Business Ethics in Defence Industry

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Globally, each country has a defensive mechanism which it uses to protect its citizen and resources. Therefore, the government has to correlate with companies that produce and sell ammunition and weapons. Since the issue of concern in this context is the business, companies like Lockheed Martin or BAE Systems will be the main focus due to the nature of their investments. In all professions, there must be accepted codes of conduct for different purposes such as branding the business with a higher echelon in its operations. This paper examines the morality related to working in a company that sells ammunition to governments. The main points of considerations covered in the paper are the manufacture of a weapon and non-weapon equipment, the kind of morality demonstrated by different regimes across the world, the socio-economic and socio-cultural practices and irresponsible transfer of weapons from the most sophisticated to the non-sophisticated hands and illegalities, irregularities in the use and selection of weapons. These are the main areas to consider when any defence industry endeavours to develop a very strong and powerful tool called the accepted code of ethics. Information from previous studies is used to support findings presented in this paper. This paper tries to find out the business ethics in defence using the business ethical framework to arrive at a conclusion on whether it is advisable for one to work in a company that deals with the sale of weaponry used in battles.

Keywords: Code of ethics, Regimes, Military, Civilians, Weapons, Government, Sophisticated, Discrimination and Illegal.

Business Ethics of the Defence Industry


The defence industry has a moral obligation to protect the life of people. Therefore, all weapons produced should aim at enhancing security and improving human welfare. Unfortunately, people possessing the weapons, either authorised or unauthorised use them to cause mass destruction to property as well as injure and kill people. Working for such companies has become a key moral/ethical issue. Whereas some individuals prefer jobs that do not infringe human rights, others believe that working for armament firms is ethical, since it provides them with an income. However, making the final decision to join these firms depends on an individual’s definition of ethical and unethical actions.

Similar to other businesses, the defence industry has to adhere to a specific ethical code of conduct that regulates its actions. According to Soskolne (2001), ethical considerations in every business represent the standards upon which every member whether a worker or an employer in any profession will be held accountable for their behaviour and conduct. On the other hand, society seems to have taken control over most of the professions which have a gap in dealing with ethical issues. Many companies have made sure that they have codes of ethics, which they can use a path to move forward; otherwise, the society stares at every company which is prone to mistakes upon mistakes, to snatch them and put them under its feet. The moral values influence the judgments done by individuals, whether they are correct or wrong. In many organisations, decision making has become the most important aspect. When various organisations across the world search for human resources, decision making is one among many eligibility criteria with which the companies/organisations strife to obtain reliable, effective, efficient and lucrative members to join them. Most companies encourage teamwork, which helps in making decisions that promote their culture, including a code of ethics (Webley, 2008). Organisations respect the ethics and therefore, any misappropriation could make the firm incur a great loss. Therefore, any business that has developed a recognised business ethics framework easily attracts customers, has reduced employee turnover ratio and gains from increased profits. Besides, the firm will easily attract investors and skilled. However, unethical behaviours destroy the organisation’s reputation, leading to a dismal performance.

The military has a special role in protecting people and boundaries of a country (Cook, 2004). Since it forms part of the government, the military has to ensure it uses the weapons appropriately. Joining and supporting the military is moral since it acts as a government foreign policy tool. The immoral issue could only occur if individuals decide to go against the security checks and regulations governed by international law. In essence, this paper supports that working in the defence industry is ethical only if those hired adhere to the ethical code of standards and international regulations.

Ethical Issues in Defence Industry

In the defence docket, ethics imply morality or conduct. They stand for those minimums that tend to direct a specific group of people in certain different settings in the sense that they are members of that group. In simple terms, ethics are used by people who have most things in common for their good. Ethics vary between individuals and groups or rather between sectors depending on the interest of the group. In addition, ethics is applied by people who have embraced business as their profession (Schmidt, 2006). A very profound definition of the term is it is regarded as a component in the arena of philosophy. Currently, the code of conduct is thought to result from critical thinking and reasonable undertakings in a business setting. Ethics give a clue or a thought concerning the so-called morality. When one comes across the term ethics, then morality should also come in as an integral part of the term.

