The Disney Company’s Questionable Treatment of Animals
By: Karey Gocken
May 7, 2018
My first company choice was the Walt Disney Company. Disney is a large corporation that does more than just create children’s movies and operate Disney Theme parks. The Disney company also owns the ESPN channel, Broadcasting stations, and Marvel Entertainment. I chose Disney because I have not heard of Disney being involved in any ethical issues ranging from merchandise made in sweatshops to animal mistreatment. It’s appalling to think that the country’s biggest kids’ attraction and movie maker would be involved in a sweatshop. It makes me curious to research Disney and see how much of it is true.
The Walt Disney Company is known for its timeless movies and huge resorts. Over the years they have become involved in a variety of businesses. The company’s 5 business segments are parks and resorts, consumer products, media networks, studio entertainment, and interactive. These businesses include network channels, such as ABC Family and ESPN, Lucas Films, Pixar and Disney products.
The Disney company’s revenue for 2016 was $55.6 million with a net profit of 17% for a total of $9,452,000 in profit. The company split up its profits among the 5 business segments as follows: media networks 44%, parks and resorts 31%, studio entertainments 14%, consumer products 9%, and interactive 2%. The CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Robert Iger, has a base salary of $2.5 million and compensation pay of $33.8 million making his total salary $36.3 million. Disney stock, as of the close on April 20, was listed at $101.18 per share. The largest individual stockholder was Steve Jobs before his death in 2011. His shares are now under the Steven P. Jobs Trust.
In 1923, Walt and Roy Disney founded the Disney Brothers Studios in Hollywood, California. They released their first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 1928, and in 1937 they produced their first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Walt Disney died in 1966 from lung cancer and Roy passed in 1971. Disney World opened as the companies first amusement park in 1971. It wasn’t until 1986 that the company changed their name to The Walt Disney Company. The current CEO, Robert Iger, stepped in from the COO position in 2005. His predecessor, Eisner, was CEO for 21 years.
The Walt Disney Company has a code of ethics that covers just about any situation you can think of. I have summarized the most important parts of this code. Employees are to be kind, courteous, and knowledgeable of their roles to provide the best experiences for customers. While on the job, employees are required to be honest, have integrity, follow all laws, and report any misconduct. Managers are required to be the standard of ethical behavior for their employees to model after. All employees will be treated with dignity and respect. Employees will not be harassed or discriminated against. Employees cannot do business with family members. Disney states their customers are of the highest concern. Disney makes sure their customers are safe, receive high-quality entertainment, and have their privacy protected. Vendors will be treated the same as customers. Business with vendors will be conducted honestly and ethically. Shareholders will receive the highest return on investment possible.
Disney’s environmental goals are to conserve water and lower greenhouse gasses and waste. They are working to improve working conditions for workers in their supply chains around the world. Disney provides healthy food options at all its parks. Disney encourages employees to come up with new innovative ideas. They help veterans find jobs inside and outside of the Disney company. They also encourage employees to volunteer or donate to their communities and will match their employees’ donations. The company has also been a strong supporter of the Make a Wish Foundation since 1980. I would say with all that Disney does, that they have a great sense of corporate responsibility.
The ethical issue I chose to focus on was the mistreatment of animals at the Walt Disney Company parks. The biggest issue was in 1989 at Discovery Island. Five employees were accused of keeping wild vultures in a small hot building with no water or food. Vultures were beaten to death and more were disposed of then allowed by permits Disney had obtained. They were also accused of destroying the nest of egrets and ibises and for shooting hawks and falcons. It was said that employees were trying to protect the zoo’s birds from the wild birds. The wild birds were stealing food, hurting the zoo’s birds, and making a mess of the walkways.
The second big incident was in 1998 when the Disney company was opening the Animal Kingdom. Four cheetah cubs died from ingesting a poison found in antifreeze. The cubs had been at the park for two weeks when they passed. Park official never found how the cubs ingested the chemicals. Two African cranes were run over on two separate occasions by tour trams. Two Asian small-clawed otters died from ingesting seeds from a loquat tree. A black rhino died from a punctured intestine after swallowing a stick. A white rhino passed from a routine exam most likely caused by the anesthesia. The animal deaths brought up negative publicity and further inspections for the park.
Ramifications for the loss of animal lives, some endangered, because of accidents and medical conditions were severe. The Wild Kingdom park received more inspections by the U.S Department of Agricultural to make sure all requirements were met in order for them to open. Picketing was planned for Wild Kingdom’s opening day because of the animal deaths that occurred before the park even opened. The Ethical Treatment of Animals urged travel agencies to boycott the Disney parks and resorts. The Disney company received negative publicity from many animal rights groups because of the deaths. In the Discovery Island incident, the company faced fines and animal abuse charges. All these factors, plus the public’s reluctance to spend money at a business which mistreats animals, may have caused the company to experience a decrease in customer numbers, stock prices, and revenues.
Zoos are supposed to be there to help protect and conserve different species from around the world. It’s appalling to hear of a zoo that has been accused of animal neglect or abuse, but even more appalling is to hear of a zoo that is beating animals to death. The Discovery Island incident was animal abuse. There is no other name for it. I don’t see how someone can oversee animals and beat birds to death. While it was not the company itself but its employees, it is still the company that is at fault since it occurred at their parks. I think the park and the employees got off with a slap on the wrist. If this would have happened today, there would have been charges brought up and people put in jail. Animal abuse has always occurred in the United States but in the past 20 years more and more has been done to protect animals and punish those who mistreat them.
