New research group: Moral Design Strategy

Technology always has an ethical connotation. This can sometimes have far-reaching consequences for consumers, citizens or organisations. For this reason, a new research group: Moral Design Strategy, led by Bart Wernaart, will start on 1 June. In years to come, Fontys University of Applied Sciences wants to invest heavily in practice-based research in this field.


Social issues
Our society has been transformed from an information society to a smart society. In a Smart Society, people and technology always interact with each other. We are increasingly entrusting part of our ethical decision-making to smart technology. This leads to all kinds of social issues and challenges. How sure does an algorithm have to be to accuse a citizen of fraud? And when should a security camera call the police when it thinks it can predict a fight? To what extent should a chat-bot giving financial advice be putting a customer at risk? And what data should an HRM bot prioritise in making a perfect match between an applicant and a job profile? Who gets to decide how an algorithm on a social media platform deals with disinformation? The research group will work on tackling these kinds of social issues.

Technology design
“It’s about more than just gaining knowledge about ethical issues,” says professor Bart Wernaart. “We want to ‘capture’ the morality of the individual and use it for the design process of products and services in both the private and public sector. The next step is translating this into strategy. What does this mean for the mission and vision of organisations? Or how does it relate to decentralised government policy? And how can an organisation ultimately determine in a transparent manner that moral design actually does what was originally intended? Technological design leads to important challenges in the field of moral authority, ethical decision-making and moral strategy formation. Through thorough research, we want to identify these issues and use them as input for future technology design.”

Socially innovative learning process
Bart Wernaart LLM, PhD, will be appointed as professor of the new research group Moral Design Strategy. Wernaart received his Master’s degree from Tilburg University (International Law) in 2005, and his PhD from Wageningen University in 2013. In recent years, he worked as a lawyer and teacher-researcher of law and ethics at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Economics and Communication.

He sees the new research group as a way to bring education and research closer together, where students have an active participatory role in doing meaningful research. “On the one hand, we want to be hands-on and, for example, take mobile moral labs into neighbourhoods to find out about the moral expectations of citizens regarding a predictive algorithm used by the government. Think of preventive policing, or an algorithm that would have to detect risks of fraud. On the other hand, we want to participate at a high scientific level, and arrive at new models and approaches based on our practical expertise.”

“A lot is happening at the intersection of technology, ethics and society. Think of the increasing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI). At the same time, we sometimes ignore its ethical aspects too quickly. By connecting researchers, entrepreneurs, education and governments and conducting thorough research, we want to gain more insight into this. The starting point is individual morality as input for design, making morality a more explicit input at the drawing table of new technology. This is the true added value of the research group,” says Wernaart.

The fact that the subject is a hot topic is evidenced by the partnerships that have already been formed, even before the research group has started. For example, research projects will be started with the universities of Quebec and Ottawa, the University of Leuven and various commercial parties. Multiple publications have already been realised at home and abroad in this field. Wernaart: “The theme is truly thriving, just look at the developments in the past year: discussions about deep fake, the benefits scandal, surveillance systems and the corona app are all essentially centred around (a lack of) moral design. It is of vital importance that we deal with this properly in order to increase confidence in a bright future with technology.”

More information
More information on the Moral Design Strategy research group at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences can be found here.

Continue Reading

Ethics and business goes international

I am happy to annouce the upcoming international publication of Ethics and Business, a global introduction by Roudlegde publishers (27 May 2021). The English version of ‘ethiek en economie’ was published by Noordhoff in the Netherlands in 2018. Now, also elsewhere in the world this handbook on ethics and business will be distributed. For more info, please visit: Ethics and Business | Taylor & Francis Group.

Continue Reading

Moral Programming in ‘Technology in Society’

With great enthusiasm I share this publication for Technology in Society (Elsevier). I propose a roadmap to support the ethical decision making process in moral programming of smart technology. In this contribution I discuss when we have a moral programming issue, who ought to decide on this, what can be decided, and how moral decisions can be programmed in technology. The main goal is to contribute to a smart society that is more human, with respect for individual morality.

