Author: Peter Beattie (Ultra Group). 

Topic: Dealing with contracts or subcontracts with potential slave or forced labour. 

Engineering disciplines: Manufacturing; Engineering business. 

Ethical issues: Social responsibility; Human rights; Risk. 

Professional situations: Legal implications; Company/organisational reputation; Conflicts with leadership/management. 

Educational level: Beginner. 

Educational aim: Practising Ethical Reasoning: the application of critical analysis to specific events in order to evaluate and respond to problems in a fair and responsible way. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study puts students in the shoes of an engineer who is required to select a subcontractor to manufacture systems and parts. There are stipulations around who can be selected, among which are legal and ethical concerns around  suspicions of slavery or forced labour. The engineer must navigate communication with both their supervisors and their potential subcontractor, and ultimately justify their decision.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher could use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two and three enable additional professional situations to be brought into consideration. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired.  

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

Government sites: 

Global development institutions: 


Educational institutions: 



Autonomous Vehicle Corporation (AVC) has recently been awarded a contract to provide a bespoke design unmanned air vehicle to India. AVC is a UK certified B Corp that prides itself on maintaining the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. 

A stipulation of the newly awarded contract is that at least 30% of the contract value is spent on the manufacture of sub-systems and parts from subcontractors based in India. AVC is responsible for identifying and contracting these suppliers. 

After many years working as a Systems Engineer for AVC, you have been selected as the Lead Engineer for the project, responsible for the selection of the Indian suppliers. You are aware from your initial research of reports regarding slave and forced labour in the region’s manufacturing industry and are concerned that this situation might affect the project and the company. Additionally, you would personally feel uncomfortable knowing that you might contract a supplier who engaged in those practices. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: To consider how AVC might be impacted from engaging a supplier that utilises slave or forced labour, chart out the viewpoints of different stakeholders, such as customers, investors, other suppliers, communities, and employees. 

2. Discussion: Are there other factors besides ethical considerations that may influence your selection of supplier? What are these?  

3. Discussion: How would you weigh the importance of ethical considerations, such as the use of slave or forced labour, against the other factors identified in the previous question? What information or resources might you use in guiding your weighting of these considerations? 

4. Activity: Contrast the UK Engineering Council’s code of ethics with the Engineering Council of India’s Code of Ethics. How do the two differ? Which code should you be primarily guided by in this situation? Why? How might cultural expectations and norms influence what is seen as ethical?  


Dilemma – Part one: 

One supplier you are considering is Quality Electronics Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd. (QEM), a company based outside Naya Raipur in one of India’s poorest provinces. During a video call, QEM’s managing director assures you that they comply with a strict code of ethics and conduct all recruitment through a carefully selected list of brokers and agencies. He tells you that QEM sources raw materials from around the world, and none of their suppliers have ever been convicted of any offences relating to slavery. He invites you to tour their factory when you are in the country next month and will personally escort you to answer any questions you may have. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Does anything you have heard give you cause for concern regarding the risk of slave or forced labour at QEM in particular? Research this issue from the perspective of various sources, such as investigative journalism, academic papers, government reports, and industry publications. Do their conclusions align or differ in any significant ways? Are there any gaps in knowledge that these sources haven’t adequately covered?  

2. Discussion: QEM mentions that they source raw materials from around the world. The reality of modern supply chains is that they often involve multiple complex layers of subcontractors. Does AVC have an ethical duty to consider the whole supply chain? Would this be the same if AVC were further down the supply chain? If AVC were further down the supply chain, would they have to consider the upstream elements of the supply chain? What are the business implications of considering an entire supply chain? 

3. Activity: List possible contextual risk factors and potential indicators of slave and forced labour. Which are present in the case of QEM? 

4. Activity and discussion: Create a set of questions you wish to answer during your visit to QEM to help assess the risk that they are engaged in the use of slave or forced labour. How will you get this information? Who will you need to talk to? What evidence would you expect to see and collect? To practise business communication, students could draft a memo to their supervisor explaining the situation and outlining their proposed course of action.  


Dilemma – Part two: 

During your visit to QEM’s factory, you meet with workers at all levels and you review QEM’s policies and procedures. You identify some potential risk factors that could indicate QEM is using forced labour in its workforce. You raise this with QEM’s managing director, but he responds indignantly, “QEM creates good jobs for our workers and without us they would not be able to feed their families. Your contract would allow us to sustain those jobs and create many more for the local community.” 

You know that QEM is the lowest cost supplier for the work you want them to undertake, and you are under pressure to keep budgets down. You have no conclusive evidence that QEM uses forced labour. You also know that the alternative suppliers you could use are all based in regions with high employment, which means the risk of not being able to staff your work (resulting in schedule delays) is high.  

Upon your return to the UK, your project manager calls you into her office and tells you she needs your decision on whether to utilise QEM by the end of the week. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Conduct a risk analysis that identifies what might be the impact of not using QEM and what might be the impact of using QEM. 

2. Debate: Do you use QEM as one of your suppliers? Why, or why not? You may wish to consider your answer using the lens of uncertainty and risk. 

