Ethical Behavior and Cultural Differences – International Businesses


We need to have a clear concept of what it is Ethics and the difference between the actions and processes of international business development that are related with cultural aspects and Ethics.

Colins Dictionary defines Ethics as moral beliefs and rules about right and wrong. An ethic of a particular kind is an idea or moral belief that influences the behavior, attitudes, and philosophy of a group of people. Webster Dictionary defines as a discipline that deals with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation, or as the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group. Larrouse, a French Dictionary, defines as a part of philosophy that focus on the fundamentals of moral, or as the set of moral principles that are the base of conduct of anyone.

What induce more noise in international negotiations are the cultural aspects, which are misunderstood and confused with Ethical differences.

Nowadays, in a totally connected world, it is not possible to have a successful business without being aware of cultural differences.

We have two important aspects to analyze, about the importance of cultural differences.

The first is when analyzing the internal business environment, and the second is when we make the approach to the external environment, local and global, to sale our products or services. It is important to have a multicultural work environment, because it allows the development of different perspectives and richer brainstorms about problem solutions.

People with difference cultural background, usually, have different mental models and different approaches to problem solving, which creates a great potential on the team work and results.

Also, it helps to avoid misunderstandings, when dealing with particular issues, about a product or service that doesn’t satisfy clients’ needs in a specific region or country.

The second aspect is related with doing business globally.

The cultural aspects that need to be highlighted are: the protocol, the religion, the use of colors and their meaning, the corporal language, meal customs and gifts.

There is, also, another perspective about different cultures, which is from Geert Hofstede, and analyses the Cultural Dimensions. They are: Power Distance Index, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance Index and Long Term Orientation. One possible use of his method is exactly in International Businesses. The score of dozens of countries is available on his web site.

Businesses are businesses and ethics are ethics. The grey area that many people try to develop, and use as excuse to failure or to allow or endorse unacceptable ethical behavior or situations, must not exist.

A great sentence from Peter Drucker was, when a reporter asked him what he will teach in a lecture, about Ethics. He answered that it will be the shortest one in the world, we will just say: “If you can’t look yourself in the mirror for something you’re about to do, don’t do it.”

Ethics are about moral, and not to provoke damage to anyone, business, environment, colleague, partner, neighbor, friend, and so on.

A common idea that I read a lot, it is that bribery is expected and usual in some countries. Bribery is wrong in any place of the world. It is difficult to me, to believe that are some people, serious people, that endorse that practice and say that it is natural in some places.

To exist bribery, we need to have at least two actors, the one that “donates” and the receiver, what happened was a long and old process, where the powerful offered advantages, gifts and bribe to have their interests attended quickly, and that process in some world regions become more usual. It is easier to buy the guy than to explain what I want.

In 1999, I read on a local newspaper, or magazine, an absurd, difficult to believe, but it is real and I think that I have until today that article in some place. A diplomat from a developed country said, in an emerging country, and it is written, something like: “who has the money makes the orders”. I think that I do not need to make more comments on how bribery was expanded in some regions.

Another point that I read, it is that each country makes or interprets their business ethical standards. I believe that it is, also, not true. Each country has a level of “corruption contamination”, that should be the reference. An observation, corruption is not only a characteristic of poor countries. We find it, also, in developed countries, and frequently.

So, Ethics are one thing, business rules and cultural aspects are another.

Cultural aspects, and how to deal with their particularities, depends on the study and interest of each one that wants to develop international business, and it is needed before making suppositions about it and delegate that responsibility to ethical differences.

To kill, to steal and to harm others are not a moral acceptable behavior in any place in the world. Business rules are made by the human beings, and followed in a moral or immoral way, as their conscience and education says.

By: Mario Luis Tavares Ferreira