When in Rome…

The Colosseum-(matthewleesdixon)

Building on last week’s topic, the question of “who’s ethical standards” do we apply when we look at the global community.  Is it the ethics of the host nation?  Or the ethics of the individual company working in the host nation?  Or is the ethics of the individual’s within the company?  Or is it the ethics of the individual that is observing the behavior?  Because we use ethics to make judgements, both on prior behavior and on possible future actions, deciding on what viewpoint we use is extremely important.  So when in Rome…who’s ethics matter?

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31 responses to “When in Rome…”

  1. Andy Haussler says :

    As with all questions, it depends. It depends on the issue being considered. For me there are some things a company needs to hold as overall ethical policies no matter where they are on the globe. These include:

    Respect for human dignity and basic rights
    Respect for local traditions
    Respect for institutional context
    (Peng, 2010, Pg. 110)

    These overarching principles will provide guidance when determining what is ethical in a given country. For instance, the “respect for institutional context or tradition” principles would allow flexibility to operate effectively but requires the firm to ask what is ethical, such as the ability to accept gifts. The “respect for human dignity and basic rights” would require the firm ensure they are making decisions that support human rights.

    I would require each operation to assess the environment they are operating in. Then adopting specific policies in order to achieve the ethical principles detailed above in each country. For instance, not accepting a small gift in one country may be a fatal blow in one country and not another. Managers in each country must weigh in, be held accountable and provide guidance to employees as necessary. This will ensure the company has a high level of ethics while being able to effectively conduct business in any given country.

    Peng, Mike (2010). Global Strategy – Third Edition. Cengage Learning: Mason, OH.

  2. Omar Ruiz says :

    In my opinion applying ethics and deciding on what perspective to follow is a lot like interpreting law. It really depends on the specific situation, context, time of day etc. In efforts to stay focused on answering the question posted above I believe that as an international organization you must first ensure that your own house is in order. That is having a clear vision of what your organizational core values are, or some sort of ethical compass to serve as a baseline. These values, expectation and ethics are usually a direct reflection of the society and culture of the firm’s home country. So how is this applied in another country? First off a thorough understanding of the customs, culture, and societal protocols are essential to formulating an ethics model. So who’s ethics are the right ones? I believe it’s a mixture of the international firm and the host nation. Ultimately decisions will be made at the individual level that can range from trivial to strategic, and chances are that all involved will not judge the decision the same.

    • Geary Johnson says :

      Omar, I am in agreement with ensure that as an organization, you must ensure you have your standards and rules in order and consistent prior to being able to make decisions outside of the organization home base. While you may have a clear vision, it is still important to understand that decisions made today may be different tomorrow.

  3. Eddie Mendez says :

    I feel ethics should be when in Rome. If someone comes into the United States I do not want them to fallow their country’s rules or the corporation rules. United States has of the highest restrictions and people who do business here should be held to our standards. If they cannot meet our standards they should not be allowed to do business here. On the other hand when a United States goes to another country I feel we should obey their rules but we should apply our laws to when their laws do not meet our standards. We should not violate any of their laws to uphold ours. We should use our labor standards for example. Maybe not pay them as much but make sure they have safer work areas.

    • Andy Haussler says :

      I agree that companies that come to the united states to conduct need to comply with our rules and standards. Requiring a U.S. company to comply with all U.S. laws no matter where they are operating may severely hamper U.S. companies ability to make a profit globally. This would cause an additional ethical dilemma to be considered, what about the shareholders, employees, and customers of the company? If a U.S. company had a product that would save lives or improve quality of life globally but couldn’t make a profit because U.S. wage laws (federal minimum wage) would need to be applied, is that ok?

    • Sheng Her says :

      Eddie, I agree with you on that. I think that if the United States goes into another country, we should obey their rules. But we should hold onto our laws and regulations that we put onto ourselves as we do in the US. I don’t think we should go there and try to challenge their laws and rules. However, speaking of labor standards, we know that ours are better than most countries in the world. But what do you think about our companies decisions to open these “sweatshops” in parts of the world so our companies can make more profit? I feel like this topic about labor standards can be very debatable in terms of our company following our laws and regulations in comparison to those laws and regulations of the countries in which the sweatshops are located in.

  4. Geary Johnson says :

    Ethical standards when in Rome still encompass me as a person, as my ethical understanding and up bringing will still come in to play in the decisions that I make. With understanding that companies have policies that need to be followed, these policies are more a guideline than a hard set rule. So when in Rome, I would say that I would do my best in all situations to do the right thing as I was raised and as I was taught.

