global responsibilities

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Against Making a Difference

This essay was the winning entry in the undergraduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Imogen Rivers 

I. The Complacency Argument

Some of the most serious wrongs are produced collectively. Can individuals bear moral responsibility for such outcomes? Suggestively, it’s been argued that “all who participate by their actions in processes that produce injustice [e.g. “sweatshop” labour] share responsibility for its remedy”;[1] “citizens… bear partial responsibility for the election outcome. Even if an individual’s vote is not decisive for a given candidate’s victory”;[2] “those who contribute to climate change… (by using… excessive… fossil fuels or by deforestation) should make amends”.[3]

However there’s a prevalent defence: it makes no (significant) difference if I do it. For example, “global warming will still occur even if I do not drive [my “gas-guzzler”] just for fun”;[4] “my polluting doesn’t actually harm anyone, since it doesn’t make a difference to anyone’s health”;[5] “why [should citizens] vote even if… each particular vote does not make a difference to the outcome”?;[6] “British officials… dismiss suggestions that our role on the ground in Saudi Arabia makes any difference [to targeting Yemeni civilians]”.[7]  Continue reading

Google and the G20

The furore over Syria at the G20 meeting has distracted attention from the potentially highly significant agreement by the leaders of the world’s largest economies to support an ‘ambitious and comprehensive’ plan to address the massive global problem of multinational corporations’ failure to pay tax where they earn it, using transfer pricing and other methods to pay lower tax elsewhere or none at all. Continue reading