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victoria university
Assessment 4
Ethical issue in access to water: is water a human right?

Unit code: BMO3292 ” Business Ethics”

Instructor : Custom-Writing.Co



Team members:







Executive summary. 2

Introduction. 3

Literature review.. 5

Ethical theories. 9

Application of ethical theories and literature review to the case. 14

Recommendations. 16

Conclusion. 17


Executive summary


Water management has become a global issue that has called for opinions from all parts of the world. The issue of water management is related to the privatization of water that business organizations have taken up. The world as we see today, witnesses different schools of thought about the issue of water privatization. Where on one end, business organizations consider water privatization to be a profitable and lucrative business and also at the same time to pass it off as their corporate social responsibility to provide the society with pure and hygienic drinking water, human rights organizations have been pressing charges as they consider water to be a human right and therefore find it unfair when it is sold commercially. These conflicting interests have led to the issue become a global debate on whether the privatization of water is fair or unfair. Different ethical theories have been considered to make a judgment on this case. But as it is with every ethical theory, it is difficult to comment on what is right and what is wrong as sometimes both parties have strong arguments pressing their case. In this project be present the issue of water privatization or water management as a violation of human rights since water is a natural resource best told by nature on human kind, therefore it does not become the property of any individual or business organizations. This makes the work of privatization and unfair and unethical practice. In this case we also discuss and present weightiest ethical theories that we believe support our argument.






The problem of water management or water privatization has been heated in recent decades however the root of the problem dates back to when human mankind was evolving. Due to the extensive use and exploitation of water resources for selfish purposes, we have polluted water to an extent that today there is a serious shortage of drinking water in many parts of the world. There are countless cases registered then due to the use of polluted water, different waterborne diseases have taken lives of millions of people. If it is not the problem of pollution of water then it is the problem off availability of water. In many places in the world including a few urban areas, there is simply a shortage of water that is supplied to communities and societies for every day uses. This creates a challenge for the citizens to manage limited amount of water. Hence it cannot be denied on any front that the problem off what the management of water privatization is serious and needs to be addressed on an urgent basis by governments all across the world.


While it is true that the problem of water management has affected different parts of the world, and it is also shortage of drinking water which has led to a lot of medical disorders and diseases, the situation has been taken up by the business organizations as an opportunity to develop a lucrative business and on more profit. Business organizations as a part of their corporate social responsibility have set up plants nearby water resources in order to purify and supply package drinking water to the society. In doing so they claim their share of the corporate social responsibility however at the same time make profits from the raw material that is available free of cost. It is ironical to note is that it is these business organizations that have contributed to water pollution in the past which has led to the severity of this problem today. These business organizations have started to make commercial use of water and thus they are denying human beings the pure drinking water. In this process the business organizations are ignoring consumers that are unable to afford package drinking water as the costs of acquiring them are quite high. It is also considered to be unethical that certain sections of the community, the ones that cannot afford to buy water are denied the use of your drinking water. It is these ethical arguments and questions that we days in this project with the help of the discussion of ethical theories that revolve around business organizations. It is to bring to the notice of world organizations like you and no, World Bank etc. that have a stronger and more forms say in the matter that the commercialization of water is unethical and must be stopped by all means. On human grounds, the practice is immoral as it denies another human being a chance to live. What that is a precious commodity and do it discreetly available in nature, its use has been made difficult by business organizations. The right to access your drinking water is a right that should be exercised by each and every human being belonging to any past, religion, creed, cultures, language, country and even economic status.




Literature review


Business organizations and a thick have a very old relationship. It takes differentiates between good and bad or right and wrong. Ethical practices are always encouraged in business in order to stay true to the society from which the business has come up. Business organizations must always practice ethical code of conduct in order to give back to the society what it takes from this. Ethics in business organizations though preached has rarely been practiced as business organizations in most cases work for profit maximization and this leads them to corrupt practices that disturbs the balance of ethics which is always recommended.

In the case of water management or water privatization too, the business organizations tend to forget that they have a moral and ethical responsibility to the society and hence must not exploit the natural resources further by commercializing a freely given resource in nature. In fact they must rather support the environmental groups in trying to find out ways by which further deterioration of the water resources can be stopped so that there is no need of bottled drinking water.

Different authors have taken up the subject of water privatization in their writings and have published articles that explain their stand on how they think the issue of water privatization should be taken up. Bakker (2007) explains in his article about how the problem has grown to an extent where it needs immediate attention however with the current approach that the stakeholders are taking up of neo-liberalization and alter-globalization, it is going to be difficult to solve the issue. Also Bakker (2008) comments that the problem should be solved at trying to make better the sources of community water however that again gives rise to a debate about the ownership and management of community based water system which does not solve the case at all.