    The goal of ethics is to use each situation in case by case basis as ethics will continue to evolve in this ever expanding and progressive environment. Local laws can also affect the ethical climate depending on the level of development the country has achieved. However in the basic rule of ethics, the goal is to do the right thing by the behavior and beliefs of a societal and ethical norms.

  5. Kristen Gardner says :

    Say for example a US manufacturing company decides to open up shop in China. I think that the US company has an ethical obligation to follow the same rules and regulations required of them if they continued to operate in the United States and that they shouldn’t be allowed to operate with China’s low standards. Just because you decide to operate in a foreign country, should not justify acting unethically. I think countries and people alike have a responsibility to operate by the higher ethical standards. What I mean by this is if a Chinese firm decided to move operations to a country such as New Zealand, they should have to follow New Zealand’s ethical standards because they are higher than their own. Companies should not be allowed to act unethically just because it is acceptable wherever they are operating, especially if they know they would never get away with it back at home.

    Growing up my mom always taught me to take the high road and never sink down to someone else’s level just because their parents taught them it was ok—I was raised better than that and she expected me act that way in all situations regardless of where I was or who was with me. The same should be true for businesses. We should not justify a company’s bad behavior because the host country allows it. We as consumers continually turn a blind eye to the problem simply because it is ‘allowed’ in the foreign country and only take an issue with it once something serious happens and that country is thrust into the spot like, such as the tragedy in Bangladesh when the garment ‘sweatshop’ collapsed a few months back. We only care once the issue has been sensationalized in the news. Until then it might cross our minds, but is not important enough for us to act on.

    So when in Rome it should not be acceptable to do what the Romans do, unless their standards are higher than your own.

  6. ezs12 says :

    I feel that when doing business in other countries there should be a sense of formality that should be consider before doing business. What I mean by sense of formality is that we need to know how the country is when dealing with other countries related to business. This will allow us to know if they follow rules and if they do not and then why would we consider doing business with a country that do not follow any rules and is unethical? I feel that kowing how a country deals with business will be the ideal thing to do before doing business and the sense of comfort will be at ease because it will not come back to hunt you. This is also the same when a country inquire us for business they also need to do their homework prior because they also will need to know if we are a good for their business. This post reminds me of China because they are special in a sense of business is concerned because when I went to China last year I was hearing that they want business from other countries and anybody can go to plan on doing business out there so in other words they were not to concern if it was ethical or not as long as they are benefiting from the profits. That is strange but sometimes money talks instead of following any rules when it comes to business.

    • Eddie Mendez says :

      Many companies do business with China and have done their homework. Many companies know there is cheap labor in China and that’s why they are there. We all know what comes with cheap labor. Poor labor practices. These poor practices are okay by Chinese standards. So does this mean if we are following their laws we are being ethical? By their standards U.S. companies are being ethical but by our standards they are not. You are right soon as the consumer finds out what kind of practice are going on in China they will be upset. The consumer will demand a change. The change could be bad for China and they could lose a lot of jobs, if there is no solution that is cheap.

  7. Felicia Taylor says :

    The debate is how can leaders of business organizations operate with one set of principles in their homeland and another overseas? To build a truly great, global business, business leaders need to adopt a global standard of ethical practices. The best way for multinational businesses to establish a great global company is to strongly communicate and strictly enforced ethical business standards. Multinational corporations should not apply “situation ethics” in developing countries this could potentially destroy the organization reputation. Multinationals should not adapt to unethical predicaments, like bribery, making payments to obtain business. Multinational corporations risk permanently damaging their company in order to gain a competitive advantage in a global market. To sustain their success, companies must follow the same standards of business conducted in United States as in developing market such as Africa or the Middle East. Good ethics equates to good business and the end result is creating transparency, integrity, and longevity in a global industry.

  8. Amir Aslani says :

    When in Rome, indeed do as the Roman do. I truly believe that for most of firms operating globally, the ethics for each region-to-region does change accordingly but the fundamental business core remains the same.
    And with the clear understanding of the region cultural and ethical issues now guidelines for ethics in the global community can be developed. These ethical issues should be looked at are based on the individual, local area and the global issues.

    • Tracy Neufeld says :

      The U.S. needs to use higher ethical standards than “Rome.” Internationally, the U.S. does not carry a good reputation with regards to politics and finance. Domestically, our government is in shambles and the majority of Americans do not approve of the work they are doing. We cannot look to the government to be an example of good behavior. When discussing ethics in business, human rights and the environment should be considered as part of an entry strategy to a new country.

