are ethics the same internationally?
If you want to be bored at a conference, walk into a session on cultural differences on international teams. God knows why these are uniformly dull as toast, when the reality of working across boundaries is an intellectual minefield.
Take ethics. My friend James Balassone of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University tells me that ethics are the same internationally -- what differs from country to country is culture. So when you're talking about whether you should turn your friend into the police for running over a pedestrian, you know, regardless of what country you live in, what's right and wrong. The difference in how the question is addressed is only your relationship with police, and how they were seen in your country, as you grew up.
I posed this argument to my friend SoonKheng Khor of Malaysia, and he called bullshit. SK says it doesn't matter whether the differences are ethical or cultural -- what matters is how we behave, and that culture is the excuse for a lot of bad behavior. It's said that there is only one reason why you bribe a police officer in Nigeria, and you don't bribe a police officer in Canada. In Nigeria, it costs a lot less to bribe a police officer -- it's affordable. In Canada, it not only would be very expensive to bribe a police officer, as they make a good income, but the costs of getting it wrong would be very high, as there is a high likelihood that you will get in trouble for trying to bribe a police officer. In Nigeria, perhaps you might get into more trouble if you DON'T try to bribe the police officer.
I often wonder what I would do in that situation. I heard today an interview today with Jeffrey Swartz, the President of Timberland, a US shoemaker. He said he has an absolute rule when it comes to the amount of time a worker can work a week. Even in less developed countries, even in their busy season, no worker is allowed to work more than 60 hours. Workers in poor countries complain, because they want to work more, in order to get more overtime. Hopefully, he uses that as an excuse to bump up the pay for those workers.
But it made me wonder. Timberland's 60-hour rule reminded me of this posting from a cook I came across a couple weeks ago. In France, no one can work more than 39 hours. But restaurants require much longer hours of work. So he works 50 hours of work every week, but he is only paid for 39, and only 39 are reported to the government. The difference is "supplemental." How does Swartz certain that in none of Timberland's factories, people are being told they need to work many more hours, but can only report 60? The answer is auditing, and it sounds like they try to do a lot there. While compliance is certainly a challenge, Timberland's declaration and commitment reflects an intent and a culture which can cross boundaries. Now that's progress.