Business Ethics: Pay the Bribe?

Pay the Bribe?Ethical behavior is not a global standard.

In some geographies, paying a bribe is not considered an ethical or moral issue -- it's just the cost of doing business. So should you pay the bribe, too?

Harvard Business School professor Bill George makes the case against so-called situational ethics in his column for BusinessWeek Online, Ethics Must be Global, Not Local.

Aside from the rightness or wrongness of Germany's Siemens paying some $2 billion in bribes, as was revealed recently, such actions do great harm to the institution when uncovered, George points out.

If you were leading such an organization, would you risk permanently damaging your company in order to win a few overseas contracts? Regrettably, for some executives the answer is yes.
George argues companies must establish a consistent code of ethics no matter if they are selling shirts in Singapore or grain in Guyana. And it's up to the CEO and top management to drive the message home, sponsor employee debates on real-world issues, and publicly hold violators accountable and responsible for unethical behavior.

"The bottom line," George says, "is that good ethics is good business. There is a direct correlation between behaving ethically and creating long-term shareholder value."

So I ask you: Have you ever paid a bribe to grease the workings of commerce? Do you regret it? Would you pay if your chief competitor was receiving an advantage by doing so?

(Funny money image by material boy, CC 2.0)