Joining a firm that manufacturer weapons is an issue that raises several ethical or moral questions (Oddo, 1997). The National Defence Industrial Association (NDIA) has adopted a special standard for resolving issues which affect the industry in the subject. Issues of corruption mostly are in the forefront in all sectors of economy. Nevertheless, it is possible to solve them. NDIA noted that in an organisation, which endeavours to transact internationally with the government, it is very important to put into consideration the measures to promote accountability, especially on issues related to finances. This is not limited to the latter, but also it goes further to affect the spirit of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as it was developed.

In the first place, the defence industry does not only deal with instruments or weapons which cause harm but also the ones that protect lives (Webley, 2008). Many weapons sold by the global arms industry are designed to kill, wound, disable and destroy but the same industry deals with textile products, tents, parachutes, field kitchens items that are harmless even in military service (Schmidt, 2006). In addition to that, most of the products are non-weapons, for example, protective body armour.

Secondly, working for firms that produce weapons could be immoral if they are meant to destroy or harm other human beings (Cook, 2004). In some countries, the government uses weapons to promote dictatorship and authoritative rule. Most of the dubious regimes deny their people rights as human beings by torturing and killing them (Webley, 2008). Some of the regimes protest the political, religious or social beliefs that the people have. In third world countries, especially in Africa, the dictatorial regimes use the weapons to control masses that demonstrate against electoral malpractices and corruption. Nevertheless, the issue of morality concerning use of a weapon depends on the government and not the seller or sales agent.

Consecutively, the idea of culture and norms of various groups is very important in examining the ethics in the defence industry. The global arms industry should consider different ways in which its products are used, be it in the military camps or in the field (Augustine, 1997). Therefore, the global arms industry should take into consideration the cultural practices of different militia groups so as to ensure that their products, apart from bringing those profits and benefits due to the massive sale are used properly in the right manner the way they are supposed to be used.

Third, working for weapon manufacturing organisations could also be immoral when the probability of weapons falling into wrong hands becomes very high (Cook, 2004). Unstable regimes are eager to transfer weapons to other. The global arms industry should know that a regime similar to that of Iraq should be denied the right to purchase the weapons in the defence industry (Hurst, 2004). However, in order to deal with the problem of the transfer of weapons, the global arms industry should design its products and prohibit their transfer to a second buyer.

Despite the existing moral issues, a business law in the global defence industry states that weapons should be used legally. Unfortunately, those possessing the weapons fail to observe this law. For instance, an electric gadget which is meant to boost power in various circumstances might be used unlawfully to punish the lawbreakers and to subject them to electric shock. Accordingly, the permanent solution to these misconducts is the designation of all weapon and non-weapon products to fit their appropriate use and purpose. In addition to the above-stated ethics and codes of conduct, the most selective weapons should be mostly taken care of by the global defence industry. First of all, the complexity in the use of these weapons should be added while they are being manufactured. It is not good for a local civilian to know how to operate a deadly weapon more than a soldier who has undergone military training in full. Therefore, it should not be easy to make use of weapons like bombs or landmines. Secondly, a track record of these weapons should be kept. Thus, laws should be established to allow only trained people to use the weapons.

With an increase in terrorism, making a decision to work in the arms industry should be based on personal beliefs. Groups such as ISIS use deadly weapons to attack their perceived enemy, most who are innocent citizens. They gain access to weapons at different points, which are still unknown to government agencies. Since they purchase those weapons in large numbers, they could be having a good plan of accessing them either from manufacturers or distributors. On the other hand, manufacturers continue to make unmanned weapons, which are a threat to human safety (Sparrow, 2009). Therefore, before working for some of the companies, their distribution points should be considered first to determine if the weapons have ever been illegal. Then, their supply chain should be examined to identify any possible relationship between the group and terrorists. Undertaking this measure would reduce the feeling of guilty whenever an attack involving deadly weapons occurs.

