such as corporate espionage and regulatory manipulation. This is especially true in light of the company’s aggressive tactics against its competitors and one of the company’s executive’s utterances of investigating a journalist’s private life for criticizing the company (Majoon.p.). Additionally, it is also apparent that Uber’s “God-view” tool has the capability to track customers’ location. Such a tool vastly compromises customer privacy. Far worse is the fact that most customers are not aware of the company’s tracking, which Uber is using to advance its business interests.
Uber’s ethical dilemma and problems are an attestation to the absence of ethical principles guiding the running of the company. According to Williford and Small, it is important for a company to have basic conduct principles and controls that work to prevent the occurrence of criminal and other inappropriate conduct (1).Uber’s current code of conduct covers professionalism and respect, under which there are references to non-discrimination, aggressive behavior, and human kindness. The code also covers safety, which covers compliance with the law, mentioning driving while intoxicated, disabilities and compliance with laid down rules. Lastly, the code of conduct also covers emergencies, with reference to calling of the emergency service number when faced with situations that require immediate attention. There is, therefore, a necessity to develop and deploy a code of ethics program for its employees as a way of addressing various ethical malpractices that the company has been accused of doing.
In its current form, Uber’s code of conduct does not even begin to cover the breadth and depth of the problems that the company currently faces with its ethical dilemma. Williford and Small contend that the foundation of control of employer and employee behavior is in the code of conduct. This means that the code of conduct should be a comprehensive document containing the whole stipulation of the program and attempt to cater for the compliance risks realistically. The stipulations contained in the code of conduct should be in line with the organization’s aspirations (Williford and Small 1). Additionally, the code of conduct should explicitly identify the individuals responsible for addressing the program, the responsibility of the administration, in addition to providing guidance on the conduct all employees are expected to possess. Moreover, within the code should be clear channels for reporting any violations of the laid down rules, with an explicit description of the reciprocal disciplinary action for the violations. While Uber’s code addresses some of these issues, it is deficient in a number of important details such as the authority receiving the report, channels for the reporting and comprehensive disciplinary action. Moreover, the code itself does not address some of the most pertinent issues that have been dogging the company since it began its explosive expansion.
In developing a code of conduct, it is important that the company first choose between either compliance oriented or values oriented code. A compliance-orientated code creates order through the requirement that employees recognize or pledge to the prescribed code. Using legal terms, such a code teaches employees the rules and penalties for noncompliance. A values-oriented approach on the other hand aims at developing shared values. While such a code also attaches penalties, it focuses more on abstract principles including respect and responsibility. It thus looks at the values and virtues that employees willingly aspire to achieve or live by instead of outright coercion towards compliance.
After choosing the most appropriate orientation, it then follows the start of the development of an ethics program naturally. The vision statement is the first in developing an ethics program. The importance of the vision statement is in the fact that both the employees and management will gauge their actions of working towards or against the stipulated vision. After the vision statement is the value statement, which is the code of required behavior. The value statement is the yardstick for the evaluation of actions and decisions in determining their compliance with the organization’s standards. Developing a code of ethics is the next step. This should be comprehensive in addressing organization’s aspirations and the consequences of failing to meet these standards.
To address its ethical dilemmas, Uber, should follow these steps as actions of addressing the current quagmire that the company has found itself. The absence of a comprehensive code of ethics as seen cripples the very ethical operations of the company, especially as it expands to different jurisdictions. Nevertheless, developing the code is futile without employee training. After developing the code, it is imperative that the company widely promulgates the code as well as embark on training the employees and the company’s management on the objectives of the organization in addition to all the relevant policies (Williford and Small 3). Given the nature of hiring and business model employed by Uber, training in the company’s code of ethics is evidently nonexistent with visible consequences of the current ethical dilemma. Williford and Small intimate that the training should be a prerequiste for the lot of the company’s employees including the company’s management, the leadership of the company, the organization’s employees, and where apposite, the agent of the organization (4). The essence of training is that it teaches employees what the organization requires of them as well as gives them the chance to rehearse the application of the values to putative situations and challenges, preparing them for the application of the same standards in the real world.
