Global Business and Ethics

Steven Spielberg

With the advent of the Internet, everything from personal relationships to business has become ‘global’ for all intents and purposes. Today, you can talk to people across the world just as easily as if you were talking to your next door neighbor. Businesses can exchange documents of all sorts with the push of a button – without having to wait days, and often weeks, for those documents to be delivered by hand. We are global, and this has had a profound effect in the area of business ethics.

What we must realize is that what may be deemed ethical in our own country is not necessarily deemed as ethical in another country. This often makes conducting global business quite hard. At one time, because we did not have the Internet, it was more of a question of not accidentally disrespecting on another’s customs and traditions. However, today, there is much more at stake. You must also not trample all over another businesses – or countries – ethical code, while you remain true to your own businesses or country’s ethical code.

The first step is to understand business traditions and customs in the country that the business you are dealing with resides in. Hopefully, they will do the same for you, making an effort to learn about your business traditions and customs. Next, you need a way to clearly communicate. In this area of the global marketplace, hiring the services of a talented translator is essential. You need to clearly know what they are saying, and they need to know what you are saying as well. Don’t rely on your one semester of a foreign language from high school to get you through this.
Global business also has a profound effect on your employees. For example, if you do business with a foreign country that only keeps regular business hours – in their time zone – one or more of your employees will need to be available for telephone calls and such, when it is convenient for the foreign company. Are you expecting your employees to be in the office to field those calls or to conduct those teleconferences at midnight, and expecting them to clock in bright an early the following morning? That is not very ethical.

Another area that has become a growing concern when it comes to global business and ethics is reporting income from foreign countries. If your company makes a sale to a company in Canada, for example, that sale will not be reported to the IRS in the United States by the company that you made the sale to or Canada’s government. It is not, by anyone’s standards, ethical not to report that income to the IRS yourself.

In many countries, bribing officials is a part of doing business. However, this does not make the practice ethical, and experts advise business owners to instruct all of their employees that such practices will not be tolerated when conducting global business – or even when conducting business in your own country.

Global business is seemingly easy with the use of the Internet, but in the grand scheme of things, when you start looking at what is and is not acceptable or expected in foreign country, in terms of ethical business practices, one must use a great deal of caution.

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