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Ethical Issues in Corporate System

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    Ethical Issues
    While there are an abundance of issues that could be discussed and cases whose precedent we could draw from for the purpose of properly elucidating the points of the assigned topic in reference to John R. Boatright’s “Individual Responsibility in the American Corporate System: Does Sarbanes-Oxley Strike the Right Balance?” assumption that the primary responsibility of corporate responsibility legislation is deterrence I’ve chosen to expand upon Chapter 3, Case 3, Exposing Workers to Plutonium and Chapter 6, Case 4, Predatory Lending at Countrywide Financial.

    Several thousand uranium workers at Paducah Gasseous Diffusion Plant were exposed to plutonium in 1999. Hazardous material that was intentionally dumped in landfills seeped into wildlife areas and private water wells. No radiation monitoring procedure was in place to protect workers and they were told that risk was negligible. Workers did not wear sufficient personal protective equipment. Tests in 2000 determined radiation levels were more than 20 x maximum. The Clinton Administration announced it would compensate workers in 1999.

    As you can see there was a serious moral lapse of judgment in properly monitoring radiation levels at the site, failing to inform workers of the risk, improper handling and storage which harmed the surrounding environment and to provide proper personal protective equipment for the workers handling the material? Some effort has been made to make restitution for the wrong. Unfortunately the damage is already done and the cleanup effort will take quite some time not to mention the health of the exposed workers. This situation should never have occurred as it should have been properly managed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Both of these agencies were responsible as far as negligent oversight and compliance of the operation. Following proper procedure would have prevented this tragedy from occurring in the first place and reduced the expense on society which must be shouldered by the tax payers. If the workers had been properly informed of the inherent risks then they may have negotiated wages appropriately or even elected not to assume the responsibility given Employment At Will.

    Countrywide Financial Corporation funds loans through short term commercial borrowing. The organization had an expansive list of services offered to consumers. From near failure it became the largest home mortgage provider. Countrywide had a revenue of $11.4 billion. The company had $200 billion in assets in 2007 and employed 62,000 people in 900 offices. Unfortunately their foreclosure rate was 25%. Countrywides loans to minorities were growing exponentially. They created Full Spectrum Lending as a subprime loan subsidy entity. They soon began providing incentives for the sale of subprime loans in a predatory fashion on the Hispanic and African American communities. The claim was that the vision and mission of the organization was to help minorities become home owners which sounds altruistic. What they did not mention is that the profit margin on the high risk loans was much higher. Next the loans were sold to investors as Mortgage Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligations which were presumed safe and yielded a higher profit margin and so were ravenously purchased. When the housing bubble burst; so did Countrywides revenues. Many of their loans went into default and investors dumped their loans. In 2008 Bank of America purchased Countrywide for $6 billion. By this time nearly 10 million homes were valued less than their mortgage. This is the largest predatory lending case in history with the first mandatory loan modification program.

    The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 is a mandatory regulation of financial reporting. It is a preventative measure put in place to protect consumers, investors, and society from fraudulent financial activities within an organization to misrepresent it’s actual performance and value. It was named after Senator Paul Sarbanes and Representative Michael Oxley who wrote it. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is arranged into eleven titles. As far as compliance is concerned, the most important sections within these are often considered to be 302, 401, 404, 409, and 802. Section 302

    • The signing officers have reviewed the report
    • The report does not contain any material untrue statements or material omission or be considered misleading • The financial statements and related information fairly present the financial condition and the results in all material respects • The signing officers are responsible for internal controls and have evaluated these internal controls within the previous ninety days and have reported on their findings • A list of all deficiencies in the internal controls and information on any fraud that involves employees who are involved with internal activities • Any significant changes in internal controls or related factors that could have a negative impact on the internal controls Organizations may not attempt to avoid these requirements by reincorporating their activities or transferring their activities outside of the United States Section 401

    Financial statements are published by issuers are required to be accurate and presented in a manner that does not contain incorrect statements or admit to state material information. These financial statements shall also include all material off-balance sheet liabilities, obligations or transactions. The Commission was required to study and report on the extent of off-balance transactions resulting transparent reporting. The Commission is also required to determine whether generally accepted accounting principles or other regulations result in open and meaningful reporting by issuers. Section 404

    Issuers are required to publish information in their annual reports concerning the scope and adequacy of the internal control structure and procedures for financial reporting. This statement shall also assess the effectiveness of such internal controls and procedures. The registered accounting firm shall, in the same report, attest to and report on the assessment on the effectiveness of the internal control structure and procedures for financial reporting. Section 409

    Issuers are required to disclose to the public, on an urgent basis, information on material changes in their financial condition or operations. These disclosures are to be presented in terms that are easy to understand supported by trend and qualitative information of graphic presentations as appropriate. Section 802

    This section imposes penalties of fines and/or up to 20 years imprisonment for altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing, falsifying records, documents or tangible objects with the intent to obstruct, impede or influence a legal investigation. This section also imposes penalties of fines and/or imprisonment up to 10 years on any accountant who knowingly and willfully violates the requirements of maintenance of all audit or review papers for a period of 5 years.

    By utilizing the procedures set forth in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act it will be less likely those predatory practices will be able to have such a devastating and debilitating effect on society again. These mandatory reporting requirements for finance and government serve a preventative role and help to insure integrity.

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