April 28, 2008
Should doing "the right thing" be rewarded?
On the front page of last week’s Week-End edition of the Financial Times there is an article entitled "World Bank rewards safe sex to boost fight against Aids in Africa." The World Bank and other NGO’s are financing, a groundbreaking experiment.
Three thousand men and women in Tanzania aged 15-30 will be offered a $45 payment if periodic laboratory tests prove that they have not contracted a sexually transmitted disease. The $45 payment represents, for some of the participants, 25 % of their annual salary.
Some argue that the experiment poses an ethical problem because these payments are bribes.
Rewarding someone for doing what that person should do anyway is often questionable but rewards and punishment is very much part of the system in most societies.
Most parents reward their children for good deeds such as doing chores or getting good grades. The Alfred Nobel Foundation rewards extraordinary accomplishments with recognition and money.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched a program that would pay parents if their children attend school.
Even the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in chapter eight stipulates that an organization should promote and enforce its ethics and compliance standards through appropriate incentives as well as disciplinary measures.
The AIDS epidemic is a catastrophe claiming the lives of 2 million every year and most of them in Africa. Even though these payments could be considered to be bribes, I believe that the Tanzanian experiment is ethically acceptable because it will save lives and it causes no harm.