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The use of wasta to hire employees, or transact important business in companies is an age-old behavior that has been in existence for many years. Here, individuals often use their influential capacity (wasta)1 operational in a trusted network of relatives (or other trusted but powerful members of the society) to acquire job/business opportunities (Hansen 1996). Although one can argue that the use of wasta can be beneficial in creating a network of trust for business organizations, as it will become clear here, its justification cannot withstand moral theories that should ideally apply to all business transactions within an organization. Moreover, with the present social costs in our society that have arisen through the use of wasta, it is impossible to justify the use of wasta in hiring and performing business transactions.
Wasta ethical dilemma in the UAE context
Let us consider an example of a wasta ethical dilemma. Someone has just graduated from a university with a bachelor degree in business and is seeking employment. When applying for an employment opportunity, he undergoes an interviewing process after which he gets an evaluation of his chances of securing the job from his interviewer. Being honest with him, she (the interviewer) tells the interviewee that his chances of obtaining the given job are little since there are other candidates that have obtained higher scores during the interviewing process. At this moment, the interviewee starts wrestling with the idea of using wasta to contact his uncle who can effortlessly secure this particular job for him.
Let us consider the theory of utilitarianism. “Utilitarianism is an ethical theory implying that a measure of happiness from an action should be used to determine if that action is right or wrong” (West 2004, 1). What one does here is judged from a threshold that measures how one’s act will affect the majority (Hansen 1996). What brings joy/happiness to the majority can therefore be considered to be morally acceptable (Hansen 1996). In applying this utilitarianism theory, we can argue that contacting his uncle (to help in securing the concerned employment) will be morally unacceptable. Looking at it closely, when such system of favoring particular people apart from merit is encouraged, it means that efforts put to hard work (by competitors for opportunities) will be redundant (West 2004). It is like a race where the best do not win; therefore, limiting inspiration for hard work. The majority of people would therefore stop to work hard seeing no reason in it; thus, creating a system that does not stimulate peoples’ talents to better the majority of our society. Moreover, eliminating competitors for particular positions on the basis of favoritism will mean that companies will be hiring less competent persons for available positions; thus, automatically lowering output and productivity from the concerned organization (West 2004).
Let’s now consider another business moral theory that can be applied in the situation that we have described above, which is deontology theory. In a nutshell, a deontologist will consider something to be either morally acceptable or not depending on his/her responsibility in the concerned situation (Zauderer 2010). Considering this present dilemma, one can feel that he has a duty to respect rules and procedures that are followed when filing an available candidate vacancy in an organization. Indeed, such procedures and rules should protect the hardworking and talented populace that cannot access wasta in their favor. It would therefore be wrong for one to contact his uncle knowing very well that his competitors are more qualified for this particular job than himself. As it is the case here, his competitors should be better placed to be given priority since; they (his competitors) have been able to obtain better grades than him during their graduate studies; they have attended a more comprehensive and better internship program than him; and have also been able to score higher marks during the interview (Zauderer 2010)
Although one may argue that the parameters described above cannot really measure how one is well qualified for a job position or not (for example since one can work hard and still score lower grades in an exam, or one can score lower grades in an examination depending on his/her present environment), it is important to respect conventional rules which ideally apply to all societal members. As Descartes Describes, “So as to escape the feelings of guilt and live in reality, we need to focus our judgments on actions that can be clearly and distinctly perceived” (Zauderer, 2010, 4).
Finally, let us consider another theory that can be applied to resolve this particular ethical dilemma-virtue ethics. As the name suggests, actions are judged here to be either acceptable or not depending on the virtue/vice that has directed one to perform an action (Maclntre 2007). Therefore, desiring to obtain a job where one is less qualified in amounts to selfishness. Since selfishness is not a virtue, such an action cannot be considered to be moral in such a case. Besides, the courage to solicit for a job (through the use of wasta) from an uncle knowing very well that some other person has scored higher marks during an interview for the concerned job amounts to stealing such a particular job from others-a vice; hence, it can be considered morally unacceptable. Besides, the whole arrangement above can be considered corrupt and nepotistic (Maclntre 2007).
Does the use of wasta create unacceptable social costs to society?
We can now move on to agree with the notion that scenarios such as the one that we have described above (where a particular individual employs the use of wasta to secure an advantage for an available job position), automatically creates social burdens to our society. First, as we had mentioned, such an arrangement creates a network where more qualified and better competitors for particular job positions become excluded from positions that they deserve (William 1973). As such, people will become discouraged from working hard to enhance their career capacities. Here, hard work is thus viewed with a skeptical eye. As it is obviously the case, a less hardworking and competitive society is a less productive society; hence, appears a social cost to our society as a result.
In addition, since organizations and companies exist to avail their products to the society, we can confidently say that the quality of services finding their way to our society from such organizations will remain poor and less improved. As a result of the low quality products that are in turn offered to our society, there will always exist an extra social burden/cost (William 1973).
It can also be clearly seen that the continued burden of corruption and nepotism (created through the use of wasta) existing in our society today has an origin in the form of favoritism that has been described above. As it can clearly be seen, when a person contacts another one to unfairly secure a particular job position, a network and system of perpetuating such actions of favoritism in the future is created. In such system of a network where trust and allegiance prevails, other forms of corruption that include financial corruption are created (William 1973). Since people are likely to owe allegiance to their particular godfather that secured a job for them, they can always work together again in the established network to indulge in many forms of corruption. As it is evident today, corruption has remained one of the worst challenges that have continued to increase societal burdens. We all know that it is through the use of corruption that societal resources are diverted from improving the wellbeing of societal members (William 1973).
The practice of favoring persons apart from merit to secure job vacancies (as it is the case when wasta is employed by someone to secure a job vacancy), is the one that is well embedded in our society. When the three business theories that I have described in this paper are considered, one can see that such an act of ‘job favoritism’ is morally unacceptable. Moreover, when the consequences of such behavior on our society are considered, it can be seen clearly that the described kind of behavior has led to a number of societal burdens that we experience today. It is therefore necessary for all morally upright persons (in whatever sense: virtuous, deontological or utilitarian) to desist from such kind of behavior.
Hansen, Chad. “Utilities” A Journal of Utilitarian Studies, 7, no. 3 (1996): 128-218.
Maclntre, Alasdair. After virtue: a study in moral Theory. London: Oxford University Press, 2007.
West, Henry. An Introduction to Mill’s utilitarian ethics New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
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William, Owen, Arthur. Utilitarianism: for and against. New York: University of Cambridge Press, 1973.
Zauderer, Naaman. Descartes’ deontological Turn: reason, will, and virtue in the later Writings. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Wasta is the measure of one’s capacity to utilize a network of powerful and influential relatives (or friends) in securing job opportunities (among other opportunities)..