    • LDermon says :

      Amir, I think our international experience allows us to see the issue in a different light than many people. I m sure if I would ve stayed in France all my life, I would have a more idealistic view. But people that had to integrate a new culture understand that at the end, we should adapt to the new host country (while keeping some of our ethical values of course). In life like in business, to integrate a place, we have to follow their ways.

  9. Sheng Her says :

    When we look at the global community, I think it’s safe to argue that our ethical standards should be the ones we apply across. Regardless of the host nation or anything else, we should practice our standards and principles unless we’re in a nation whose standards and principles are higher than ours. I believe that the answers to all these questions remain the same. Our ethical standards that we practices amongst ourselves and in our business relations, we should practice it anywhere that we are.

    We can all agree that the ethical standards in some countries are lower than ours. I can see why some companies would become victims of unethical practices and uses these same unethical practices in these countries. It can be challenging for companies to try to continue their ethical standards in a country with low levels of ethics. In some cases, I think it’s easier for some of our companies in another nation to do as the host nation does. If others from countries with lower ethical standards come into our country, we would want them to comply with our level of ethical standards. I’m sure they are expecting the same from us too.

    The most important factor in this discussion is our values and standards and how they play in our decision making. We should use our values and standards when making decisions on a global scale. Like I stated, it should be so easy to lower our ethical standards in a different country to meet their level and do as they do. The only challenge to that is are we going to be able to be okay with our decisions we made. Sometimes companies and individuals are okay with lowering their ethical standards to build relations globally.

  10. Tracy Neufeld says :

    I feel pretty strongly about my answer as it immediately came to the front of my mind.

    The highest values or ethics, regardless of the country, should stand. And I think the individuals within each company should abide by the highest ethical value.

    This means that if the U.S. is doing business with Somalia, U.S. ethics should apply. If the U.S. is doing business with Finland or New Zealand, their ethics should apply. (Based on Corruption Perceptions Index 2012.) When it comes to vague or grey areas, an analysis like Kline indicates what should be done: Who should do what, when. The time factor should be considered first as that has the most potential for magnification of results.

    The only reason I can figure out for not abiding by the highest ethical standards in this question is the desire for power and wealth. However, other values are higher that should take first precedent: peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

  11. Jez Balsa says :

    If you hope to conduct business successfully in a foreign land, then the ethics of the host nation is what applies. Ethics is like local customs and traditions. For example, when in Japan you would bow as opposed to shaking hands. Not conforming to the ethics of the host nation is like taking Hindu customers to a steak house.

    Although, there will be times when your personal ethics will be tested. Choices will need to be made. The best example of this is with bribery. And in this instance, the answer is it depends. There’s no absolute right or wrong answer. One answer could mean losing the deal while the other answer could put a hole in your soul. Ultimately, a good rule of thumb is to always observe and acclimate to your business surroundings. When in Rome, do as the Romans do (so long as it’s not illegal)….if you hope to get their money.

  12. caleb says :

    As a general principle, the host nation should have sovereignty, even if that means I disagree with its laws. Just as we do not want the United Nations dictating what we can and can’t do, reciprocally, we can’t dictate what other countries do. But to address your specific questions – which ethical standard do we apply when in Rome?

    Consider the ramifications of using “Rome’s” standards as the compass for one’s ethics. If I offshore my production into a factory in the Philippines, does this mean it’s okay for me to use child labor? When in Rome, do as the Romans, right? If environmental laws are lax in China, then why not dump chemicals in the rivers? It’s easy to see that using a sliding scale on an ethical compass is a surefire way to justify any act, no matter how treacherous.

    This goes back to the point that just because something is legal or permissible does not make it ethical. There is a simple test to determine which standard to apply when in Rome. Check your own conscience and ethical compass…then check Rome’s standards. Whichever is higher is the one to apply.

    • JJ Rea says :

      Caleb I agree with your ethical compass test. The higher of the two should be applied. I have one problem with this though. If you are a person that would follow the higher of the two standards, then you would be considered an ethical person and your ethical compass should already be set at the higher of the two. If your compass is not set at that height, then i believe that you may just rationalize your way out of agreeing with Rome’s standards. I believe that ethics are defined by the individual and should be carried with them, except for the case of when someone has no ethics. This particular instance of ethics would be based on those that are viewing the individual. Ethics is completely situational. There is no way to determine. I do not believe we can measure ethics. We cannot just say lets go with whichever is higher because what if they are both low? What if both options are unethical? Does just choosing the higher of the two make it more ethical?

