Differing Perspectives: U.S. and European Business Ethics
In 2002, Robert Kagan, then Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote the groundbreaking treatise “Power and Weakness,” comparing American and European perspectives and policies as they relate to global power. He concludes that the two mindsets are so divergent that indeed, Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus; a nod to the iconic John Gray work. If business is power, then this divergence may also translate to the realm of business ethics, and for many of the same reasons: economics, academics and the level of cultural collectivism inherent in these societies. Here, literature reflecting three very different methodologies for examining comparative business ethics platforms is reviewed. From this review, conclusions regarding the current state of business ethics in the two regions are derived and examined in relation to the American market model and the European social model. Then, the case for a more globalized approach to business ethics is addressed, and a potential global model presented.
Key Words: business ethics, comparative ethics, corporate social responsibility, European social model, American market model
Differing Perspectives: U.S. and European Business Ethics
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in analyzing business ethics across national boundaries is that we refer to the business community as global, while continuing to operate within very narrow, regionally and culturally defined ethics constructs. That a multitude of works examine the difference between U.S. and European approaches to business ethics is testament to this. And while these analyses are critical to the development of a greater understanding of ‘where we have been,’ its greatest value can be found in using the knowledge gained to suggest ‘where we should be,’ in the form of a global business ethics platform. While such a platform is suggested in the United Nations Global Compact, it has yet to be commonly recognized or implemented. These comparative assessments of ‘American’ and ‘European’ cultural, ethical or political entities inherently beg the question of characterization. What is an American perspective? Is it shaded by political leaning, or does it transcend politics? Does it include a Canadian viewpoint yet exclude Mexico? Is our Europe inclusive of the U.K., or are our British counterparts decidedly more American than European in approach? The authors highlighted here are each confronted with this challenge, and comparisons between their analyses become more difficult as each accommodates these characterizations differently. Accordingly, though the focus of this discussion is ‘U.S. and European’ business ethics, some latitude in the constitution of these sociopolitical groupings is required. This is certainly evident in Georges Enderle’s assessment of comparative business ethics within the framework of micro, meso and macro-level applications. Georges Enderle: Systems, Organizations and Individuals
Enderle developed his matrix approach to the comparison of business ethics during the 1990’s, the decade in which business ethics was widely institutionalized (Ferrell, Ferrell & Fraedrich, 2010). Yet this institutionalization evolved separately and distinctly from one region to the next. Enderle’s work was an initial attempt to capture the differences not only in philosophy, but in implementation. Unique Characteristics
It is not difficult to recognize elements of the American cultural mindset in his description of the U.S. approach to business ethics (self-regulation, free choice, individual responsibility). Enderle even echoes Friedman’s sentiments when referencing the American premise that the social responsibility of business is to make profits. (Friedman, 1970, as cited by O’Sullivan, 2011.) Yet his model does not rely on the underlying cultural rationale for the different levels of...
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