The Ethics of Transactions in an Unjust World

In K. Zeiler & E. Malmqvist (eds.), Bioethics and Border Crossing: Perspectives on Giving, Selling and Sharing Bodies. Routledge: Oxon. pp. 185-196 (2016)
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In this paper I examine the ethics of benefit-sharing agreements between victims and beneficiaries of injustice in the context of trans-national bodily giving, selling, and sharing. Some obligations are the same no matter who the parties to a transaction are. Prohibitions on threats, fraud and harm apply universally and their application to transactions in unjust contexts is not disputed. I identify three sources of obligations that are affected by unjust background conditions. First, power disparities may illegitimately influence transactions in unintentional ways. Second, better-off individuals have duties to ameliorate injustices. These are not specifically duties to those with whom they interact, though often it is easier and more effective to help those with whom one already interacts. Third, the power differentials created by injustice make exploitative transactions more likely. I summarize a transactional account of exploitation and argue that avoiding exploitation is usually easiest to achieve by ensuring that the more powerful party does not obtain an unfair share of the benefits from the transaction. The beneficiaries of a transaction do not have to be only those individuals directly involved in it. Indeed, in many cases it is thought that exploitation may be avoided by providing benefits to third parties. Working out when this is the case requires working out when a contribution or burden on another’s behalf can count towards the avoidance of exploitation. I argue that it counts as such in two main cases: when the people in question are already involved in relationships of reciprocation, and when the individual making the contribution identifies with the interests of the other people.
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Archival date: 2016-09-23
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