  13. Indira Vilchez says :

    Every individual company working in a host nation has the ability to influence and educate their employees in regards to their work conditions; because of this, I believe it is the company’s responsibility to make sure that every employee is well taken care of and that their rights are respected.

    The company should apply its ethical standards in every country they go into. For example, if the company is from the United States and they know that children are not allowed to work for them in their home country, then kids should not be allowed to work for them in any other country they go into. The company has the capability to decide who works for them, and who doesn’t, as well as in what conditions.

    • Kelly Kirschner says :

      Indira, I like some of the points you make! I agree that companies carry big responsibilities and some of them include the ability to influence and educate their employees— and people, in general.

      The premise that companies need to utilize their ‘home country’ ethics is interesting— and your example regarding the US company not employing children on foreign soil is plausible. But what about foreign companies in the US? What if highly autocratic or abusive work conditions by the ‘Y Company’ whose home country is ‘Y-landia’ are employed at their facility that happens to be located in a poor part of Fresno county? Should the Y Company be allowed to use such abusive, autocratic practices that are considered the norm in Y-landia?

      I think it’s hard to put topics like these in tidy little boxes because like life, rarely is it an all-or-nothing venture. Generally, it’s a little of both.

  14. Kelly Kirschner says :

    In a world where true globalization is occurring and a melding of cultures, attitudes, approaches and learning takes place, it must be a little of all available approaches. Using only one lens would be a bit myopic…short-sighted, —perhaps aloof or even arrogant.

    I also think it’s nearly impossible to only evaluate a situation with only one perspective. How many people have been to Rome only to witness behaviors and actions and left really thinking that based on American standards, what they saw is completely unfathomable or unacceptable? (I use Rome as a convenient reference but this could take place anywhere or in any situation.) Conversely, how can you immerse yourself in a situation (e.g. company) or place (e.g. Rome) and automatically assume the ethics of the host? How could anyone forget their “inner grounding”— whatever that might be?

    You can’t!

    But God gave us intellect and the ability to reason and apply logic, and through this we are able to assess each situation with many lenses in order to capitulate a well-rounded, sometimes complex assessment.

    The human eyes cannot do this but the heart and the brain can.

  15. Jesse Carlos says :

    International companies must proceed with caution when entering a foreign country. It is the responsibility of the company to learn and understand the culture and language upon entering the country. Knowing what set of rules, regulations, and policies they will be confronted will provide insight that may develop into a deciding factor. If a country does not provide a stable political structure its best to wait unless the company is ready to face consistent policy changes.

    Companies should not enter a country with the mentality of changing its foundation and culture. My missionary experience has allowed me to develop an understanding that arrogance will not provide the change needed. Entering a country and exposing flaws in their ways will result in resistance. As a missionary, I could not enter a village in Peru and tell the unbelievers that they were going to hell because they did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Doing so would anger the person and remove any opportunity for dialogue.

    Companies must adapt strategies that will provide change through time. Leading by example will be one of the main forms of communicating the benefits of change. No one likes to be told they are wrong, even Americans. In business, it is important to have open communication to pursue innovation and change.

    • Gabriela Flores says :

      I agree a company should do its homework and learn the culture of the foreign company that its trying to conduct business in. Different cultures have different view points of whats acceptable and what isn’t. Whats wrong or right to that individual culture could be the exact opposite that our views. Adaptation I believe is the best was to integrate into a foreign nation while keeping your core beliefs and if its not maintaining your beliefs are not possible then maybe its not a the correct country to conduct your business in.

  16. Gabriela Flores says :

    I think they all matter. They all matter to each group for its own individual reasons. It can be something that they deeply believe in or simple lack of ethical standard. My personal stance is that we must take into consideration everyone’s ethics and come to an individual consensus of how to deal with the entire situation. Our personal ethics matter because we want to feel right in what we are doing. We need to stay within the law of the host nation and follow their ethical standards because that is law. If that means exceeding our ethical standards then that’s what we need to do but if it’s below our own standards we maintain our higher standards. In terms of the individual company working in the host nation I don’t see myself working for a company who’s ethical standards don’t match my own. If I was placed in a situation when my ethics were compromise because of the company I was working for, I would find it extremely difficult to comply. At the end of the day we need to do our homework of who and where we work or do business with.

