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Top management.

Top management

US carrier Southwest branded itself ‘the love airline’ in the 1970s and dressed its stewardesses in hot pants. Three decades later, as one of its flights was preparing to depart, an airline employee asked 23-year-old passenger Kyla Ebbert to change her miniskirt, top and sweater – or get off the plane.

The woman – a student and waitress at the US restaurant chain Hooters – was allowed to stay on the flight after she pulled her skirt down a bit and her top up. The airline later apologised to her and thought the affair was over.

But when Ebbert went on US national television claiming to be wearing the outfit that caused the brouhaha in the first place, the Southwest publicity machine went into overdrive. Chief executive Gary Kelly issued a public apology and offered her two free tickets. Later that day, he recorded a series of national radio advertisements announcing ‘skimpy’ sale fares available to all passengers for the next ten days.

Ritson (Marketing, 26 Sep 2007) says that the move not only averted a public-relations disaster, but also restored the Southwest brand image and actually increased sales.

Airlines have a fine line to tread between appearing to be fashion police and risking a passenger’s dress sense causing offence to others. The world of the airline customer-service representative is clearly not straightforward. Nor, as Byrne (Journal of Business Ethics, Sep (I) 2007, Vol 74 No 3) highlights, is the task of applying corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles to armament manufacturers.

The author points out that the arms industry often harms the environment in the process of manufacturing its products, and that these same products have the capacity to harm people and the environment in their use. Sometimes they are used to prop up tyrannical regimes or achieve other socially questionable ends. Moreover, says Byrne, many weapons businesses are profitable only because of amoral government policies that the industry sometimes fosters.

The author laments that many in the arms industry see themselves as being outside the purview of CSR partly because their ‘harm facilitating business’ frequently enjoys the endorsement and generosity of governments, who are its principal customers.

Some arms manufacturers claim that an industry devoted to ‘national defence’ cannot possibly be involved in fundamentally unethical activity. This is clearly an unsatisfactory conclusion. In the arms industry, as in so many other areas, all is not as it first appears.

Take the European Union. Britain has been a member of the EU’s ‘awkward squad’ almost since it joined in 1972. First there was premier Harold Wilson’s 1975 referendum on whether Britain should continue to be a member of the European club. Then Margaret Thatcher ‘hand-bagged’ her fellow leaders into agreeing her demand for a special UK rebate from the EU budget. Britain subsequently refused to join the single European currency, the euro, and prime minister John Major negotiated a series of ‘opt-outs’ from the Maastricht Treaty. Most recently, Europe has bowed to the demands of Britain’s current prime minister, Gordon Brown, for opt-outs from aspects of the Lisbon Treaty.

Despite all this, Haverland and Romeijn (Public Administration, 2007 Vol 85 No 3) reveal that Britain has one of the best records for transposing European legislation into national law. It seems that the United Kingdom might not much like much of what happens in Brussels, but once it signs up to a European measure it implements it with alacrity.