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H. B. Fuller and His Resistol Products Ethical Case Case Study

Is H. B. Fuller responsible for the addiction of street children to its Resistol products? Do you agree or disagree with the statement that the social conditions in Honduras and Guatemala are ultimately responsible for misuse of H. B. Fuller’s products and that neither the product nor the company is to blame?

The case of H. B. Fuller and their toluene-containing glue is an illustrative example of ethical relativism employed by the company regarding the product they sold in South America, namely, Honduras and Guatemala. The principles of ethical relativism state that the fixed moral rules can be rejected and ethics may be adjusted to a particular situation, context, and culture (Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2011). Therefore, H. B. Fuller found suitable justifications for the sake of continuing profitable sales of Resistol; the company representatives first stated that they were trying to assist the economy of these poor countries, though their revenues from Resistol equaled $450,000 from sales of glue in Central America only (Velasquez, 1998).

However, in case ethical principles can be adjusted, the social responsibility issue remains clear in the present case; judging by the attitude to the addicted children in Honduras and Guatemala, H. B. Fuller can be called an ethical egoist. Ethical egoism presupposes maximizing only personal profit, with no regard of the consequences that others will experience. Ethical egoism presupposes maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain, which meant continuing sales of Resistol by H. B. Fuller for the sake of gaining more profit, and refusing to acknowledge the harm it causes for vulnerable inhabitants of poor countries’ streets (Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2011).

H. B. Fuller administration surely expressed some concerns about the misuse of their product; however, they did not respond proactively to the alarming evidence, which is the main issue in their unethical conduct. Therefore, it is possible to assume that H. B. Fuller is not responsible for the overall addiction of street children to glue sniffing, but the company is responsible for neglecting its own contribution to the dissemination of substance abuse. H. B. Fuller representatives were obsessed only by the profit their competitive advantage brought to them. They did not want to make the trade-off in the form of refusing from a part of revenues for the sake of making their product less toxic. Hence, they acted irresponsibly, and can be held accountable for aggravating the situation with glue sniffing, but not generating it.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the grave situation of prevailing glue sniffing rates in Guatemala and Honduras, and one cannot state firmly that the H. B. Fuller company can be blamed. The social context in which the mass addiction develops is usually primarily responsible for the situation; hence, the parents who are known to abandon their children, leaving them to die or to survive in any way they consider possible, are the first to blame for the addiction in which children look for relief from pain, suffering, and violence.

The community norms that consider abandoning children and leaving them to live in the streets is also a factor contributing to the glue sniffing abuse in these countries – it is impossible to imagine such tremendously high rates of substance abuse in advanced countries with a supporting, caring community. Finally, the governments of Guatemala and Honduras can be held responsible for the development of glue sniffing habits, since officials are used to ignoring the devastating effect of substance abuse in their territories for the sake of obtaining bribes and living comfortably.

As for the overall responsibility for glue sniffing and other kinds of substance abuse in Honduras and Guatemala, one can hardly blame H. B. Fuller for the grave drug abuse existing in these countries. It is true that drug abuse is a social disease, and it stems from a set of socio-cultural and economic factors inherent in the countries discussed. The situation with drug traffic, consumption, and smuggling has always been critical in Central America, and H. B. Fuller is not the only producer whose products were misused by substance addicts.

According to the United Nations (2010), the majority of addicts in Honduras are aged from 13 to 25, and the increasing number of emigrants deported from the United States and Mexico bring the addiction to heroine to the country. The most commonly spread substance abuse is cannabis, cocaine, and psychotropic substances, both in Guatemala and Honduras (United Nations, 2010). The International Narcotics Control Board (2007) noted that there was no regulation of precursor chemicals, no research on licit movement of drugs, and no minimum standards for struggle against drug abuse in these countries.