3. Discussion: What actions could you put in place with QEM to reduce the incidence/risk of slave or forced labour in its workforce? Which of these would you recommend, and which would you require, QEM to implement as part of contracting with them? How would you enforce them, and what evidence of them being successfully implemented would you need? 


Dilemma – Part three – Postscript:

If you chose to use QEM: It is now two years after you subcontracted QEM. An investigation by an NGO has uncovered the rampant use of slave and forced labour within the global electronics manufacturing industry by companies with B-Corp status. AVC is named as one of the perpetrators, and a story about workers at QEM is scheduled to run in a leading tabloid newspaper tomorrow morning. AVC has called an emergency press conference to give its side of the story.  

If you chose not to use QEM: The following week, your project manager calls you into her office again. She tells you that she has just stepped out of a meeting with the board, and they are deeply concerned about spiralling costs on your project. In particular, they are concerned that you rejected QEM’s proposal in favour of another supplier who is more than twice as expensive. You have been asked to present your reasoning to the board when they reconvene shortly.  


Optional STOP for activity:

1. Roleplay either the press conference or the board meeting and defend your decision. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Case enhancement: Industrial pollution from an ageing pipeline

Activity: Prompts to facilitate discussion activities.

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).



There are several points in this case during which an educator can facilitate a class discussion about relevant issues. Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.


Case Summary – Discussion prompts:

1. Professional Contexts. The question listed in the case study is meant to elicit students’ consideration of working as an engineer in a professional culture different from the one they are familiar with. To answer this question, educators could have students reflect quietly and make notes for a few minutes, or discuss with a partner before sharing with the class. If students are hesitant to engage in questions of cultural differences, they could be prompted to examine why they have that discomfort. Educators might also want to prepare for conversations like this by reviewing the guidance article Tackling tough topics in discussion.

2. Meeting Preparation. The question listed in the case study focuses on the choices that engineers make when presenting data; that is, should they show managers a complete or incomplete picture of the situation in question? What implications does that have in terms of managers’ ability to make decisions? The question also is meant to help students consider aspects of professional communication. Students could be tasked with actually doing a version of the meeting preparation as pairs in the classroom, or they could do this as a reflective exercise as well.


Dilemma – Part one – Discussion prompts:

1. Personal and Professional Responsibility. Here, students are being asked to explore their own personal responses to the informal housing situation outside the factory and interrogate whether or not that response could or should affect their professional actions. The question also investigates the scope of professional responsibility, and at what point an engineer has fulfilled this or fallen short. To engage students in this discussion, educators could split the class in half, with half the room discussing the position that Yasin does NOT have a responsibility, and why; and the other half discussing the position that Yasin DOES have a responsibility and why. Alternatively, students could be asked to write down their own answer to this question along with reasoning why or why not, and then the educator could ask volunteers to share responses in order to open up the discussion.

2. Economic Contexts. Students can use this question to expand on question 1 of this section, and in fact they may already have drawn cost into their reasoning. One way to open up this discussion is to think of the broader costs, meaning: is there a social or environmental cost that the company externalises through its polluting activities? Another way into the question is to go back to the question of responsibility, because engineers are routinely responsible for making budgets and judgements related to costs. Through this financial activity, are they able to advocate for more ethical practices, and should they?


Dilemma – Part two – Discussion prompts

1. Job Offer. This question is meant to point to the issue of bribery, and have students wrestle with the situations presented in the case. Educators could have students review various definitions of bribery, including the one in the RAEng’s Statement of Ethical Principles. They could compare this with the Engineering Council of India’s Code of Ethics. What do these two codes say about Yasin’s case? If they don’t give clear guidance, what should Yasin do? Students could discuss why or why not they think this is bribery in small or large groups, and could debate what Yasin’s action should be and why.

2. External Reporting. This question addresses whistleblowing, and what responsibilities engineers have for reporting unethical actions to professional or legal entities. Students could be asked individually to answer the question and give reasons why, based on the codes of ethics relevant to the case. They could also answer the question based on their own personal values. Then they could discuss their responses in small groups and interrogate whether or not the codes conflict with their values. Educators could at this point raise the question of whether or not there may be different cultural expectations in this area that Yasin might have to navigate, and if so, if this should make any difference to the action he should take. Students could also be asked to chart out the personal and professional repercussions Yasin could experience for either action. This discussion could be good preparation for activity #5, the debate.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Professor Chike Oduoza (University of Wolverhampton); Emma Crichton (Engineering Without Borders UK); Professor Mike Sutcliffe (TEDI-London); Dr Sarah Junaid (Aston University); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Monitoring and resolving industrial pollution.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering; Civil engineering; Manufacturing; Mechanical engineering.

Ethical issues: Environment, Health, Public good.

Professional situations: Bribery, Whistleblowing, Corporate social responsibility, Cultural competency.

Educational level: Advanced.

Educational aim: To encourage ethical motivation. Ethical motivation occurs when a person is moved by a moral judgement, or when a moral judgement is a spur to a course of action. 