As the Wild Kingdom was preparing for the opening day, many saw a chance to accuse a company of animal neglect and abuse. The incidents which involved accidents and medical problems are sometimes hard to avoid. The first incident which involved the vehicle death of an endangered crane could have been an accident. The second incident, however, may have been avoidable if the first incident had been handled properly. In the case of the cheetah cubs, the case was never solved. The park did not have any of the chemicals in the park and thinks it happened before they received the cubs. I see the company is trying to change how things are done within the company by fixing problems as they occur.
When it comes to something that happens at a resort most people don’t care who did it but where it happened. Many were outraged to hear that the company had harmed wild animals. In the case of Wild Kingdom, many animal’s rights groups planned on picketing on opening day. They saw the accidents and medical problems as abuse. The Ethical Treatment of Animals pushed for boycotting of the park. I think the public wanted the problems addressed and fixed. The animal rights groups wanted the company to be charged, closed, and the animals removed from the company’s custodial.
The Walt Disney Company prospers because of its customers. I think Disney will do what needs to be done to correct the problems. The employees that were accused in the incidents at Discovery Island will probably be let go from their positions. New committees will be put in place to oversee the control of the park, the wild bird population, and to reevaluate how the zoo can coexist with the coves wildlife. At the Wild Kingdom employees will receive more training on driving and keeping up-to-date on methods of taking care of the animals. I think they will put new policies in place to better evaluate incoming animals.
We are sorry for the recent incidents that have caused the death of animals at our two parks, the Animal Kingdom and Discovery Island. It was never our intention to harm any animal that was in our care or around our parks. The Walt Disney company has removed employees who were in the middle of the incident at Discovery Island. We will begin giving seminars on animal abuse and what the company’s expectation is to the treatment of all the animals. The seminaries will be mandatory for all employees on a yearly basis. External environmental committees will be formed to monitor our employees who are in direct contact with all animals. These committees will provide us support on how to better manage the animals inside and outside the parks. The Department of Agricultural has confirmed that our parks are up to date with all codes and policies. The animals will remain in the care of the company and we will do what is necessary to ensure that they are properly taken care of. To further show the public how sorry we are about the incidences that took place within our parks, we will have free Wednesdays for the month of July at the Discovery Island and Animal Kingdom parks.
To the board of directors and our shareholders. We are taking every step to ensure that the abuse and mistreatment of animals will not happen again. Employees will be trained on what is considered animal abuse and the ethical way to treat animals inside and outside the park. The external environmental committee will oversee the animal parks to ensure all employees are adhering to the ethical treatment of the animals. These committee will also give insight on new and improved ways of handling different species and issues in other companies. The hope is to fix potential problems by learning from the problems experienced by other zoos. The free days in July will help the public gain confidence in us once again. We are hoping to attract new customers and encourage loyal customers to continue believing in the Walt Disney company.
At the time of animal’s deaths in our Animal kingdom park, all the animals had been with us for a very short time. From these deaths, we have implemented a new policy for all animals entering the park. The animals will have a complete physical including blood work. If problems are found with the animals, we will be able to address them before the animal is lost. This would have caught the problems with several of the animals and saved their lives. We are very saddened by the death of a rhino. He had died while under anesthesia during a routine exam. Every measure was taken to ensure the rhino was properly anesthetized. Unfortunately, sometimes there is not much that can be done in this situation. None the less, we will provide continuing education classes to all our animal keepers and vets. We want to help prevent this type of situation from happening in the future. Because of the loss of our African cranes, we will have all tram drivers attend a driver training course yearly. Mirrors will be added to all trams to give the drivers a 360-degree view of the tram.
In chapter two, the author of Business Ethics Now speaks about how a properly applied code of ethics helps employees decide what is ethical and unethical. Proper training in the code of ethics and yearly training updates may have prevented some of the problems that occurred within Disney’s parks. A good code of ethics is more efficient if the upper level of management follows and lives by the code. At larger corporations, with many locations, the highest level of management at each location needs to live by the code of ethics. Having a Whistleblower hotline located within every corporation would allow for employees to report unethical issues before they get out of hand. This would have helped the Discovery Island incident to be reported a little sooner. From the article, it sounds like someone may have seen what was happening and reported it. The Walt Disney company encourages its employees to report anything that is unethical. Whether this was in place at the time of this incident I’m not sure. Whistleblowing is talked about in chapter 7 of the textbook. The book said whistleblowing used to be looked down on. Many employees ignored unethical behavior for fear of being fired and ridiculed by their coworkers. Now, new laws are put in place to protect whistleblowers and encourage them to report unethical behavior.
In the instance of the 16 counts of animal cruelty, the Walt Disney company paid $95,000 to not plead guilty to the charges, 3 times more then what they would have been fined. The Disney company formed a board of external environmental experts to help control the wild bird population. They also fortified the enclosure to keep wild birds out and zoo birds inside. The article did not say whether all the employees were fired, but the highest-level manager was relieved from his position. At the Animal Kingdom, the company takes more precaution to keep the animals safe. More mirrors were added to the tour trams to help prevent other animals from being run over, and the loquat trees were removed from the otter’s habit.
I naively thought since Disney mainly made children movies that they were more ethical. The company has been involved in many ethical issues, maybe not as a result of orders sent down from the top but as a result of employees and other companies hired by Disney. Since the employees and companies worked for Disney it was automatically assumed it was Disney’s fault. The Walt Disney company is who received the negative publicity and comments. They have worked hard to fix the issues, but the damage has been done.
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