Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Gray Zone

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In the culture of modern business, what is wrong and what is right often becomes a hazy line. For example, when a client extends an invitation to dinner or a weekend trip, should you take this as an innocent gesture or as a possible bribe? These same ethics and situations become even more difficult to separate when business taking place in foreign lands.

The author presents two different views on this subject. There is a broad spectrum as to how business scholars weigh ethics while managers are working abroad. The first view is that of cultural relativism. By definition, this is the idea that no one culture is better than another, therefore ethics in one country may not be tolerated in a country fifty miles away. For example, in the United States, bribery is not a tolerated business practice. If a manger from the United States traveled to Indonesia, he or she would find that bribery of a public official is not only legal, but a common practice.

The second view is ethical imperialism. This is a 180-degree turn from the aforementioned approach of cultural relativism. The basis of the theory is for business managers to use the ethics and values from their home country while working abroad. A working example of this approach from the reading deals with sexual harassment across different countries. In the United States, many policies and training sessions are set in place to help managers monitor and keep harassment under control. In an opposing country, these same measures may not even need to be taken because the concept of sexual harassment has never become a critical issue. This example proves that one set of values and ethics simply can not cross the cultural divide between countries practicing business.

Donaldson presented these views well with supporting arguments for both cultural relativism and ethical imperialism. The idea that there is not a cut and dry approach to take when weighing tough ethical business decision in foreign countries came through in his work. I felt that the article could have been organized more clearly. At times, Donaldson jumped from topic to topic without a clear break in the argument.


Both of the methods the author outlined have their positives and negatives, but in my opinion, I do not feel that a manger should practice business using either of these methods alone. Just as the author stated after outlining the two approaches, a business manager of today should consider various issues while weighing tough ethical issues around the world. These three issues are, as stated by the author, respect for core human values, respect for local traditions, and the belief that context matters when deciding what is right and what is wrong. It is important for a manager of today’s times to carefully and critically weigh the possible ethical outcomes of their actions while practicing business in a foreign land. A strong and successful manager must remember that there is no easy ethical decision, no clear cut right and wrong, and no textbook definition of how to handle conflicts of interest and ethics abroad.

To summarize, by keeping in stride with human core values and combining the concepts of cultural relativism and ethical imperialism, a manager should successfully maneuver his way through global business ethics. Who knows? Maybe while in Rome he can start a successful sexual harassment seminar for his business correspondents.

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