Working for armament manufacturing firms is similar to any other type of job. Working to earn an income is not unethical, especially when the rate of unemployment is high. Companies that manufacturer's arms have well laid out an ethical code of conduct, which employees have to follow. By adhering to the required standards on weapon production and distribution, at no point will employees enter into a conflict with their moral obligations (Sparrow, 2009). Not only should employees concentrate on providing the best results and earning high incomes but also understand the impact created if they disregard the ethical standards and allow the unauthorised groups to access the arms. Before joining any company, individuals should understand their moral values and what they believe is right or wrong. The armament and alcoholic industries relate in terms of the role they play in the society. Some people believe that working in alcohol producing companies is unethical since they associate the beverages to Christian teachings, which do not encourage their consumption. In the same way, other people believe that weapon manufacturing firms encourage war and infringement of human rights; hence people should not join such businesses. However, the final decision belongs to the moral standards of job seekers. If it is right to work for such organisations, then they should join them. On the contrary, if they feel such jobs would be against their moral values, then they should consider joining other industries.

The primary ethical issue to consider before joining any of the weapon manufacturing company is the level of personal integrity. According to Rossouw et al. (2010), corruption in most of the organisations arises from poor integrity within the top officials and even employees at junior positions. Corruption could make it easy for unauthorised distribution of the firearms, an act that could jeopardise the security of humans. In relation to this issue, companies such as BAE systems have been accused of corruption. The management at BAE admitted that it made unethical decisions to make corrupt payments so that it could win lucrative contracts of supplying weapons (Leigh & Evans, 2010). According to the Serious Fraud Office, BAE also bribes to secure opportunity for supplying weapons to the Czech Republic and Tanzania (Leigh & Evans, 2010). Such deals are against the ethical and legal standards that regulate the distribution of weapons. Thus, it is the sole responsibility of a job seeker to stop corruption within the firms. Despite the management team having a great influence on distribution of firearms and other weapons, employees have to engage in decision making, especially where contracts are required.

Ethical Framework

The information presented in this study is based on a framework that helps to define the ethical nature of decisions made by individuals who join the defence industry or morality of action taken by organisations or government agencies. Through the described framework, it is possible to establish factors that drive individuals to join the defence industry. Furthermore, it is easy to identify how the society influences such decisions based on the benefits or harm caused.

The Consequentialist Framework

This study is based on the consequentialist framework to make key decisions on whether working in the defence industry is ethical or unethical. This framework focuses on the future effects of the action taken or decision made (Peterson, 2013). Evidently, joining the industry will exert some effects on people either direct or indirect. Therefore, considering the consequences of joining the military can help an individual take the correct choice. This framework is highly applicable to this study due to its advantages. For example, through a pragmatic approach, it is easy to establish the results of the decision before making the final step (Wight, 2015). Besides, the method prepares an individual for any decision, especially when the negative occurs and several people are affected. In the military or defence, it is challenging to determine the effect when weapons are used to safeguard people or property (Wight, 2015). Thus, with a consequentialist framework, the decision maker will be less affected in the event weapons cause death or destruction to human dignity.

In this study, the consequentialist approach is based on two theories; the utilitarian and common good. According to the utilitarian theory, when making decisions that concern many people, it is good to weight between the good and bad results of the action taken (Peterson, 2013). Thus, balancing between good and bad will be easy. On the other hand, as per the common good theory, making decisions should depend on the common will of people. Therefore, it will be easy to make a decision agreeable by all individuals in a society (Peterson, 2013). This theory also applies to this study because joining the defence industry should be based on the perceptions of family or community members, who understand the associated risks. Besides, the theory helps to establish considerations organisations within the defence industry should consider when using the weapons.