David in his article comments that there is a strong need for a relationship to be established between environmental needs, water policies and climate change. After all it is just not the human practices but the natural conditions like climate changes that have distorted pure sources of water and hence that needs to be corrected first. Groenfeldt (2010) asserts that there is even more need for the problem of water privatization to be attended especially now that the problem has also reached the urban areas. Community management water systems have not been doing what they are expected to do.

It is also interesting to note that companies that deal with water privatization do not only have water privatization as their sole benefit. They also get better control at the resource, have enhanced financial management, corporate governance and operational management utilities to determine their success in the business. However it is also true that in certain parts of the world the issue of water privatization or bottled water has been facing severe resistance in the form of protests, agitation etc. which has made it very difficult for the companies to extract profit out of their ventures (Spronk, 2007)

If we look at the problem with a geographic aspect we will find that the problem is even more severe in areas like Middle east and Arab nations where it is not merely the shortage of water but also the dilemma of providing sanitized water and this is calling for immediate attention (Wu & Malaluan, 2008; Swyngedouw, 2003; Robbins, 2003)

Certain authors take a very clear and transparent stand on the issue of water privatization by saying that water is a human right and its privatization or commercialization is a clear violation of the natural law (Carasco, 2008) It cannot be denied that selling water in bottles, the worst form of privatization of water is a clear example of the violation of the ethical code of conduct that business organizations must follow. AT the same time, it’s highly sought that developed countries in U.K. for example at least, stand up and take up the issue of human rights by standing against the companies that deal in water privatization.

The need to review ethical theories in the case of water privatization has come up because of the severe consequences of water privatization that the society is facing. This issue has been in clear violation of the most basic human rights by business organizations and this is the reason the debate is on fire in all halls of development, governments and environmental organizations. However it is also observed that business organizations when they privatize water, clearly ignore the loss rendered to human life or human factor(Huges, 2009) Countries and their governments too have failed to show up any kind of support in favor of the law to be passed to restrain water privatization and rather focus on developing more sustainable sources of water (Razzaque, 2004) In such a situation, the human rights organizations have no choice but to come up and take charge of the issue at hand and support the ethical cause (Twiss, 2007)

Adding another interesting angle to the theory that has been propounded by different authors that support the ethical cause, Wilk (2006) believes that Water is now turned into a commodity which is a crime in itself and is in these days mainly used as a brand. This also gives rise to a serious question that all of us tend to ignore. Does this indicate that the public in different nations have lost their faith in their own governments to provide them with pure and hygienic drinking water that the public is left with no choice but to buy bottled drinking water. This in fact poses a serious threat against the governments and doubts their ability to take care of the welfare of their own society. Also another interesting theory that came up in support of the issue was that people today have distinct impressions about bottled water and tap water. Is this again an indication of the fact that the governments are unable to supply drinking water in tap to the public which is why they are forced to go for bottled water. The role of media also in this proposition of portraying both types of water through advertisements and promotions is challenged (Queiroz, 2012) Thus the above theories and the literature discussed helps our argument in explaining that water privatization has become an ethical issue that must be addressed at all costs.



Ethical theories

After discussing the literature review that is presented in the case above, it is clear that there are many objections being raised to the privatization of water. Many of these objections have an ethical framework or angle that can be evaluated. In this section of the project we will discuss the ethical theories that work in the support of our argument and at the same time give sufficient evidence to the fact that water privatization is a violation of human rights and hence an unethical and immoral act done by business organizations.

Ethics can be simply defined as the distinction between good or bad and right or wrong. It draws a line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the society. It is also very closely related to morals and principles that should guide or rule the conduct followed by individuals and even business organizations.

In the study of Ethics, we also take into consideration the term called ethical relativism. It is the discipline that relates our day to day practices with ethics and code of conduct in order to determine what is appropriate and what is not. Ethical relativism is the way one can decide if any action is correct or incorrect as it relates to the realms of our lives on a daily basis. In the study of ethical relativism, a concept that strongly emerges is culture. Now this is where the problem begins. Ethics is a part of culture. In fact it is culture that gives rise to ethics. Different cultures have different beliefs and different set of norms. In other words, they all have their own idea of what is good and what is bad. In such a situation, it becomes very difficult to draw that line between the two. As the world has now come closer and cultures have started to blend, the problem of ethical relativism is surfacing where each culture has their own ideas and theories about what is ethical and what is not. In other words, there are no common standards on which ethics are set. Since it is culture that gives rise to ethics and there are so many cultures mingling together, it has become difficult to say what is right and what is wrong since each idea is born out of a thought that might be appropriate in some culture but totally inappropriate in another.