Apart from ethics training, it is important to have an ethics officer to ensure the presence and functioning of the ethics system. The role of the ethics officer is to ensure through its operations, the company makes good on its promise and observance of the stated values. It is also the work of the ethics officer to ensure that employees and the management abide by the set code of conduct, supports adherence to the code and prevents as well as addresses any violations to this code. Most important is the institution of an ethics committee responsible for overseeing the company’s ethics initiatives as well as supervising the ethics officer. The committee additionally will interpret the code of ethics, providing guidance when the need for revision or introduction of any new ethics policies arise. At the initial stages of instituting the ethics, the committee acts as an ethics taskforce, laying down the infrastructure that it will eventually oversee.
Across many cities where Uber is currently operating, there are no regulations for the tax-hailing service. Lack of regulation for the tax-hailing service has been one of the major contentions in the service. While the Taxi and Limousine Commission is responsible for the regulation of taxis and limousines, Uber and other services such as Lyft are currently unregulated. There is, therefore, a need for regulation of the tax-hailing service. Although some industries are self-regulated, in its operation as a taxi-hailing service, Uber is a transport network company, where some regulations do apply. Although the regulations that touch on Uber may not be as similar as those regulating traditional taxis, there is a need for better regulations to address the new phenomenon. The company is however capable of self-regulation awaiting the long legislation process for its eventual universal regulation. Self-regulation will be especially important in light of the malpractice accusations leveled against the company.
The audit in place will assess the company’s adherence to the code of conduct as well as the guidelines and processes embraced to promote compliance with the set laws and regulations (Williford and Small 5). Given the stake of the employees and the management, an external entity will conduct the audit. This is to ensure a thorough, comprehensive and unbiased audit given the independence of the individual performing the audit from the area under scrutiny. The audit should cover organizational adherence to legal requirements to gauge the effectiveness of the program. Additionally the audit should be able to understand the organization’s moral environment through an inquisition of the employees on the level of their comfortability in reporting possible flaunting of the organization’s policies or the law (Williford and Small 5). Further, the audit should evaluate the employee’s view on the organization’s commitment to adherence to the set laws and policies, in addition to finding out the possibility of the risk that are not addressed by the program(Williford and Small 5).
Publishing and compliance with the self-regulations, on the other hand, will point towards the establishment of regulations for the company. Further, compliance with city regulations, guiding operations of taxi-hailing service will be a pointer towards adherence. Given that most cities are fast drafting regulations to cover these new technologies, compliance is a necessity for most of these operators. Absorbing and using both the self and city authority regulations will point towards the effectiveness of the regulation program. Other signs include the observance of ethically competitive practices, based on fair competition and not on predator-like practices. By coming to terms with these regulations and practices, Uber will be rightly placed as a competitive company. It will thus gain a competitive edge over the quality of service it provides to its consumers and not on the current aggressive, abusive and ethically averse practices.
Chen, Le, Mislove, Alan and Wilson, Christo. Peeking Beneath the Hood of Uber.IMC, 2015.Web. 13 February 2016
Fink, Erica. “Uber’s dirty tricks quantified: Rival counts 5,560 cancelled rides.”CNN Money, 2014.Web. 13 February 2016
Huddlestone, Tom. “What you need to know about Uber’s latest controversies.” Fortune, 2014.Web. 13 February 2016
Manjoo, Farhad. “Uber, a start-up going so fast it could miss a turn.” The New York Times, 2014.Web. 13 February 2016
Rogers, Brishen.” The social cost of Uber.” The University of Chicago Law Review Dialogue, 82.85 (2015): 85-102. Web. 13 February 2016
Weinstein, Bruce. “Opinion: Four other ways Uber is ethically challenged.” CNN Money, 2014.Web. 13 February 2016
Williford, Kwamina and Small Daniel.Establishing an Effective Compliance Program: An Overview to Protecting Your Organization.Association of Corporate Counsel, 2013.Web. 13 February 2016