Key Business Ethics

Personal ethics. In the business ethics of the defence industry, personal ethics are paramount. The global arms industry support human rights and are keen on protecting them by establishing ethical and legal standards for using weapons. It also accommodates the relationship between the various regimes, military groups and the government in its code of conduct. Putting into consideration the use of weapons as an ethic in the defence industry, there is a greater association between the personal ethics and the global arms industry. Specifically, there are very important personal etiquettes and values between the transacting organisations, biding of the product (weapon in this case) up to the time of delivery of the weapon (Soskolne, 2001). Also, delivery should be monitored to ensure unauthorised people do not access the weapons. When the weapon is ready for use, this is where personal ethics and good conduct is needed the most. As stated earlier, this company deals with both weapon and non-weapon instruments of war. Therefore, use of weapons by the military should not be subjected to bias. The cultural beliefs and values of both parties should remain constant from the beginning to the end. Generally, personal ethics are needed when using weapons, association with different regimes (whether good or bad regime), and cultural practices. An individual with stronger intrapersonal ethical considerations cannot engage in frequent exchange of arms and other harmful weapons (Augustine, 1997). The illegal use of weapons can be prevented by employing quality personal ethics that encourage protection of other humans.

Moral development is another aspect of personal ethics. In this context there exist three different parties important to the prosperity of the global arms industry. These are the regime, the military, the civilian the global arms industry itself. These parties promote moral development between them. The civilians on the other side of the scene participate in either embracing the weapons in a good way or by misusing the weapons which they come across or acquire illegally. Therefore, personal ethics contribute widely to the ethical and decision-making behaviour and also social responsibility.

Organisational culture. Notably,

organisational culture tends to be more paramount in the development of the business ethics (Rossouw et al., 2010). For example, Lockheed Martin is a company that deals with the sale of weapons. The company came into existence through a cartel that took place between Lockheed Corporation and the Martin Marietta back in the year 1995. The organisation is said to be among the selected few companies which have really prospered in terms of various industries like in technology, security, and defence including the manufacture of weapons which are used in the air as a defence mechanism (Augustine, 1997). The firm has been the largest with a higher income in the world, as compared to the other companies of the same nature. The company also has a reference to the defining moments in its past lifespan. Apart from being in the forefront in terms of the economy, it was also mentioned as the top among the contractors of the U.S federal government. During this time, the company was the best beneficiary of the funds which were given out by the Pentagon. The company has won several awards and trophies due to the remarkable progress which was evident in the work of this company (Augustine, 1997). There is so much to talk about this company and its achievements in areas like the implementation of technology solutions, development of jet fighter by the name F-22 Raptor.

The above description of the Lockheed Martin Company gives a brief and clear description of the company itself. Past events and achievements of the company should be incorporated in the process together with the defining moments. This action will help the ethics developers in coming up with whole round ethics which are intended to satisfy all the departments of the company. The ethics are also meant to be embraced by the regimes, military, and civilians for effective and smooth operations of the company and other stakeholders. Knowing the founder, history, defining moments, structure and formation of the company helps the concerned individuals to come up with a perfect accepted code of conduct at any point in life of that company.

External Stakeholders. Another determinant of the decisional and behavioural code of ethics and social responsibility is the relationship between the company and other stakeholders. In regards to this, the first stakeholder becomes the government regulation. The ethics of any organisation are not supposed to be antagonistic to any of the policies in power. There should be an amicable connection between the government policy and the codes which are supposed to be promoted to the status of business ethics (Augustine, 1997). Putting into consideration what has been stated earlier, the organisation should have a good rapport with the regime. The regime, in this case, implies the government. That correlation means that what is going to be forwarded to the national ethics commission will be of importance and benefit. In this case, the governments serve two purposes of being a regime and also being a customer or client of the global arms industry.

The special interest groups represent the civilians who are also categorised among the external stakeholders. Organisations and the government should come up with the rules and regulations which can prevent the civilians from misusing the weapons or even from acquiring the weapons in any way whatsoever (Hurst, 2004). Concisely, it is quite clear that civilians form an integral part in the process of policy development in an organisation. These are the people who acquire the weapons illegally, use them in the wrong ways and also cause risks to the surrounding society. Therefore, they must be considered in the codes of ethics in any business. Last but not least, market forces play a key role in business ethics. The development of laws should consider the fact that market is very important. Despite the existing competition, the company laws should be flexible to interact with the current trends in the market and not causing conflict between them (Hurst, 2004).

