Very low wages, for example, may be considered unethical in rich, advanced countries, but developing nations may be acting ethically if they encourage investment and improve living standards by accepting low wages.
Melinda A. Roberts — Papers, Discussions, Reviews
Likewise, when people are malnourished or starving, a government may be wise to use more fertilizer in order to improve crop yields, even though that means settling for relatively high levels of thermal water pollution. When cultures have different standards of ethical behavior—and different ways of handling unethical behavior—a company that takes an absolutist approach may find itself making a disastrous mistake. When a manager at a large U.
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Even the traditional litmus test—What would people think of your actions if they were written up on the front page of the newspaper? Companies must help managers distinguish between practices that are merely different and those that are wrong. For relativists, nothing is sacred and nothing is wrong. For absolutists, many things that are different are wrong.
Neither extreme illuminates the real world of business decision making. The answer lies somewhere in between. Consider those principles in action. In Japan, people doing business together often exchange gifts—sometimes expensive ones—in keeping with long-standing Japanese tradition. When U. To them, accepting a gift felt like accepting a bribe. As Western companies have become more familiar with Japanese traditions, however, most have come to tolerate the practice and to set different limits on gift giving in Japan than they do elsewhere. Respecting differences is a crucial ethical practice.
Research shows that management ethics differ among cultures; respecting those differences means recognizing that some cultures have obvious weaknesses—as well as hidden strengths.
The Repugnant Conclusion
In some parts of the Far East, stealing credit from a subordinate is nearly an unpardonable sin. People often equate respect for local traditions with cultural relativism. That is incorrect. Some practices are clearly wrong. Since the incident at Bhopal, Union Carbide has become a leader in advising companies on using hazardous technologies safely in developing countries. Some activities are wrong no matter where they take place. But some practices that are unethical in one setting may be acceptable in another. In hot climates, however, it quickly becomes harmless through exposure to intense solar radiation and high soil temperatures.
As long as the chemical is monitored, companies may be able to use EDB ethically in certain parts of the world. Few ethical questions are easy for managers to answer. Another is what Westerners call the Golden Rule, which is recognizable in every major religious and ethical tradition around the world. In Book 15 of his Analects , for instance, Confucius counsels people to maintain reciprocity, or not to do to others what they do not want done to themselves. Although no single list would satisfy every scholar, I believe it is possible to articulate three core values that incorporate the work of scores of theologians and philosophers around the world.
To be broadly relevant, these values must include elements found in both Western and non-Western cultural and religious traditions. At first glance, the values expressed in the two lists seem quite different. Nonetheless, in the spirit of what philosopher John Rawls calls overlapping consensus , one can see that the seemingly divergent values converge at key points.
Despite important differences between Western and non-Western cultural and religious traditions, both express shared attitudes about what it means to be human. Finally, members of a community must work together to support and improve the institutions on which the community depends. I call those three values respect for human dignity , respect for basic rights , and good citizenship.
Those values must be the starting point for all companies as they formulate and evaluate standards of ethical conduct at home and abroad. But they are only a starting point. Companies need much more specific guidelines, and the first step to developing those is to translate the core human values into core values for business. What does it mean, for example, for a company to respect human dignity?
How can a company be a good citizen? I believe that companies can respect human dignity by creating and sustaining a corporate culture in which employees, customers, and suppliers are treated not as means to an end but as people whose intrinsic value must be acknowledged, and by producing safe products and services in a safe workplace. And companies can be good citizens by supporting essential social institutions, such as the economic system and the education system, and by working with host governments and other organizations to protect the environment.
The core values establish a moral compass for business practice. Similarly, if employing children prevents them from receiving a basic education, the practice is intolerable. Lying about product specifications in the act of selling may not affect human lives directly, but it too is intolerable because it violates the trust that is needed to sustain a corporate culture in which customers are respected.
Take the case of the Tan family, a large supplier for Levi Strauss. The Tans were allegedly forcing 1, Chinese and Filipino women to work 74 hours per week in guarded compounds on the Mariana Islands. In , after repeated warnings to the Tans, Levi Strauss broke off business relations with them. The core values for business that I have enumerated can help companies begin to exercise ethical judgment and think about how to operate ethically in foreign cultures, but they are not specific enough to guide managers through actual ethical dilemmas.
Ethics, Applied | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Levi Strauss relied on a written code of conduct when figuring out how to deal with the Tan family. In Europe and the Far East, the percentages are lower but are increasing rapidly. Does that mean that most companies have what they need?
Even though most large U. As a result, the senior managers who drafted the statements lose credibility by proclaiming values and not living up to them.
Codes of conduct must provide clear direction about ethical behavior when the temptation to behave unethically is strongest. Codes of conduct must be explicit to be useful, but they must also leave room for a manager to use his or her judgment in situations requiring cultural sensitivity. Striking the appropriate balance between providing clear direction and leaving room for individual judgment makes crafting corporate values statements and ethics codes one of the hardest tasks that executives confront.
The words are only a start. Managers living and working abroad who are not prepared to grapple with moral ambiguity and tension should pack their bags and come home. The view that all business practices can be categorized as either ethical or unethical is too simple.
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Such activities are neither black nor white but exist in what Thomas Dunfee and I have called moral free space. Managers must chart their own courses—as long as they do not violate core human values. Consider the following example. Some successful Indian companies offer employees the opportunity for one of their children to gain a job with the company once the child has completed a certain level in school. Not surprisingly, the perk is among the most cherished by employees, but in most Western countries, it would be branded unacceptable nepotism.
In the United States, for example, the ethical principle of equal opportunity holds that jobs should go to the applicants with the best qualifications. Given this difference in ethical attitudes, how should U. Should they condemn the Indian companies, refusing to accept them as partners or suppliers until they agree to clean up their act?
Despite the obvious tension between nepotism and principles of equal opportunity, I cannot condemn the practice for Indians. In a country, such as India, that emphasizes clan and family relationships and has catastrophic levels of unemployment, the practice must be viewed in moral free space.
The decision to allow a special perk for employees and their children is not necessarily wrong—at least for members of that country. How can managers discover the limits of moral free space? That is, how can they learn to distinguish a value in tension with their own from one that is intolerable? Helping managers develop good ethical judgment requires companies to be clear about their core values and codes of conduct. But even the most explicit set of guidelines cannot always provide answers.
Managers must recognize that when countries have different ethical standards, there are two types of conflict that commonly arise.
Each type requires its own line of reasoning. As mentioned before, developing countries may accept wage rates that seem inhumane to more advanced countries in order to attract investment. As economic conditions in a developing country improve, the incidence of that sort of conflict usually decreases. The second type of conflict is a conflict of cultural tradition.
For example, Saudi Arabia, unlike most other countries, does not allow women to serve as corporate managers.