Business Ethics

Business Ethics
In Donaldson?s Values in Tension: Ethics Away From Home, he describes a policy

that was standard at home, but unsuccessful elsewhere. In one example, the manager of a

U.S. company in China caught one of the employees stealing. By following the company?s

practice and turning the employee over to the authorities, which was the right thing

to do according to our values. The employee was executed because he was

judged based on China?s political, legal, and ethical codes, while to us (Americans)

the punishment did not fit the crime.

While many cultures believe in some variation of ?The Golden Rule?, there really is

no detailed international standard of business conduct. U.S. firms should, at the very least

establish company policies that take into consideration the principles of different cultures.

There is clearly a balancing act to develop policies that define the ethics of the

corporation, while understanding that codes of conduct vary greatly around the world. Firms

like Levi Strauss and Motorola, not only define their policies, they understand that their

managers must be able to adapt to a great deal of moral uncertainty in international


Many business practices are neither black nor white but exist in a gray zone, a moral

free space through which businesses and their managers must find away to deal with. Levi

Strauss and Motorola seemed to have helped managers by treating company values as absolute

and insisting that their suppliers and customers do the same. How this was addressed by

these companies, was the development of detailed codes of conduct that provides clear

direction on ethical behavior, but leaves room for managers of these companies to use moral

imagination that allows them to resolve ethical problems appropriately.

Donaldson argues that companies must be guided by three principles in the shaping of

ethical behavior: respect for core human value, respect for local traditions, and the belief that

context matters when deciding what is right and wrong. These principles help in establishing

a moral guide for business practice.

James Rachel?s The Challenge of Cultural Relativism, argues that different cultures

have different moral codes. He is obviously taking the opposite approach to Donaldson?s

absolute approach, that of a relativist approach. The relativist concludes that there is no

objective ?truth? in morality, therefore right and wrong are merely matters of opinion that

can vary from culture to culture. The problem with this argument is that the stated con-

clusion does not necessarily need to be the case if the premise is given. The premise

states what different people believe to be true, and the conclusion assumes that this belief

must be the case.

One consequence of practicing relativism, is that culture determines what is

functionally right and wrong. Meaning that an individual has no say in the matter, and if

there is a conflict between the two, the individual?s ethical belief is not given any

consideration. Just because a culture deems an action right, it does not mean that the action

is correct for that culture. The second consequence is that it is impossible to judge the

actions of any culture as to their morality. Because a relativist believes that what is right is

what is functional for a specific culture, there is no room for comparing one culture?s actions

to another. For example, a culture that practices infanticide, and another culture believed that

babies are to be protected from all harms. In the relativist view neither culture is more

correct in its views; both societies are performing the functionally right action for their

culture. Based on this observation, it seems that infanticide is wrong, and therefore, the

culture that practices it, is also morally wrong.

Just as one culture cannot criticize another, there cannot be criticism from within it.

Rachel?s argues that a relativist would not allow for an individual in the aggressive culture to

speak out against their inhumane actions. Because, as mentioned previously, the relativist,

states that one culture?s actions cannot be judged to their morality.

The problems of actually practicing cultural relativism are numerous. They include

the fact that the culture determines what is right and wrong, that it is impossible to judge a

culture morally, and there can?t be any moral progress in a culture The minor benefits of

cultural relativism such as tolerance, lacking of an absolute standard, and an open mind can

only be applied to a limited number of instances. There are some things that can be learned

from this form of ethical theory. One is the idea of not being overly critical of other cultures.

If more cultures tempered their tolerances with wisdom, then many of the problems

we encounter when dealing with cultures other than our own could ultimately be eliminated.

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