October 20, 2012

MB0053 [International Business Management] Set1 Q4

Q4. How can managers in international companies adjust to the ethical factors influencing countries? Is it possible to establish international ethical codes? Briefly explain?

Answer:

Ethics can be defined as the evaluation of moral values, principles, and standards of human conduct and its application in daily life to determine acceptable human behaviour.

Business ethics pertains to the application of ethics to business, and is a matter of concern in the corporate world. Business ethics is almost similar to the generally accepted norms and principles. Behaviour that is considered unethical and immoral in society, for example dishonesty, applies to business as well.

Managers are influenced by three factors affecting ethical values. These factors have unique value systems that have varying degrees of control over managers.

Religion – Religion is one of the oldest factors affecting ethics. Despite the differences in religious teachings, religions agree on the fundamental principles and ethics. All major religions preach the need for high ethical standards, an orderly social system, and stress on social responsibility as contributing factors to general well-being.

Culture – Culture refers to a set of values and standards that defines acceptable behaviour passed on to generations. These values and standards are important because the code of conduct of people reflects on the culture they belong to. Civilisation is the collective experience that people have passed on through three distinct phases: the hunting and gathering phase, agriculture phase, and the industrial phase. These phases reflect the changing economic and social arrangements in human history.

Law – Law refers to the rules of conduct, approved by the legal system of a country or state that guides human behaviour. Laws change and evolve with emerging and changing issues. Every organisation is expected to abide the law, but in the pursuit of profit, laws are frequently violated. The most common breach of law in business is tax evasion, producing inferior quality goods, and disregard for environmental protection laws.

Ethics is significant in all areas of business and plays an important role in ensuring a successful business. The role of business ethics is evident from the conception of an idea to the sale of a product. In an organisation, every division such as sales and marketing, customer service, finance, and accounting and taxation has to follow certain ethics. 

Public image – In order to gain public confidence and respect, organisations must ascertain that they are honest in their transactions. The services or products of a business affect the lives of thousands of people. It is important for the top management to impart high ethical standards to their employees, who develop these services or products.

A company that is ethically and socially responsible has a better public image. People tend to favour the products and services of such organisations. Investors’ trust is just as important as public image for any business. A company that practices good ethical creates a positive impression among its stakeholders.

Management’s credibility with employees – Common goals and values are developed when employees feel that the management is ethical and genuine. Management’s credibility with employees and the public are intertwined. Employees feel proud to be a part of an organisation that is respected by the public. Generous compensations and effective business strategies do not always guarantee employee loyalty; organisation ethics is equally significant. Thus, companies benefit from being ethical because they attract and retain good and loyal employees.

Better decision-making – Decisions made by an ethical management are in the best interests of the organisation, its employees, and the public. Ethical 
decisions take into account various social, economic and ethical factors.

Profit maximisation – Companies that emphasise on ethical conduct are successful in the long run, even though they lose money in the short run. Hence, a business that is inspired by ethics is a profitable business. Costs of audit and investigation are lower in an ethical company.

Protection of society – In the absence of proper enforcement, organisations are responsible to practice ethics and ensure mechanisms to prevent unlawful events. Thus, by propagating ethical values, a business organisation can save government resources and protect the society from exploitation.

Most countries have similar ethical values, but are practiced differently. This section deals with the way individuals in different countries approach ethical issues, and their ethically acceptable behaviour. With the rise in global firms, issues related to ethical values and traditions become more common. These ethical issues create complications to Multi-National Companies (MNCs) while dealing with other countries for business. Hence, many companies have formulated well-designed codes of conduct to help their employees.

Two of the most prominent issues that managers in MNCs operating in foreign countries face are bribery and corruption and worker compensation.

Bribery and corruption – Bribery can be defined as the act of offering, accepting, or soliciting something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of officials in the discharge of their duties. Corruption is the abuse of public office for personal gain. The issue arises when there are differences in perception in different countries. For example, in the Middle East, it is perfectly acceptable to offer an official a gift. In Britain it is considered as an attempt to bribe the official, and hence, considered unlawful.

