Sunday, March 07, 2010


Of the readers who responded to an unscientific poll on my column's blog, 47 percent believe that it is wrong to refer to those who took food from collapsed grocery stores in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake as "looters," while 53 percent believe that the word "looter" accurately describes the action, regardless of the circumstances.

Several readers believed that, in the words of one anonymous poster, "the ethical thing would be for the people who used the food to return later and pay for the food and/or help the owner rebuild the store."

"It is not looting if you are in a survival mode, competing with others in a desperate situation, and take food to feed yourself and your family and maybe even share with someone even more desperate than you are," writes Phil Clutts of Harrisburg, N.C. "On the other hand, if you take food primarily for the purpose of selling it to others, it is looting."

"People under the kind of stress and need as those in Haiti - a situation not experienced by those of us in 99 percent of America - are in a unique `survival' situation," writes Jan Bohren of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. "So I say, `Cut 'em some slack,' change your perspective and use your energy to write a check to your favorite charity that is supporting Haiti relief programs."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 630 Eighth Ave., 5th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I still believe that looting for the purpose of feeding your family can be ethical and justified, I was disheartened this morning by a story out of Chile. The police is arresting looters and recovering millions of dollars worth of merchandise. Not food, but TVs, furniture, and appliances. Once the police raids began, people started abandoning their loot by the side of the road, to avoid arrest.

The ethical problem, therefore, with looting for food, is that it starts one down the slippery slope, and gives rise to rationalization "I'm already in here taking bread, and there's a TV. With the store's doors torn down and windows broken, somebody will take this TV. Might as well be me."