;; Vol. 5 (3) Mar. (2012)
Aspects of International Business Ethics
Mahoney James F.
Managing Director, The Paragon Group. Managing Director, 2476 N Beechwood Ave, Rialto, California, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper is an analytical examination of the
ethical problems posed by the practice of international
business in light of key ethical philosophies and
considering the diversity existing in our world. Special
attention is give to the SA 8000 Social Accountability
standard, its origins, its applicability and its potential
for helping to resolve the problems directly and
indirectly caused by this diversity.
Keywords: Ethical philosophies. International Business,
Today's world is continually shrinking due to many
factors, not the least of which is the rapid growth of
international business. Four specific interlinking phenomena are occurring which present new problems to international
business: a) the increase in offshore banking transactions; b) the continuing growth of multinational corporations (MNCs);
c) the increasing instances of outsourcing business activities offshore and d) the equally increasing instances of locating and using suppliers of goods and services in developing
countries. All four of these phenomena are fueled by
economics and they show no sign of abating anytime soon.
Two aspects dealt in this paper are: a) the existence
of perceived corruption in international business, including graft, kickbacks and preferential treatment and b) workplace conditions that are considered unethical by generally accepted world standards. There are many other aspects of international business which lend themselves to ethical examination, but they are not appropriate here.
The approach taken is to examine some of the
principal ethical philosophies of the last two hundred years in relation to international business, as follows: a) Immanuel
Kant's Categorical Imperative; b) early mercantilist
philosophies; c) Distributive Justice; d) Ethical Relativism; e) Integrative Social Contracts Theory; f) Virtue Ethics; g)
Confucian and Islamist ethics and h) pragmatic approaches to international business ethics. Then, by way of local
comparisons, several local national situations are presented in order to clarify the problem.
Finally, in order to address workplace ethics
specifically, the SA 8000 Social Accountability standard is
presented and analyzed as one approach to remedy a widely
recognized situation which required positive attention.
Furtherj this standard is presented as a possible entry point toward developing a customer/supplier dialogue which may
hole the promise of formulating a wholly new code of
international business ethics, not simply another Western
concept grafted onto the developing world.
Key ethical theories and concepts
Kant's categorical imperative: Immanuel Kant's
Categorical Imperative has become a mainstay in the study of ethics for the past two hundred years and has stimulated a
considerable amount of both support and objection. His
assertion to "act only according to maxims which you can
will also to be universal laws"^^ was seen to be in direct
reaction to the relativist philosophies being propagated at that time and can also be seen as a defense of free will which was being called into question as well. Marias^^ points out that Kant's purpose was to personalize ethics, not necessarily to institutionalize ethics. Kant's ethics describe a "moral
person"; not necessarily a "moral society" which is a key
point in attempting to apply Kantian ethics to our world.
Significant problems have been found to exist not
within Kant's ethics but in its applications. Calder* perceives the lack of degrees of wrongness in Kant's Categorical
Imperative, stating that this is a major flaw in his ethics. Calder's interpretation of Kant is that an act is either right ot wrong in a universal...