  17. sarah says :

    Ethical standards should be like the laws that government any sovereign nation, the lowest standard of ethical behavior. Companies should choose to be more, less or equal to the level in the country they plan to operate in and do business that way. In this case, we are using the host country’s ethics and on a company by company basis determining to be better ethically or not. This means a company will not have to operate at a standard above what is currently the norm, and will only lower its level of ethical behavior if the company decides to risk their reputation. It is the observers of the behavior that ultimately have the impact on changing the standards of ethics, whether through bring public awareness to an issue or by working with a company/government.

  18. Nathan McGuigan says :

    The question of who’s ethics do we bank on when dealing with international business can be a difficult one to answer. However, this is about opinion so I will say that it is correct to abide by the standards of the companies ethics. We have talked a lot about how the law is the lowest form of ethics in society and that we may be called to higher standard if that is what we believe. I would argue to that many times we may be forced to treat employees at a higher standard than we believe in although this is rarely the case. For example if a company believed in paying employees based on productivity standards they would feel justified in paying a more productive employee a better wage, a slightly less productive employee less, and the employee who accomplished nothing, zero. In the U.S. this model is not possible due to the minimum wage laws but companies do uphold to the standards based on the country they do business in.

    Ethical standards have to come from the company in which it originates. To operate at different standards across the globe simply because it is less expensive or easier to do cheapens what the brand actually stands for. Brands that strive to be consistent and reliable in their products and processes will be more successful in the long run I believe.

  19. Juan says :

    The ethical standards that matter would be more of a situational ethical standard, depending on the specific situation. The ethics we live by are above the standard law, so with that as long as the issue in questions is legal the ethical standard will more than likely need to be one of a combination the home country and host country. The host country will have their own set ethical standards, as well as the host country. Neither side will want to give in all the way while the other side gives little bend, so a third sent of ethical standards may need to be developed to compromise on the situation.

    On another side of things when doing business one does enough research to know the country that they are doing business with, along with cultural differences and ethical standards. As a U.S. company going into into another country to business, the U.S. business should be willing to make adjustment to their ethical standards whether it be lowering or raising them to adapt to that country. As to the actual question “When in Rome”, yes adapt as you must as long as it’s not illegal then the ethical standards set should be adapted to.

    • Kristen Gardner says :

      I disagree with you completely. As a US company, they know what is expected of them at home and they know what is ethical and what is not. Going into a foreign country and throwing their ethics and standards out the window because it is ‘acceptable’ is ridiculous. What is even more ridiculous is that we as consumers allow this behavior to continue and say it is OK and continue to support them and make them richer.

  20. JJ Rea says :

    Ethics around the world are different based on where you are located, and so are peoples’ reactions to them. This to me means that no matter what your ethics are you must be careful of how you express them wherever you may go. When traveling abroad, I believe that you must maintain your own set of ethics and act accordingly while being careful not to anger those in another country. I do not feel that our individual actions based on ethics should ever change. We should always uphold our beliefs. The only time that they should be changed is for the greater good.

    While in another country I believe we should be respectful of their culture and have an understanding of how their culture operates. If I know that my beliefs are different than theirs, then I need to be aware that this may cause a disagreement between myself and the locals. Knowing that other countries can be more violent and have different ways of settling disagreements, I believe it is in our best interest to avoid situations that may cause disagreements. I do not believe that my ethics should change where I go. I carry them with me no matter where I go. I believe that my ethics should just be masked slightly to ensure my own safety if my research of the country prior to arrival shows that their may be a risk of ethical conflicts.

  21. LDermon says :

    I thing when you are in another country, you should adapt to their ways if you want to integrate that culture. However, in my opinion, it is impossible to completely give up on your ethical values to adopt new ones. Your values will probably change over time to blend in with the values from the new country.
    I think people have some values that are more important than others to them. Ultimately, those values that we consider very important will stay with us while we will be able to overlook or forget the ones not that important.
    The culture in France is very different from the culture in the United States. It took me a full year to adapt to the American ways. Part of the cultural adaptation is ethical values. Some things that I would see as not a big deal would be seen as very unethical here for example, and vise and versa.
    On a business level, I would say we should also adopt the host country ways. Of course some of our personal ethic values will prevent us to fully adopt their standards, but to integrate a new culture we have to adapt to their ways. We have to understand that people in the host country don’t play by the same rules, therefore our rules are not valid there.

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