Worker compensation – Businesses invest in production facilities abroad because of the availability of low-cost labour, which enables them to offer goods and services at a lower price than their competitors. The issue arises when workers are exploited and are underpaid compared to the workers in the parent country who are paid more for the same job. The disparity arises due to the differences in the regulatory standards in the two countries.

Earlier, we believed that ethics is a prerogative of individuals, but now this perception has immensely changed. Many companies use management techniques to encourage ethical behaviour at an organisational level.


Code of conduct for MNCs

The code of conduct for MNCs refers to a set of rules that guides corporate behaviour. These rules prescribe the duties and limitations of a manager. The top management must communicate the code of conduct to all members of the organisation along with their commitment in enforcing the code.

Some of the ethical requirements for international companies are as follows:
• Respect basic human rights.
• Minimise any negative impact on local economic policies.
• Maintain high standards of local political involvement.
• Transfer technology.
• Protect the environment.
• Protect the consumer.
• Employ labour practices that are not exploitative.

When a manager of an international firm faces an ethical problem, certain models help in solving these ethical issues.

Culture is a major factor which influences marketing decisions and practices in a foreign country. For example, in the middle-eastern countries the prior approval of the governing authorities should be taken if a firm plans to advertise a product related to women’s apparel, as showcasing some aspects of women clothing is considered immodest and immoral.

International Business and Ethics
Most countries have similar ethical values, but are practiced differently. This section deals with the way individuals in different countries approach ethical issues, and their ethically acceptable behaviour. With the rise in global firms, issues related to ethical values and traditions become more common. These ethical issues create complications to Multi-National Companies (MNCs) while dealing with other countries for business. Hence, many companies have formulated well-designed codes of conduct to help their employees.

Two of the most prominent issues that managers in MNCs operating in foreign countries face are bribery and corruption and worker compensation.

Bribery and corruption: Bribery can be defined as the act of offering, accepting, or soliciting something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of officials in the discharge of their duties. Corruption is the abuse of public office for personal gain. The issue arises when there are differences in perception in different countries. For example, in the Middle East, it is perfectly acceptable to offer an official a gift. In Britain it is considered as an attempt to bribe the official, and hence, considered unlawful.

Worker compensation: Businesses invest in production facilities abroad because of the availability of low-cost labour, which enables them to offer goods and services at a lower price than their competitors. The issue arises when workers are exploited and are underpaid compared to the workers in the parent country who are paid more for the same job. The disparity arises due to the differences in the regulatory standards in the two countries.

Managing ethics
Earlier, we believed that ethics is a prerogative of individuals, but now this perception has immensely changed. Many companies use management techniques to encourage ethical behaviour at an organisational level. Various techniques of managing ethics like practicing ethics at the top level management, special training on ethics, forming committees to oversee ethical issues, and defining and implementing code of ethics are illustrated in figure. 

Figure: Techniques of Managing Ethics

Top management:The senior management of a company must be committed to ensure that ethical standards are met. The chief executive of the company must not engage in business practices harmful to employees, or the society. The top management must focus on ethical practices while informing employees of their intention.

Code of ethics: One of the best practices for ethics is creating a corporate ethical statement and communicating it within the company. Such practices enhance the companys public image. Almost all Fortune 500 companies have such codes.

Ethics committee: There are ethics committees in many firms to help them deal with and advise on work related ethical issues. The Chief Executive Officer can head the committee that includes the Board of Directors. Such a committee answers employee queries, helps the company to establish policies in uncertain areas, advises the Board on ethical issues, and oversees the enforcement of the code of ethics.

Ethics hotline: A companys ethical hotline helps its employees report any ethical issues they face at work. The ethics committee then investigates these issues. Such hotline calls are treated confidential, where the callers identity is protected to encourage employees to report on ethical issues.

