10 Unethical Jobs: Would You Work Any of These Gigs?

Unethical jobs
Kurt Bauschardt under Creative Commons
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Decades ago, when I worked at a fast food restaurant, my boss asked me to put less than the advertised amount of meat on customers’ sandwiches, so the restaurant could meet certain efficiency goals. He also asked me to lie to the restaurant owners about these actions so they could believe we were meeting their efficiency goals by honest means. I refused — and didn’t last long at the job.

Employers in any industry might present you with occasional ethical challenges. But some jobs, by their very nature, are more likely to present you with difficult decisions. And sometimes, even if you know a job has to be done, you wouldn’t feel good about being the one who does it. For example, who wants the job of repossessing a wheelchair from a veteran on the day after Christmas?

Here are 10 more employment “opportunities” that will leave most readers asking: Could I feel good about doing this job?

1. Shark Fin Harvester

Shark fin soup is popular in Asia, and incomes are rising in that part of the world. The result is more demand for shark fins, which are cut from the living animals.

Once their fins are cut off, the sharks are generally thrown back in the water to die agonizing deaths, and the practice is bringing many species close to extinction. How much would you have to be paid to feel good about having this job?

2. Lobbyist

Since the year 2000, the amount of money spent on lobbying has more than doubled to over $3 billion annually. Examples of the effects of lobbying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blocking environmental protections and Halliburton giving money to vice president Dick Cheney while getting huge contracts in Iraq.

Of course, you could lobby honestly, and only for good causes. At least that’s a theory. But if you lobby lawmakers, your primary purpose is to serve the interests of your employer, even if that goes against the interests of the country, or against your own values. Do you think you could find a way to do this job without crossing any ethical lines?

3. Weapons Designer

As a weapons engineer you don’t personally kill anyone. You just design new ways to kill people.

If you believe in self-defense and protecting your country, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But what if your creations are used for purposes (e.g. wars) with which you don’t agree? It might be troubling to watch the evening news and see people being killed by your technology. Could you sleep easy knowing you don’t get to determine how your weapons are used?

4. Executioner

Designing weapons which might be used to kill as a matter of national defense is one thing, but what if you were paid $150 to personally kill someone? Could you feel good about that?

If so, and if you live in Florida, you can apply for the job today. The Florida Department of Corrections says prisoners on death row are killed by “a private citizen who is paid $150 per execution.” It’s no surprise that they allow you to remain anonymous.

Jerry Givens, an executioner who administered the death penalty 62 times in Virginia, says, “Biggest mistake I ever made was taking the job as an executioner.” After he spent almost five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he realized some of the people he killed might have been innocent too. Mistakes are made, after all. At least 150 people on death row have been found to be not guilty, which should make us wonder how many of the innocent ones didn’t get exonerated in time. Could you be an executioner?

5. Paparazzo

This is another job that appears to have an ethical option. After all, paparazzi are just specialized photographers, taking pictures of famous people.

But in practice, could you compete against the other paparazzi and succeed without unfairly harassing your subjects? There are reports of paparazzi-induced car accidents, and you do need to stalk famous people. It’s part of the job, after all. So would you feel good doing it?

6. Charity Telemarketer

If you work directly for a charity, you can choose one you believe in, but when you work for a charity telemarketing company, you just do what you’re told. According to a report in the Tampa Bay Times that can include convincing a poor old lady who you’ve already hit up for a dozen donations to various causes to give money to help “Children with Hair Loss,” even though only $1.75 of her $10 donation will go to the supposed program.

Sure you might do some good. But the bottom line is that, as an employee, you don’t get to choose which charities to help. And it seems unlikely that your employer would turn down business from the worst charities, some of which spend less than 3% of the money raised on actual programs. Could you trust any telemarketing firm enough to feel good about working those charity phone lines?

7. Virus Writer

Spammers and hackers sometimes need a good computer virus to accomplish their goals, and so they turn to a virus writer. Employment in the field is growing, according to recent reports.

Of course, the “goals” of your employers are likely to be theft and wreaking havoc. Do you want to be one of the most hated people around, even if you make good money and get to remain anonymous?

8. Public Relations Agent

As a public relations man, Ryan Holiday says:

I’m paid to deceive. My job is to lie to the media so they can lie to you.

Many of those lies are documented in his book, Trust Me, I’m Lying; Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Once again this is a job where you can theoretically walk on the right side of the ethical line, but you are hired to boost sales, and if the best public relations agents are willing to lie for that goal, could you be honest and still keep your employer happy with your work?

9. Tobacco Marketer

Tobacco kills more than 480,000 people annually, according to the CDC. Would you want to encourage people to smoke?

Philip Morris says, “We are committed to marketing our products responsibly…,” but up to half of smokers will die from their habit. What kind of salary would make you accept a position marketing cigarettes?

10. Economic Hit Man

John Perkins, in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, describes how he and other “EHMs” had the job of taking advantage of small countries in order to benefit both the U.S. government and the largest corporations here. He says,

We are an elite group of men and women who utilize international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other nations sub-servient to the corporatocracy running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks.

Perkins says he (and others) typically falsified economic projections to convince the leaders of a country to borrow heavily for certain infrastructure projects. The money, lent by U.S. banks, came right back to the bank accounts of U.S. corporations that did the work. The economic impact was usually minimal, yet subsequent generations of poor people had to be (and still are) taxed to repay the debt.

Perkins says these jobs still exist today, although the people holding them no longer refer to themselves as “economic hit men” (and they did so only in private in his time). Cheating and destroying small countries and low-income people for a living — who would want that job at any wage?

Your Turn: Which of these jobs would you feel good about doing? How much would you have to be paid to do them?

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