IBM's Business with Hitler: From Identification to Extermination
Posted: 13 Feb 2012 Last revised: 14 Aug 2012
Date Written: February 13, 2012
This case study discusses the relevance of social and political factors in corporate decision making under a repressive regime, and the repercussions of those corporate decisions. The case study is divided in two parts. The first part focuses on IBM’s business decisions to continue its operations in Germany between 1939 and 1945 and to do business with the German Fascist government during that period. The case study reviews a particular decision in September 1939, when IBM’s CEO Thomas J. Watson is asked to allow the transfer of IBM’s tabulating machines from Austria to Germany.
The second part takes place in the 2000s and examines in how far IBM has still a responsibility today for its past business activities during World War II. In 2001, Edwin Black published a book in which he alleged IBM of having been an accomplice in the Holocaust. Students are expected to examine the ethical and economic arguments for and against doing business with a government during war times, and to discuss how corporations can deal with their past. Do corporations have a responsibility for historic injustices to which they were connected?
Keywords: human rights, IBM, historic injustices, Holocaust, corporate social responsibility
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