Project Management Central

Please login or join to subscribe to this thread

Topics: Ethics, International Development
Messy Business: An Ethics Dilemma

Your small company based in a developed, industrialized nation would like to do business in a developing country, and the most expedient method requires collaboration with a larger, local firm or NGO. It is well-known that this developing country offers no legal protection for intellectual property and the local collaborator is likely to add your company’s intellectual property to their own knowledge and product base without compensating your firm. They consider this activity to be a normal practice.

You are the decision-maker for the small company. The potential situation violates your personal ethical standards, but the issue in question is a business matter. You recognize that the local organizations are operating according to their cultural, legal and business environment. What do you do? Accommodate to the local environment or pass on the business opportunity? How do you weigh and measure the risk? How much of your decision is financial versus ethics-driven? What factors are you weighing? How do you decide?
Sort By:
It is unethical to do business in this environment.
Some companies would go there and others not. Greed is dominating business and industrial nations are leading. Look at weapons sales and big oil as examples.
If you decide to go there, just be conscious about the consequences, like the impact on your home business, if it turns out that you did not clean and compliant business. Some companies use intermediate to do business in that environment.
Ethics are not an endpoint but a journey. We are improving in some areas, but overall the fight for a better world continues.

PMI Ethical Decision-Making Framework

It may be unethical to do business this way in my country. However, the culture and business practices in the target country does not consider the practice unethical. I would be careful doing business and possibly enter into a long term agreement with the local company to ensure I am paid. Also, financial controls would be strict. Doing business in a Developing country is an opportunity. Normally growth is better and so I would not lose the returns.
Tejas, agree, if the target country does not consider an unethical practice as unethical, there is a gap.

Probably the target country considers PM practices useful and does not object to these. So we either change ethics but then we will always have a gap somewhere, or we neglect ethics at all.

Or we start the journey to change behaviors and perceptions in the target country. As it probably already has been done for other professions like medical doctors, journalists, social workers. As it is supported by UN, NGOs and human rights activists. Or by leaders like the Pope or Dalai Lama.

Ethical considerations are different in each country but we have to consider the values that allow us to sleep at night.

Thank you Zahara for providing such an interesting and real world ethical dilemma; approached to ethics are definitely shaped by social, cultural, and geographic norms. I am pleased to report that ethics continue to receive increased attention within the project management community. The Project Management Institute just released a survey about ethics that could provide some useful insight into how ethical dilemmas are addressed worldwide. As the Chair of PMI's Ethics Member Advisory Group, I can see how much benefit can come from this level of understanding. Completing the survey takes about 15 minute; here is a link:

Zahara, an interesting dilemma, indeed!

When I look to the Project Management Institute's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, I am immediately drawn to the following statement: "As practitioners and representatives of our profession, we do not condone or assist others in engaging in illegal behaviour." Granted, while the local custom of absconding with others' intellectual property may not be illegal in the developing country, we have an ethical and professional responsibility to drive better behaviours and not be limited by any vagaries of law ("We make decisions and take actions based on the best interests of society...").

As such, I would strive to ensure that any contractual agreement between the two firms very clearly stipulate ownership of the IP and mechanisms by which disputes will be resolved. Binding arbitration might be an option, for example, in the developing country even if legal support of IP rights is not.

Merely my thoughts and I am looking forward to continuing to read the insights of others. Cheers again, Zahara, for such a thought-provoking question.

Its a typical balance to be set between the revenue and Org values. I normally would like to forego the business if it is conflicting the value and ethics

I agree with Tony's our responsibility to teach and further good ethics, deeds, behaviour and the only way to do it sometimes is to model it as lack of ethics doesn't necessarily mean they can't learn! Explaining those boundaries falls to those who understand the difference and another important note is to not judge those who don't understand the difference due to their culture. Thanks Zahara!'

It is not an ethical or unethical decision. Is a business decision. You can find a lot of examples in hugh developed and industrialized countries where this happend (I think that lot of us are using the products (smart phones, computer software) that belongs to those companies right now). The key here is to believe each other. But if somebody is agains your organization code of ethic or the country laws then you have the answer.

Please login or join to reply

Content ID:

"Why is it that people rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the people involved."

- Mark Twain