Organisational system.

In the framework of the forces that shape business ethics, organisational system greatly contributes to the aspect of the development of ethical issues. The structure of the organisation gives the ethics developer a thought of inclusivity. This paradigm is a requirement as it will give an opportunity to put into light a quality benchmark that will favour the whole organisation as a structure. Whether the structure is a simple one or a complex one, all the organs which make up such an organisation in the process of ethical development should be identified (Rossouw et al., 2010).

As far as the organisational structure is concerned, policies and rules are not the same as a code of ethics or conduct. There are certain policies and rules that might be common in different organisations. In other words, two or more different firms might end up having the same rules and regulations. Anyone can read the rules and policies of any organisation in the world through internet or any other medium, but the code of ethics applies to those who work in that organisation or are recruited in that organisation who know and practice them both internally or externally (Hurst, 2004).

The rewarding system should be regarded as part of coming up with the business ethics. The rewarding system entails the realisation of the most lucrative staffs in the organisation. Performance appraisal is among the tools which are used to determine the extent to which a member of an organisation is productive (Rossouw et al., 2010). A very powerful revelation is that the reward system should be able to recognize the best considering all the codes of ethics which have been written in the constitution of the company. The implication is that no individual can be rewarded for breaking behavioural practice and code of conduct (Rossouw et al., 2010). Therefore, the system in the organisation should be able to recognize and measure quality performance in an organisation easily. This should be extended to the selection and training criteria of the company. The organisational system is a very wide system and thus it should determine the final code of behaviours in any organisation.

Examples of Ethical and Unethical Decisions in the Defence Industry

The morality of working for defence industry was witnessed during the Second World War, in which the US participated actively. According to Piehler & Pash (2010), the US helped to provide equipment to other western nations such as British. China, which had a strong relationship with the USSR, also received equipment from the US. Furthermore, when the war between Germany and British/French escalated, the US allowed its army to join and neutralise the situation. The war, which claimed 60-80 million lives, remains as the worst in the world’s history (Piehler & Pash, 2010). Thus, the decision of the US to send its troops and equipment was ethical. Application of the consequentialist theory shows that the US had good intentions of helping humans and made a correct decision to join the war since the outcome was positive.

Another example of ethical decision is the move by the US government to send its army to help Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen. However, the presence of the military in Yemen has done more harm to innocent civilians than the anticipated results (Fahim & Ryan, 2018). The Yemen civil war is today’s the world’s worst human disaster due to the loss of lives, increased injuries and destruction to property (Fahim & Ryan, 2018). The US provides aerial assistance that includes refuelling of UAE and Saudi air craft. Unfortunately, the intervention has turned out to be unethical due to the number of lives lost. Nonetheless, the Senate Armed Services Committee acknowledged the disastrous nature of the war and promised to reduce the number of casualties. The increased criticism against the US involvement in the Saudi-Yemen war shows that majority of people did not embrace the decision made. Therefore, individual soldiers should consider their actions to ensure they protect humans.


Working for defence industry is ethical as long as an individual makes correct decisions, especially on the supply and use of weapons. The government uses the military as its agent for foreign policy; therefore, any decisions made within the defence industry are prone to checks and balances. Hence, joining the military to protect citizens and the country is a morally right decision. Contrary to that, even if the government supports the military in this area, the individual strengths, weaknesses, and consequences will remain upon the individual. The results of actions might be positive or negative and the individual concerned will suffer both at different angles. Ultimately, the organisation, the regime (government), the military and the civilian are all involved in the development of the accepted code of conduct, ethics, and behaviour, with a greater association with the factors that make up the business ethics framework.


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January 19, 2024

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