Failure to Act


For both this blog and paper 2, I want to look into the American Red Cross organization. Before doing any research, I though the American Red Cross was a picture perfect company; I am not sure if I got this idea from the work they supposedly do or from the many advertising campaigns they have. Little did I know, the American Red Cross actually has a large amount of ethical issues. To begin, they were very late to respond to the Hurricane Katrina when it hit New Orleans and to the Victims of 9/11. Not only did they respond late, but they were inefficient and displayed a lackluster passion for helping people. I believe that the American Red Cross is setting itself up for failure.

The lack of control that the American Red Cross has over its chapters was clear during the attack of 9/11. The American Red Cross was receiving donations at an alarming rate, was collecting blood donations, and was supposed to be responding to the scene. The donations collected were put into a relief fund that the Red Cross was going to use to improve the internal organization and was not sharing information about victims with other organizations.

During Hurricane Katrina, the American Red Cross followed orders from the government which told them to stay away from the Super Dome. I do not know about you, but as an organization that is supposed to help people in times of crisis, the American Red Cross should have acted with or without consent from the Congress.

The American Red Cross was established in the 1800’s after Clara Barton was inspired by the work of the International Red Cross. There are about half a million Red Cross volunteers in the United States and 35,000 employees, but what are all of these people doing? There are over 700 local chapters and a board of directors that are supposed to oversee these chapters. One of the main problems with the American Red Cross is their executive turnover rate. The top executives are continuously being changed therefore creating a weak support system for the 700 chapters. A weak support system means that these chapters are working without strong supervision and guidance. In some cases, heads of chapters have committed fraud and stolen close to a million dollars from the organization. Ethically, these employees are taking advantage of the strong name of the American Red Cross and being dishonest and fraudulent. Furthermore, the fact that these top executives do not maintain their positions for very long hinders the company’s ability to communicate with volunteers and increase productivity.

The Congress stepped in to help the American Red Cross in 2006 by increasing organizational transparency internally and externally and the Code of Ethics was updated. However, there is no ethics training for employees or volunteers.

For this post I used articles from CBS, Times, and the book Ethical Decision Making and Cases.

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3 thoughts on “Failure to Act

  1. This is a great paper idea because many people (myself included) never really considered the Red Cross to be unethical or morally questionable. I had no idea that the government instructed the Red Cross to stay away from the Superdome! Do they receive funding from the government? What would have caused them to stay away in a time when they are truly needed?

  2. The American Red Cross does receive federal funding, but it would be interesting to look into how donations by outside supporters changed (either negatively or positively) when the Red Cross failed to act in a timely manner to Hurricane Katrina. Could the donations and support from third parties have outweighed the federal funding?

  3. I think one issue that affects RC, but I am not sure how, is that it has a very strong and secretive central decision making strucure coupled with this huge base of volunteer outfits.

    Also, they may be somewhat immune from criticism by the “don’t blame the firefighters for fires” mentality.

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