Brown Bag Update: BU Law Alum Discusses Social Responsibility with Students


Social Responsibility

Of Pinto Fires and HIV Cures:
Do You Think Corporate Counsel Can Do Better for the Public?

Last week, students and faculty members gathered in Barristers Hall for a Brown Bag Lunch Discussion with Gastón de los Reyes (BU Law, Class of 2003). Gastón is currently a pursuing his Ph.D. in Ethics and Legal Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He returned to school in 2009 after a clerkship in Puerto Rico and five years of practice—half as a litigator in Springfield, MA and half as a transactional attorney in New York City. Encouraging students to look forward and reflect upon their post-law school professional lives, Gastón, launched his presentation, Of Pinto Fires and HIV Cures, with thought-provoking questions—how will you use the educational resources earned at BU Law to aid society, and how will you define social responsibility? When it comes to civic responsibility, what is the role of corporate managers in providing goods to the public?

Gastón shared his dedicated research in the interconnected areas of business policy, professional ethics, and the law and began his presentation by outlining two schools of thought around the question of corporate management and civic responsibility. In the “Profits Primacy” model, he explained, the manager’s primary focus is the maximization of shareholder profits; while compliance with the law is required, direct oversight of the company’s social code is not part of job description. In the “Social Entrepreneurship” model, civic responsibility is an inherent element in a manager’s role; managers provide goods to the public in line with their commitment to and respect for both the shareholders and society at large. With this theory in place, Gastón presented two classic business ethics cases as food for thought–one involving the faulty design of the Ford Pinto automobile and one involving antiretroviral drugs for HIV. Both examples offered illustrations of the implications of the theoretical models, but also made clear that, when it comes to real world application, the relationship between practice and theory is complicated and often eludes tidy definition. Before long, faculty members and students alike were engaged in lively conversation.

As the discussion came to a close, Gastón de los Reyes challenged the audience to continue thinking about how counsel can play a constructive role of in the complex operations of business organizations. Are companies and individuals doing enough? Can we strive to do better as lawyers, clients, and consumers? What approach will you take when you leave the Law Tower and embark upon your professional life?

Learn more about Gastón de los Reyes and his current research here. 

Be sure to join us for our next Brown Bag Lunch Discussion with Professor Khiara Bridges on March 26th at 1pm in Barristers Hall: “Whither Privacy?: Poor, Pregnant Women and the State.”

Hope to see you there!

Image Credit: Wordle  of Milton Friedman’s The Social Responsibility of Business is to increase its Profits (1970) 

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