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Ethics in Business

It is a ruthless concept but "the ends justify the means" is often the motto of big businesses and global corporations. Indeed many businesses come under speculation for their methods of treating their employees and in the procedures they employ all to provide a service or good with a lower price. Large global corporations such as Nike have been criticized for their placement of factories in third-world countries, employing laborers at lower wages in order to lower the costs of their products for their consumers in developed countries. Many of the people who work at their overseas factories are subject to inhumane conditions, long work hours, unsanitary or high-risk environments or use child labor as well. These types of unethical conditions are overlooked as businesses aim their efforts at providing lower costs to the consumer, regardless of the moral or ethical costs of such actions. Whether or not businesses should be liable for these actions is something that can be argued on both sides. One one hand, business proponents say that "business is business" and that indeed the ends do justify the means. They argue that what they are doing is all in the name of good business and that as long as people are willing to do the work, they are doing nothing wrong. On the other hand many argue that regardless of the industry, ethics should play a role in how people act and in the decisions they make. Whether or not ethics should play a role in the decisions people make in business is something that has come into question in today's morally aware world.

Those who believe that ethics should not play a role in business decisions view ethics as an obstacle to many good business practices. Business thrives on solutions which employ the use of savvy solutions, utilizing cheaper markets when available and providing the best model to increase profits on a specific good or service within a limited model. In globally expanding markets, businessmen view all countries and its citizens as fair game when it comes to business. The fact that an underdeveloped country has cheaper labor is not a concern for the business decision maker–it is not his fault, after all, that the socioeconomic status of a particular economy is the way it is. If he can provide employment to those people while manufacturing his product for a cheaper cost then manufacturing in another country, then there is no reason he ought to not exploit that. Paying those employees a similar rate as he would employees in his country would be equally as ludicrous as limiting his available labor force solely based on ethical dilemmas. Good business is good business and although it may seem unfair to those in developed countries, these types of business practices are what keep the company ahead, affordable for consumers and profitable for shareholders.

In contrast, human rights activists argue that such unethical practices in business should not be allowed. Businesses have a responsibility to society which include practicing business in a way that is comfortable for all the citizens and best represent them as a collective. These opponents state that ethics should be an integral part of all decisions made because they affect humanity worldwide. Sensitivity should be shown to those who are underprivileged and those who live in underprivileged economies should not be taken advantage of in such crude manners. Supporters say that corporations who chose to manufacture overseas and use labor from third world countries should provide these laborers with similar wages, work environments and benefits that they would be required to provide were they to set up their factories at home. Not only would this defeat the purpose of setting up manufacturing overseas and practicing business abroad, but it is unviable from the business point of view not to mention impossible. Paying a laborer from the Philippines a similar wage in American dollar or British pound would make factory workers in the Philippines a job earning the same as well-paid doctors or highly-skilled workers. It is an economic infrastructure that would imbalance the economy of a country like the Philippines. This also assumes that people in developing economies are forced to work for global corporations when in fact they do so from a lack of work from their own economies. Companies from abroad provide jobs for many people who would have no opportunity for work otherwise–if the work environment was so bad and other options were available, people would not work for the corporations. Although ethical issues are at hand in this example, it is clear that practicing "ethical business" just would not make sense for either party and the conflicting interests are such that both can not be applied simultaneously–either good business is being utilized or humane ethics are being applied, but not both.

Within a business, ethics definitely has its place in honest dealings, fair practices, truthful reporting and just decision making. Corporations should be responsible for the social footprints they make and should be committed to making sure that they do not exploit people unnecessarily. However, in their dealings with economies that are substantially different from their own, ethics should not play as large a role as that of savvy business practices that ensure security for the company and profits for the economy they are a part of. This is not to say that global corporations should not be held accountable whatsoever for their actions in developing countries, but so long as a corporation can find people to work for them abroad, it should be allowed. Companies can not coerce peoples to do their work and so long as they can find cheap labor, they should be allowed to use it to their advantage. When the governments of the economically disadvantaged countries agree that their citizens are being treated unfairly and demand higher wages and better work environments, then businesses will need to comply just as they do in developed countries.