Ethical issues across cultures:
managing the differing
perspectives of China and the
Dennis A. Pitta
Professor of Marketing, University of Baltimore, Baltimore,
Dr Y.S. Tsiang Professor of Chinese Studies, University of Missouri, St Louis, Missouri, USA
Associate Professor of Finance, University of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Keywords China, Consumer behaviour, Ethics, Marketing strategy, National cultures, USA
Abstract US marketers know the US standard of ethics. However, that standard can lead to ethical conflict when Americans encounter the emerging market giant, China. As smaller US companies enter China, the potential for ethical conflict increases. Reducing that potential requires knowledge. Knowing the nature and history of the two cultures can lead to an understanding of the foundation of their ethical systems. Ethics and the expectations within cultures affect all business transactions. It is vital for Western marketers to understand the expectations of their counterparts around the world. Understanding the cultural bases for ethical behavior in both the USA and China can arm a marketer with knowledge needed to succeed in cross-cultural business. Implementing that knowledge with a clear series of managerial guidelines can actualize the value of that understanding.
Western businesspeople often concentrate on the fundamentals. In the business and marketing sense, the fundamentals are:
sound marketing strategy;
professional marketing research;
world-class product development;
motivating promotion; and
Focusing on the basics makes success in competitive markets possible. However, serious problems can materialize in business practice between the West and the emerging market giant, China.
The difficulty lies in more fundamental issues than product, price, promotion and place. With the transition from domestic-focussed operations to a true worldwide view, other factors are essential for success. One pervasive factor is culture. Culture and the expectations within cultures affect all business transactions. It is vital for Western marketers to understand the expectations of their counterparts around the world. Even at the threshold of the millennium, inability to master the basic cultural factors still leads to failure. To be accurate, culture is one of the factors that affect business ethics. The Random House College Dictionary defines ethics as, ``the rules of conduct
JOURNAL OF CONSUMER MARKETING, VOL. 16 NO. 3 1999, pp. 240-256 # MCB UNIVERSITY PRESS, 0736-3761
recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.''. Different cultures have different rules of conduct and therein lies the issue addressed in this paper. That issue is: understanding the roots of ethics across the two cultures.
Differences in systems of
Primary cultural values are transmitted to a culture's members by parenting and socialization, education, and religion. There are also secondary factors that affect ethical behavior. They include differences in the systems of laws across nations, accepted human resource management systems,
organizational culture, and professional cultures and codes of conduct. Our objective is not to point out which practices are ethical and which are unethical. Our objective is to understand the differences and outline a means of managing them. What is important is that some cultures might view these practices with different levels of condemnation. Therein lies the problem for managers engaged in cross-cultural transactions. How do they anticipate and manage differences in ethical behavior rooted in differences in culture? The following discussion concentrates on the differences in the cultures of the USA and China, in an attempt to clarify potential...
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