Learning and teaching notes:

This case requires an engineer to balance multiple competing factors including: economic pressure, environmental sustainability, and human health. It introduces the perspective of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a lens through which to view the dilemma. In this case study, the engineer must also make decisions that will affect their professional success in a new job and country.  

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:


Learning and teaching resources:



Yasin is a pipeline design engineer who has been employed to manage the wastewater pipeline for MMC Textile Company in Gujarat. The company has a rapidly growing business contributing to one of India’s most important industries for employment and export. Yasin was hired through a remote process during the pandemic – he had never been to the industrial site or met his new colleagues in person until he relocated to the country. For 10 years, Yasin worked for the Water Services Regulation Authority in the UK as a wastewater engineer; this is the first time he has been employed by a private company and worked within the textile industry.

The production of textiles results in highly toxic effluent that must be treated and disposed of. A sludge pipeline takes wastewater away from MMC’s factory site and delivers it to a treatment plant downstream. On arrival at MMC, Yasin undertakes an initial inspection of the industrial site and the pipeline. He conducts some testing and measurements, then reviews the company’s documents and specifications related to the pipeline. This pipeline was built 30 years ago when MMC first began operations. In the last five years, MMC has partnered with a fast fashion chain and invested in advanced production technologies, resulting in a 50% increase in its yearly output. Yasin soon realises that as production has increased, the pipeline sometimes carries nearly double its registered capacity. Yasin was hired because MMC’s managers were aware that the pipeline capacity might be stretched and needed his expertise to develop a solution. However, Yasin suspects they are unaware of the real extent of the problem, and is nervous about how they will react to confirmation of this suspicion. Yasin is due to provide an informal verbal report on his initial inspection to the factory managers. This will be his first official business meeting since arriving in India.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Although Yasin is a qualified and experienced engineer, what professional challenges might he encounter at MMC?

2. Discussion: What preparation does Yasin need to make for this informal meeting? What data or evidence should he present?

3. Activity: Role-play Yasin’s first meeting with the factory managers.

4. Activity: Research the environmental effects of textile production and / or India’s policies on textile waste management.


Dilemma – Part one:

At the meeting, Yasin is tasked with developing a menu of proposals to mitigate the problem. The options he puts forward include retrofitting the original pipeline, replacing it with a new one, eliminating the pipeline entirely and focusing on on-site water treatment technology, as well as other solutions. He is directed to consider the risks and benefits of the alternatives. These include the economic burdens, both the cost of the intervention as well as the decline in production necessitated while the intervention takes place, and the environmental consequences of action or inaction.  

During his research, Yasin discovers that informal housing has sprung up in the grey zone between the area’s formal zoned conurbation and the MMC industrial site. This is because there is little local regulation or enforcement as to where people are allowed to erect temporary or permanent dwellings. He estimates that there are several thousand people living in impoverished conditions on the edges of MMC’s property. Indeed, many of the people living in the informal settlement work in the lowest-skilled jobs at the textile factory. The informal settlement is located around a well that Yasin suspects may be polluted by effluent that seeps into the soil and groundwater when the pipeline overflows. He can find no information in company records about data related to this potential pollution.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Does Yasin have a responsibility to do anything about the potential groundwater pollution at the informal settlement?

2. Discussion: Should Yasin advocate for the solution with the lowest cost?

3. Activity: Practise problem definition. What are the parameters and criteria Yasin should use in defining the issues at stake? What elements of the problem is he technically or ethically obligated to resolve? Why?

4. Activity: Create a tether diagram mapping the effects of each potential solution on the company, the local people, and the environment.

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical, civil, manufacturing and / or mechanical engineering related to groundwater pollution.


Dilemma – Part two:

As Yasin learns more about MMC, he discovers that as the company grew rapidly in the last five years,  and has boosted its CSR initiatives, MMC started a programme to hire and upskill local labourers and began a charitable foundation to make donations to local schools and charities. For these activities, MMC has recently received a government commendation for its community commitments. Yasin is concerned about how to make sense of these activities on the one hand, and the potential groundwater contamination on the other. He speaks to his supervisor about MMC’s CSR initiatives and learns that company directors believe that their commendation will pave the way for an even better relationship with the government and perhaps enable a favourable decision on a permit to build another textile factory site nearby. At the end of the conversation, his supervisor indicates that if a new factory is built, it will need a chief site engineer. “That position would be double your current salary,” the supervisor says, “a good job on fixing this pipeline situation would make you look like a very attractive candidate.” Yasin is due to formally present his proposal about the pipeline next week to the factory manager and company directors.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: How should Yasin respond to the suggestion of a job offer?

2. Discussion: Should Yasin report any of MMC’s actions or motivations to an external authority?

3. Activity: Research CSR and its ethical dimensions, both in the UK and in India.

4. Activity: Undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical, civil, manufacturing and / or mechanical engineering, related to pipeline design and flow rates.

5. Activity: Debate whether or not Yasin should become a whistleblower, either about the groundwater pollution or the job offer.



An enhancement for this case study can be found here.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Let us know what you think of our website