Though there are much data on the unethical neglect of H. B. Fuller, and there have been many lawsuits against the company due to its absence of social responsibility, as, for example, the one of Bruce Harris, of the charity Casa Alianza, there is still no legal reason to consider H. B. Fuller’s responsibility proven (Cherry, Dillon, & Rugh, 2010). There was substance abuse before the entrance of H. B. Fuller to the market, and it persisted after the removal of Resistol from the market. The only responsibility for neglect of which H. B. Fuller can be blamed is the untimely reaction to the alarming facts of misuse and accessibility of glue for young glue sniffers, but not the general situation in the country.

In terms of social responsibility, the company showed reckless disregard towards their direct relation to the intensification of glue sniffing in Honduras and Guatemala. The executives of the company intentionally disregarded the proposal for mustard oil usage for the sake of retaining competitive advantage due to the product differentiation – its unique qualities provided by toluene would be lost in case it was removed from the composition of the glue. It preferred high profits to a positive public reputation, which was evident negligence to social needs.

The reason for which corporate social responsibility matters nowadays is that nowadays the majority of companies have turned to global, meaningful issues to sustain demand for their product. Customers have become more informed and discriminative in their choice of products, and the majority of clients monitors the activities of companies regarding social, environmental, and health support. The devastating effect of reckless industrial technologies has already revealed itself in the form of environmental pollution, numerous health disorders, and damage to the community; therefore, the majority of strategically thinking companies try to turn to ecological production, financing charity organizations, helping to improve the catastrophic living conditions in the conditions in the countries of the third world, etc. Guatemala and Honduras can be fairly called the third world countries; hence, under the provisions of social responsibility, H. B. Fuller had to help children there, and not damage their health by delivering a cheap and convenient drug to them.

Do you agree or disagree that a parent company is not responsible (via vicarious liability) for the activities of its subsidiaries?

Finally, the topic of legal responsibility in terms of tort law is essential in the framework of the present discussion. There is a reasonable question about the vicarious liability of H. B. Fuller about the activities of its subsidiary, H. B. Fuller S. A., in Honduras and Guatemala. The main problem about vicarious liability for the actions of subsidiaries lies in the territorial distribution of subdivisions operating under the jurisdiction of the countries in which they are situated. There are often conflicts based on disagreement between the administration of the parent company and subsidiaries. Legally speaking, the parent company cannot produce the direct influence on the activities of its overseas subsidiaries, and cannot expand the legislation acting on the territory of the parent company abroad, though having a certain measure of power and impact on the subsidiaries due to their subordinate position (Tully, 2007).

However, no matter how ambiguous the legislation governing the responsibility of parent companies for the activities of their subsidiaries is, the research states unanimously that H. B. Fuller can, and should be held responsible for the actions of its subsidiary abroad.

Tully (2007) claimed that “subsidiaries should adhere to standards of care within other states…expected from parent companies at home” (p. 128). Therefore, it is clear that the sales of a potentially dangerous product in Central America should have not been perceived as a completely separate activity. The present statement about the conduct of subsidiaries anywhere abroad makes the subsidiaries bound with the ethical code of the parent company; hence, one can infer that the actions of subsidiaries are ethical to the extent they would be considered ethical in the parent company’s location. Judging from this point, one can hardly believe that toluene-containing glue suspected of intensifying children’s glue sniffing rates would have remained in the US market (Rosen, 1996).


Cherry, A. L., Dillon, M. E., & Rugh, D. (2002). Substance abuse: a global view. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. Web.

Dolgoff, R., Loewenberg, F. M., Harrington, D. (2011). Ethical decisions for social work practice. (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning. Web.

International Narcotics Control Board (2007). Report of the International Narcotics Control Board 2006. New York, NY: United Nations Publications. Web.

Rosen, A. D. (1996). Kant’s theory of justice. New York, NY: Cornell University Press. Web.

Tully, S. (2007). Research Handbook on Corporate Legal Responsibility. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing. Web.

United Nations (2010). Report of the International Narcotics Control Board For 2009. New York, NY: United Nations Publications. Web.

Velasquez, M. (1998). Business ethics, concepts and cases (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Web.

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