Abstract: Smart technology is increasingly integrated in our ethical decision making. This raises questions as to how we should morally program technology. Deciding on moral programming depends on the moral intensity of the ethical issue. A moral intensity dashboard for engineers can help allocate the most suitable moral authority for a particular moral programming. Technology is not capable of ‘doing’ ethics the way humans do. This leaves forms of consequentialism and deontology as the most reasonable programming alternatives, using deontic logic as a starting point. Furthermore, it is very likely that in the more complicated settings, technology should have elements of meta ethics in its moral programming to adequately deal with scenarios that lead to conflicts in moral programming. We propose to use the calculation methods that stem from a comparative approach or the Expected Moral Value approach. All this has considerable consequences in how we should see moral programming in technology-driven ethical decision-making processes. We will therefore propose a roadmap for the moral programming of smart technology.   

Keywords: Moral programming, Ethical decision making, Moral Intensity, Smart technology, Normative ethics, Meta ethics

Continue Reading

EU Food Law Handbook 2020

I am more than thrilled to announce the publication of the new edition of EU Food Law Handbook. It was an honour to be on the editorial board with my friend Bernd Van der Meulen and in that role work together with around twenty EU food law experts. Once again, Wageningen Academic Publishers did an excellent job in realizing the publication of an 800 page academic work in less than three months (!). Amongst others, Anna Szajkowska, Jens Karsten, Daniela Corona, Rozita Spirovska Vaskoska, Martin Holle, Irene Verheijen, Alexandra Eftimie, Dionne Chan, Antonia Corini, Ph.D., Karola Krell Zbinden, Bernard Maister, Valeria Paganizza and Bram de Jonge wrote an excellent contribution, in which they reflect on food law related issues in their field of expertise.


Taking the General Food Law as a focal point, this handbook systematically analyses and explains the institutional, substantive and procedural elements of EU food law. Principles are discussed as well as specific rules addressing food as a product, the processes related to food and communication about food to consumers through labelling. These rules define requirements on subjects like market authorisation for food additives, novel foods and genetically modified foods, chemical and biological contaminants in food, food hygiene, tracking & tracing, withdrawal & recall, food labelling and claims. The powers of public authorities to enforce food law and to deal with incidents are outlined. Attention is given to the international context (WTO, Codex Alimentarius) as well as to private standards.

In addition to the systematic analysis, the book includes selected topics such as nutrition and health policy, special foods, food import requirements, food contact materials, intellectual property, private food law, and animal feed. In this new edition, existing chapters have been updated to take account of many important developments in legislation and case law. Several new topics have been added to the analysis such as the right to food, organics and food fraud.

An interview in Dutch about this publication can be found here.

Personal touch

The publication of this edition is quite special to me. The first ever edition of this book was published in 2004, when I was a student-assistant at Wageningen University. On my first day I was invited to the book launch. During this ceremony, I realized I wanted to become an author as well, and somehow I managed to become one. Therfore, being a member of the editorial board in 2020 is particularly special to me. The seed that pas planted in 2004 has led to an interesting harvest!

Continue Reading

Bhasin v. Hrynew (2014) the Supreme Court of Canada

Good faith in Canada…

Why is this ruling so important?
In this ground-breaking ruling, the Canadian Supreme Court affirmed the existence of the principle of good faith in contract law. This is a wonderful example of the application of ius cogens, or general principles of law. Since the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that lower courts may not overrule decisions of higher courts (the so called Stare Decisis doctrine), and the Supreme Court is the highest Canadian court, the principle of good faith in contract law applies fully in all Canadian States.

