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The Battery Issue
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 has been recalled worldwide after reports that the devices can catch fire while charging due to a problem in the smartphone’s battery. At first, there were reports that the phones could overheat and explode. More and more phones were returned to the stores; Samsung exchanged the blasted phones for new, supposedly safe ones. However, batteries in these phones exploded too.
At last, Samsung has stopped any sales of the Galaxy Note 7 and announced that the production of the smartphone would be shut down (Domonoske and Gonzales par. 1). Neither old nor new models of the smartphone seemed to be reliable – they continued to explode, resulting in injuries and ignition.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s batteries overheat because their battery management system does not work correctly; although it does control the electrical current during the charging, it does not communicate with the phone chip when the battery is full. Thus, it begins to overheat, becomes unstable, and explodes (Chamary par. 4). As experts state, the problem also lies within the lithium-ion batteries because the manufacturers prefer those batteries that are less stable but show higher performance (Chamary par. 5). Thus, to gain profit, manufacturers prefer to neglect consumers’ safety.
Ethics in business decision making implies that the company will follow a particular set of rules while manufacturing, promoting, and selling their product. The exploding smartphones have shown that, although the Samsung Company’s status and quality of products were supposed to be at the highest levels, they are not trustworthy from the consumers’ point of view. As stated in Samsung Electronics’ Corporate Ethics, “We care for the environment, health, and safety” (2). Nevertheless, the recent problems with batteries have shown that Samsung had not thoroughly evaluated the consequences of using cheap, but unstable lithium-ion batteries in their products.
How Samsung Neglected the Ethics
Ethical standards can be various, but the main three ethical frameworks used in business decision making usually are the Consequentialist framework, the Duty framework, and the Virtue framework (“A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions” par. 11). The first focuses on the future effects of the product and how they will influence the consumers. The second framework implies that the manufacturer will pay attention to the duties it has and how these duties can be followed correctly. At last, the third framework demands to examine the character traits and virtues (of the company) to understand what they might be indicating (“A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions” par. 15).
As can be seen, all three frameworks were violated by Samsung. Moreover, Samsung decided to self-test the batteries, while Samsung’s rivals in the industry sent their batteries to outside labs for testing (Toh par. 8). Although such an approach is common because it allows the companies to preserve proprietary information about the products, the testing could have shown possible outcomes of the batteries’ malfunction. Another unethical decision that Samsung Electronics met is the avoidance of a straight explanation of the problem and its cause. So far, the company has only stated that it is working on the problem. Supposedly, the issue with batteries in replaced phones is not similar to the one detected in the original phones (Toh par. 13).
However, consumers cannot be certain if the next electronic devices manufactured by the company will suffer from the same problem. The brand image has been spoiled by the scandal, and to return the trust of the consumers, Samsung needs to find the answer as soon as possible. The customers’ trust was also undermined when the company assured the target market that the replacement phones are checked and will not explode. Although it is not a lie per se, it is similar to a deception that should not be ever used by such prominent and respected brands as Samsung Electronics.
However, there is also a danger that other devices from Samsung Electronics will carry the same problem within. Therefore, the company needs to prove that other Samsung smartphones, especially those from the Galaxy line, will be safely used by consumers, and not overcharge, heat, or explode. Such an approach will help Samsung restore its authority on the market. So far, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s exploding batteries have been an advantage to other companies, especially Apple and Google that have just introduced their new products (iPhone 7 and Google Pixel).
Although the Samsung Company has been criticized by many media across the world, it still managed to meet some decisions that would help the brand overcome the crisis. All Galaxy Note 7 smartphones can be exchanged for a Samsung smartphone of another type. A refund is also available for the consumers. At last, Samsung also allows consumers to exchange the Note 7 for another brand. Although the company has lost billions of dollars due to the flammable batteries, it left the consumers a choice and did not simply demand to return the phones to the manufacturer. This approach is ethical, although it does not diminish the damage the consumers had already experienced.
Opinion on the Case
It should be noted that it is not the first smartphone ever that has had malfunctioning exploding batteries or set itself on fire. Other phones, including Nokia and iPhone, were reported to have similar issues. For example, iPhones have burned their owners’ hands, legs, and backs – these events were covered by the media, but they happened before the scandal with Samsung Note 7. Thus, the problem could be foreseen, but it was not – and the question is whether Samsung Electronics’ testing system is far from flawless or it is a common problem for lithium-ion batteries that manufacturers prefer to ignore.
What Samsung should have done is, at least, allow third-party testing of the product after the first reports about the flammable batteries came. Such action could have helped Samsung avoid the horrible follow-up that destroyed (almost literally) the Galaxy Note 7 brand. The scandal had an impact on many consumers in different countries, and while South Korean citizens may forgive their national brand for the mistake, others will not regard the problem so lightheartedly.
Herein lies the problem that can lead to Samsung’s breakdown – there are plenty of multinational rivals on the market that (especially after this situation) will try not to let down their customers in any aspect, including the batteries. Samsung’s reputation has been significantly wounded, and the company does not try to bring any explanations on how it could have happened and what is the problem behind the malfunctions. The exploding batteries and the company’s inability to provide explicit clarifications might bring even more harm than it was expected at first.
Chamary, JV. “Why Are Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 Phones Exploding?” Forbes. 2016. Web.
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Domonoske, Camila, and Richard Gonzalez. “Samsung Permanently Powers Down Galaxy Note 7 Smartphones.” NPR. 2016. Web.
Samsung Electronics. Corporate Ethics. Web.
Toh, Michelle. “Samsung Self-Tested the Galaxy Note 7’s Faulty Batteries.” Time. 2016. Web.