Moral imagination and working conditions: Experiences of managers and union stewards in the Kenyan tea industry

Onyura, Betty
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University of Guelph

Moral questions surrounding businesses’ labour practices and the ethical management of working conditions in developing countries are gaining increasing attention. This dissertation is an exploratory investigation on moral imagination amongst managers and union stewards involved in the management of working conditions in the Kenyan tea industry. Semi-structured interviews were used to generate information from participants on their thoughts and experiences as they managed potentially morally-laden issues related to working conditions of lower-tier workers. Thematic analysis was used to examine the accounts participants shared, in order to uncover the deliberative processes participants engaged in as they strived to make sense of these issues. The use of a qualitative approach facilitated a comprehensive examination of the context in which these organizational stakeholders are embedded. The moral imagination framework allows for an examination of how individuals attend to contextual cues as they deliberate on situations of moral import in the work environment. Overall, the findings of this research show that there are diverse patterns of analysis of moral situations among organizational stakeholders. The findings provide empirical support for Bartlett’s (2003) argument that there are many, yet unexplored, intervening processes between problem perception and action when it comes to moral deliberation and decision-making. Among the managers in the study, they were found to include processes of attribution of agency for observed harm, analysis of individual, organizational and social consequences, reflection on conflicts of interest and values, as well as creative imagination in envisioning and enacting actions that could address perceived problems. Among the stewards, they included reflections on principles of justice and human rights, reflection on opportunities for self-development, as well as creative imagination. In addition, the findings suggest role-related differences in the nature of individuals’ moral deliberations. Managers often appealed to an ethics of care in their deliberations on their employees’ working conditions. Union stewards appealed to both an ethics of care and an ethics of justice.

moral imagination, moral deliberation, organizational ethics, working conditions