The same concept is applied to business organizations when we think of their ethical relativism. Business organizations have their own set of objectives that they want to achieve. They all have their own culture known as organizational culture as well. Business organizations are mostly set up to earn profit however in the process, business organizations also help the society by helping them fulfilling their needs. In such a situation, if every act of business is done to fulfill some needs of a consumer, then it becomes really difficult to judge their actions. However as described in the case of ethical relativism, since there is the absence of certain standards of ethics, the problem gets bigger. It is true that everyone is free to believe in and follow their own ethical interpretations given by their culture, yet it is also true that certain standards are required even by the business organizations to draw the line between right and wrong in order to differentiate between the fair and the unfair. Therefore business organizations, even though in achieving their own business objectives, they do a noble cause of satisfying the needs of the society, they must also take up the responsibility of following ethical code of conduct (Brenner & Molander, 1997) when it is about something that is bigger than any of them, something as important as water privatization.

The ethical theories that are available since  decades can be divided mainly into three categories. The meta – ethics, the normative ethics and the applied ethics. Meta ethics refers to the basics of ethical thought back to the time of Aristotle, Confucius etc. The normative ethics is the branch of ethics that we are concerned with during our study of whether the issue of water privatization is a case that can be framed for the violation of ethics or not. The third type of ethics is the applied ethics which deals with the practical application of ethical theories.

If we delve deeper into the normative theories, we would come across, the consequentialist, non-consequentialist and virtual ethics theory. To begin with, the first type of theory is the consequentialist theory that deals with the results and not with the intentions. In this type of ethical theories, we find two schools of thoughts – The Egoism and the Utilitarianism. Both these theories are related with the results and not with intention.

In egoism, the theory propounds that one must always act in the interest of one self. People in other words must be free to pursue their own interest. This theory assumes that human beings can only act in self-interest.  This theory comes very close to the libertarian political ideology of Gandhi. This theory has been criticized on many grounds. For example, this theory rather explains a very selfish way of looking at the world or at the actions of the people. If everyone became selfish and started thinking of their own interest, who will take responsibility of the welfare of the society or the people in common. Also the theory is not accurately descriptive, is morally missing the point and at the same time ignores the wrong doings of the actor. In business it is most suitable for the capitalist business entrepreneurs that work for the sole maximization of profit.

In the second theory which is Utilitarianism (Mill, 2007), it believes in doing the greatest good for the greatest number. In other words, it talks about how it is best to act in the common interest rather than acting in the self-interest. This theory rather takes a broader approach to ethics and is concerned about the end result or the consequences of the actions which should be for the benefit of the large population and not just one person or entity alone.

It is important to note that in the above two theories as explained, they talk about the actions or the consequences. It does not talk about the intentions but some tangible results. However in the following two theories we discuss intentions or motives behind the stand that one can take in order to preach ethics.

In the non-consequential theories of ethics, the first and the foremost theory that is mentioned is the Kant’s theory which is more of a categorical imperative. It is more concerned with the motives rather than with the consequences. Hence it ends up ignoring the actions or the end results but only judges a person from the motives behind their actions. This theory believes that an action is only right if it is acted out of good will and clear intentions of not hurting or harming someone or even for self-interest. There are three maxims to this theory 1) an action is right if you are also willing to be treated that way. 2) People should not be treated as means to achieve an end. 3) An action is always right only if it can be set up as a universal law. The Kant’s theory or categorical imperative is also found in the teachings and preaching of many religions and great thinkers or philosophers like Confucius, Buddha, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Aristotle and even Christianity. This is one of the widely famous theories of ethics and has a strong hold and implication in the literature on ethics.

The second theory of ethics is very closely related to the issue that we present in the case. In the case we talk about how basic human rights and the ethical violation of denying them. It supports the view point that people have basic and fundamental human rights and they cannot be denied. These rights are also not situational or conditional and cannot be altered or manipulated in any case. This theory rather has an individual focus, more than a collective or group focus. In fact even the human rights organizations have declared these to be the basic and most fundamental rights of human beings ;

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
  • Slavery and/or servitude shall not exist
  • Cruel and inhumane treatment shall not be subjected upon anyone
  • No one should be subjected to exile or detention
  • Everyone is innocent until proven guilty

All these four theories of ethics play a strong role in our day to day life. They are a part of not only our judiciary system that looks after the law and order but also at the same time they are very much effective and working in our personal life. This is why these ethical theories are related or in relevance to the case at hand that we are discussing.