The act of reporting illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices by former or current employees involving its employees is known as Whistle-blowing. Whistle-blowing is favourable to a company because employees can alert the management on possibly deviant behaviour rather than reporting it to the media, which adversely affects the company. A case of whistle-blowing in Xerox corporation (a pioneer in copier machines), led its Chief Financial Officer to be fined $ 5.5 million and banned from practicing accountancy after reports of falsified financial statements emerged.

Ethics training programs: Most firms take ethics seriously and provide training for its managers and employees. Such training programs help the employees become familiar with the official policy on ethical issues. These programs demonstrate the use of these ethic policies in everyday decision-making. Ethics training is most effective when conducted by managers and when focused on work environment.

Ethics and law: Both law and ethics focus on defining the perfect human behaviour, but they are not the same. Law is the governments attempt to formalise rightful behaviour, but it is rarely possible to enforce written laws. It depends on individual or business ethics to reduce unlawful incidents. Ethical concepts are more complex than written rules since it deals with human dilemmas that go beyond the formal language of law.

Legal rules seek to promote ethical behaviour in companies. The following are some of the Acts which seek to ensure fair business practices in India:

Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) of 1999 - FEMA regulates the cross border movement of foreign and local currencies.

Companies Act of 1956 - Companies Act provides the complete legal framework for the formation, running, and winding up of a company.

Consumer Protection Act of 1986 (CPA) - CPA provides and regulates the are essential framework for the protection of consumer rights.

Essential Commodities Act of 1955 - This act defines the goods and services that for the people at all times and provides a legal framework for the uninterrupted supply of the same.

National Differences in Ethics
In the previous section we examined how ethics is significant in international ethics. In this section, let us consider the differences in understanding ethics across countries. The differences in national cultures have an impact on the social and ethical practices of multinational firms. Cultural norms and values that usually influence business practices are attitudes towards women, minorities, bribery, and law. Religion and law are the key social factors that influence the type of ethical issues.

In MNCs, managers play a key role in managing ethics. While working in a foreign country, you cannot expect a manager to have a comprehensive knowledge of that countrys culture and social factors that affect business. Therefore, the international manager needs to acquire adequate knowledge of a countrys cultural, legal, and social scenarios to ascertain the important ethical issues and to manage these issues. The approaches to understand national differences in ethics are ethical relativism, ethical universalism, and ethical convergence. Let us discuss each of them in detail.

Ethical relativism and ethical universalism
Ethical relativism means that each countrys outlook on ethics must be considered valid and ethical. This implies that if bribery is not unethical in a foreign country, then it is acceptable for an MNC to encourage bribery even if it is illegal in its home country. Ethical relativism means that when a company deals with a host country for business, the international managers must follow the ethical norms of the host country. Another example is the attitude towards women employees in certain Arab countries. The attitude differs to a large extent compared to western countries. In Saudi Arabia, women employees are segregated from their male counterparts at the work place. All companies, MNCs or local, must comply with these rules.

The principle of ethical universalism states that there are basic moral principles that are valid across all cultural and political boundaries. For example, all countries forbid unethical accounting practices and tax evasion. 

Both these principles have drawbacks when in international business. Ethical relativism is a convenient way to indulge in unethical practices with cultural differences as an excuse. The universal approach can be perceived as cultural imperialism, since business managers may regard business practices in some countries as inferior or immoral.

Ethical convergence
Ethical convergence is defined as the practice of a uniform system of ethical codes in different countries that are culturally and socially different.

There is a growing pressure on international business to follow a uniform set of guidelines in managing ethical behaviour and social responsibility across the countries in which they operate. The following are some of the advantages of ethical convergence:

The growth of international trading blocks, such as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union promotes common ethical practices across national cultures and borders to reduce institutional differences. Predictable interaction and behaviour among trading partners from different countries makes trade more efficient.

People from different cultural backgrounds increase their interactions and exposure to varying ethical traditions. They adopt, adjust to, and imitate new behaviour and attitudes which leads to acceptance of best practices.

International businesses have employees from different cultural backgrounds. The companies rely on their corporate culture to provide consistent norms and values that govern ethical issues to set common standards for employees from different cultural backgrounds.

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