What happened?
Two competing sales agents (Bhasin and Hrynew) sell education saving plans for Can-Am. This latter company allows sales agents to sell their investment products under a dealer agreement. This dealer agreement automatically renews every three years, unless a notice of termination was given at least six months before the end of a period. It is no secret that Bhasin and Hrynew do not like each other. Hrynew wants to take over the nice market of Bhasin, and proposes a merger. Not surprisingly, Bhasin rejects the proposal. Can-Am, who will probably benefit from this merger, appoints Hrynew as auditor to review the dealer agreements. This leads to the situation that Hrynew has a biased function (audotor and competitor). As a result,. Bhasin does not want to be transparent regarding the details of his business. This is a reason for Can-Am to terminate the contract, leaving Bhasin on the edge of bankruptcy.  

What was decided?
The Supreme Court ruled that a dealer agreement should be understood and used in good faith. The termination clause was abused, since Bhasin could never leave up to the expectaction that he would reveal all his business secrets to his most important competitor (this time acting in his capacity as auditor). After all, that would reduce the value of his business to almost zero.

Important quotes from the verdict
 ‘I have concluded that Can-Am’s breach of contract consisted of its failure to be honest with Mr. Bhasin about its contractual performance and, in particular, with respect to its settled intentions with respect to renewal. It is therefore liable for damages calculated on the basis of what Mr. Bhasin’s economic position would have been had Can-Am fulfilled that duty. While the trial judge did not assess damages on that basis given her different findings in relation to liability, she made findings that permit this Court to do so.’ 

Most relevant Articles
The Court based its findings on an impressive survey of legal literature and case law in various common law countries. The basis for the verdict is not a codified standard, but a general principle of law.

Continue Reading

The corona tapes

I did some writing about the corona crisis, discussing mainly ethical, legal and (perhaps) historical perspectives of this crisis. It is mainly in Dutch. Here is an overview:

Continue Reading

New edition of ‘Ethiek en economie, een grensoverschrijdende inleiding’.

I am more than thrilled to announce the publication of the second edition of ‘Ethiek en economie, een grensoverschrijdende inleiding’ at Noordhoff Publishers. The initial version of 2015 had an English follow up in 2018. Now, the Dutch book is completely revised and updated (2020). The book consists of three parts:

1) ethics and the individual: focussing on morality, responsibility, normative ethics, and moral decision making-processes;

2) ethics and the business: focussing on the triple bottom line and accountability (integrated reporting);

3) ethics and the world: focussing on cultural diversity and globalization.

In all chapters, practical examples can be found that are business oriented. There is also a website with addiotional course materials and weblectures. For more info, click here.

Continue Reading

Flaminio Costa v ENEL, European Court of Justice, Case 6/64, 1964, preliminary ruling

The EU? It’s electric!

Why is this ruling so important?
In this ground-breaking ruling, the European Court of Justice held that European Law is of a higher legal order than National Law. In case of contrary national legislation, the European rules therefore prevail.

What happened?
In the early sixties, the Italian government nationalized the electricity sector. Mister Flaminio Costa disagreed with this course of affairs, because he owned shares in a small private electricity company that was now being merged into a state owned company: ENEL. As reprisal, he refused to pay his electricity bills, with a total sum of almost 2000 Lire. In the Italian court, he argued that the nationalization was against European Law. The Italian government however, held that under no conditions, a domestic court could set aside national law.

What was decided?
The European Court of Justice ruled that in this case the nationalisation of the electricity sector was a matter the European Commission should deal with, since the commission was competent to review such acts against European Law.

Please note that In casu, mister Costa did not win the argument. However, the court was very clear on one thing: the Italian government was wrong in assuming that no domestic court could set aside domestic law.

Important quotes from the verdict
The obligations undertaken under the treaty establishing the community would not be unconditional, mut merely contingent, if they could be called in question by subsequent legislative acts of the signatories. Wherever the Ttreaty grants the states the rights unilaterally, it does this by clear and precise provisions.

It follows from all these observations that the law stemming from the treaty, and independent source of law, could not, because of its special and original nature, be overridden by domestic legal provisions, however framed, without being deprived of its character as community law and without the legal basis of the community itself being called into question.

Most relevant Articles
Art. 288 TFEU (ex Art. .249 TEC, in the original ruling a reference is made to the earlier Art. 189 of the EEC treaty).

Continue Reading