The holiday season is once again upon us. Ever since my childhood the season has been marked by several classic films. Once I began to travel I understood that it is common around the world to spend some of the holidays with old classic holiday favorites. In the United States, perhaps the most famous holiday film is It’s A Wonderful Life. The film offers food for thought on morality, faith, community, and small business.
In April the UK parliament passed the UK Bribery Act, which significantly enhances the penalties for giving and receiving bribes and extends the reach of the UK government in pursuing allegations of corruption that occur abroad. The action in the UK coupled with the U.S. government significantly increasing its investigations in to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has many businesses reexamining their internal controls and redoubling efforts in compliance.
Ethics and morals are things that are typically associated with an individual’s cultural background, so are ethics an issue when doing business across cultures, or is there some basic underlying ethical principles that we all follow? Recently we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with one of the world’s preeminent scholars of business ethics, Dr. Norman Bowie. You can find the interview here in our latest Economic Reform Feature Service article.
Article at a glance
- Business ethics is a relatively new field of study, which grew out of the general field of philosophy in the 1970s.
- Broad-based ethical standards like transparency and personal respect apply regardless of company size or sector.
- Cultural norms differ, but there are some universal ethical principles – like the illegality of bribery – that are widely accepted across cultures.
Anticorruption mural in Jakarta. Translation: "If we are like this, how can we fight corruption?" (Photo: Eric Hontz/CIPE)
At the Sixth biennial assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, this year held in Jakarta, Indonesia, I heard a recurring theme in many of the workshops and conversations in between sessions – corruption is a large and growing problem for democracies around the world. Corruption effects established and emerging democracies in strikingly similar ways; it decreases the legitimacy of existing institutions and creates a high level of cynicism among voters. Perhaps the issue was always there, but advances in information technology and greater access to a multitude of channels of communication has brought the issue out of the shadows.
The Global Entrepreneurship Week Congress in Dubai. (Photo: Eric Hontz)
Last week the Kauffman Foundation and the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai, UAE, sponsored the Global Entrepreneurship Week Congress. The meeting brought together over 100 representatives from 80 countries gathered to regroup and focus after a very successful second Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2009. The week long, world wide festivities in 2009 consisted of 25,000 entrepreneurship events with millions of participants.
“No expectations – no disappointments” is the mood of most Ukrainians, according to Oleksandr Sushko of the Center for Peace, Conversion and Foreign Policy of Ukraine. At an event on Ukrainian democracy hosted by PONARS Eurasia, Dr. Sushko went on to say that although elections can now occur in the country with democratic results, the quality of democratic governance in the country is very low, while quality and engagement of civil society is relatively strong.
Elections, as most Ukrainians have discovered, are mechanical exercises that serve as a referendum on the country’s leadership and, as is painfully obvious now, no number of clean elections will solve Ukraine’s governance problems. As my colleagues Aleksandr Shkolnikov and Marc Schleifer noted in a Kyiv Post op-ed, a leader must step forward and tackle the unpopular reforms that are necessary for the country to move beyond its current deadlocked political state.
As Ukraine’s parliament is reshuffled, there is a chance that a person that is willing to sacrifice their political capital will emerge in the the Prime Minister’s post and finally enact reform. As Ukraine begins to muddle in economic stagnation, it is important to remember that all other periods of dramatic economic reform occurred during crises – massive privatization in 1992, banking reform in 1998, and regulatory reform in 2001.
While a great deal of media attention in the West has focused on President-elect Yanukovich’s “Russian-leaning” tendencies and his political comeback, the truly remarkable story is that Ukraine just held an election in which no one was certain who would win and the OSCE and other international organizations have deemed fair. To put this in a regional context, imagine Russia or Belarus having an election and not being sure if Putin or Lukashenko might not win.
It is the 21st century equivalent of a showdown at the OK Corral – Google has called out China for allegedly hacking into the email accounts of Chinese human-rights activists and engaging in disruptive cyber attacks against Western companies that do business in China. The myth that Western and Chinese companies are treated equally in China has now thoroughly been discredited after having been damaged by the Chinese authorities disapproval of the Coca-Cola/Huiyuan merger last year. Now news reports are coming out detailing the attacks against a law firm and companies that are suing the Chinese government like Cybersitter for infringing on it’s IP.
Google’s announcement has unleashed a firestorm of debate, claims, and counter-claims from the companies involved as well as netizens around the world. Chinese officials have stated that perhaps Google is just not prepared to compete in the Chinese market, contrary to the fact that Google has gone from a 15% to 30% search share over the past five years all the while having to jump through more regulatory hoops than its domestic search rival Baidu. Perhaps most tellingly is the reaction in the real world – citizens have been leaving flowers and wreaths at the entrance to Google’s China headquarters, mourning the loss of their limited freedoms.