Application of ethical theories and literature review to the case


The literature review as discussed in the previous section talks about how the problem of water privatization has become an emerging global issue that is commonly found in all parts of the world. Also that it is now an ethical debate that is run against the corporates and the business organizations (Beauchamp & Bowie, 2004) as the society has the right to know on what grounds, these business organizations are considering the ownership and privatization of natural resources like water and using it for commercial purposes. In the ethical theories section we discussed how ethics play a role in shaping the society and how it stems up from the culture in which we are born. This is why it makes it even more difficult to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong since there are no general standards.

However in this case, with the help of ethical theories, it can be proven that water is not a commodity and hence must not be used commercially in order to earn profits while at the same time fellow human beings suffer from lack of pure and hygiene water because they are not able to buy it or afford it. In this case or argument, the first theory that we use is the Utilitarian theory of ethics that is a consequential theory. This theory emphasizes on how actions that are only meant for the greater good of the society are to be considered as ethical. The consequence of the action taken up by the business organizations is not to seek for the welfare of the society but to maximize their own share of profits. In other words, it is not an ethical action and hence must be treated as deemed fit.

The second theory that can be applied to the situation is the Kantian theory of ethics or the categorical imperative (Bowen, 2004). This theory talks about how the intention behind the action makes all the difference in the world. This is a non-consequential theory that talks about how if the intention behind the act is right, the action is deemed ethical. In our case, it can be seen that though some business organizations take up water privatization and claim it as a part of their corporate social responsibility, the truth is that these companies do it not for the benefit of the society but for their own selfish purposes and intents. This intention itself makes the act unethical as it is against the nature of Kantian theory of ethics as proposed by many philosophers and is the essence of many religions.

The third ethical theory that fits perfectly into our argument and best describes our case is the rights theory. According to this theory, human beings are endowed with certain rights like the right to live etc. However by taking away their source of life – water, business organizations are denying some of the less fortunate a chance to live. There are people who cannot pay for water. For such people, it is cruel and in justice to ask them to either pay for water or go without them. Also the responsibility of providing healthy and pure drinking water lies with the government organizations and not with the business organizations. Hence business organizations must step back from claiming the ownership of water and selling bottled water for a price, while government organizations in many countries must realize that it is time to step up and take the responsibility to provide clean, fresh and hygienic sources of water to the public. In this way the ethical theories can be applied to the situation of water privatization and a common effort can be made towards finding the solution to the problem.





Now that there has been sufficient evidence produced against the case that water privatization is an unethical issue, it is time to make certain recommendations to solve the problem. Merely claiming whether it is ethical or unethical is not going to produce any results and hence we need to come up with solutions to immediately tackle the problem. However it is a major problem and hence efforts on all sides is important.

On the part of the business organizations, they need to stop only claiming that their water privatization ventures are a part of their corporate social responsibility, but should rather start acting it out. The way the business organizations can contribute to this is by helping the government set up water purification plans and community water systems in areas where there is a problem of water. Bottled water may be sold however, it should rather be offered for free in areas where it is really needed and the individuals cannot pay for it, for example certain underdeveloped countries.

On the part of the government, they need to realize that it is their responsibility to ensure that the communities and the localities are provided with free and usable drinking water. As their welfare initiative, every government must place this objective high on priority to ensure that there will be no exploitation of the customers or the consumers. This will also help develop the faith of the country men in their government. They can team up with different business organizations in ensuring that there plans are implemented rather than simply allowing the companies to use water to trade it commercially as it is not a solution.

On the part of the consumers, it is important to make sure that no further pollution of water is undertaken or encouraged by any means since it is ultimately them who have to suffer the wrath of water pollution. Cooperating with both the government and the business organizations, there can be a solution only if there is patience and tolerance.

In other words, all three stakeholders as discussed above need to check for long term measures like water systems etc. rather than opting for short term arrangements so as to eradicate the problem from its roots.


Water privatization is an ethical problem that is changing the face of the world. All government organizations, businesses involved in the manufacturing of bottled water and even customers must take into consideration, the urgency of the situation and heed the recommendations to ensure that the problem is dealt with. It can be solved with a little bit of patience and effort on all teams. It is important to remember that water is a natural resource and hence a human right that is divided freely among all human beings and taking this right away from the individuals is an unethical act that should be opposed in every possible way.




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