Ethical Relativism and the International Business Manager
The most fundamental ethical problem that the manager of an international business faces is the problem of moral diversity.1 Many oil companies, for example, operate in the United States which professes that men and women should be treated as equals and where bribery is considered wrong, while simultaneously operating in several Middle Eastern countries where women are regarded as subordinate to men and bribery is widely accepted. How is the manager to deal with such differences?
KeywordsBusiness Ethic Moral Norm Ethical Relativism Moral Evaluation International Manager
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- 1.A comprehensive, although somewhat dated, account of the socio-ethical problems managers face in different cultural contexts is provided by Thomas N. Gladwin and Ingo Walter: Multinationals Under Fire, New York (John Wilev & Sons) 1980.Google Scholar
- 2.This view is advanced particularly by cultural anthopologists. See M. Herskovits: Cultural Relativism: Perspectives in Cultural Pluralism, New York (Vintage) 1972. However, the view has recently been defended by philosophers. See, for example, Gilbert Harman. Herskovits: Cultural Relativism: Perspectives in Cultural Pluralism, New York (Vintage) 1972. However, the view has recently been defended by philosophers. See, for example, Gilbert Harman: “Moral Relativism Defended”, Philosophical Review, 84 (1975), pp. 3–22.Google Scholar
- 3.Two useful collections of writings on ethical relativism are: Jack W. Meiland and Michael Krausz (Eds): Relativism, Cognitive and Moral, Notre Dame. IN (University of Notre Dame Press) 1982, and Michael Krausz (Ed.): Relativism: Interpretation and Confrontation. Notre Dame. IN (University of Notre Dame Press) 1989. For a historical overview of the debate over ethical relativism, see the pieces collected in John Lado (Ed.): Ethical Relativism, Belmont, CA (Wadsworth Pub. Co.) 1973.Google Scholar
- 4.Kelly’s account has been reprinted in numerous texts. See, for example, Arthur L. Kelly: “Italian Tax Mores”, in Thomas Donaldson and Al Gini: Case Studies in Business Ethics, Englewood Cliffs. NJ (Prentice Hall) 1993. pp 67–59.Google Scholar
- 5.James Rachels: “Can Ethics Provide Answers”, The Hastings Center Report, 10, No. 3 (June 1980), pp. 33–39; a more recent presentation of this argument can be found in James Rachels: The Elements of Moral Philosophy, New York (Random House) 1986.Google Scholar
- 6.Norman E. Bowie: “Business Ethics and Cultural Relativism”, Essentials of Business Ethics, ed. by P. Madsen and J. Shafritz, New York (Penguin Books) 1990, pp. 366–382.Google Scholar
- 7.See Luigi Barzini The Italians, New York (Grosset & Dunlap) 1964. See also Felix Kessler: “Bribery of Politicos is Routine in Italian Business”, The Wall Street Journal, (4 April 1976), section 4, p. 1. Italy is said to have a “high context culture” in Edward T. Hall: Beyond Culture, Garden City, NY (Anchor Books) 1977. Hall defines a high context culture as one in which in interpersonal exchanges much information is implicit rather than explicitly stated, in which verbal agreements are preferred over written contracts, in which personal interactions and loyalties are valued over impersonal ones, and in which great distinctions are made between insiders and outsiders.Google Scholar