01 July 2005

As long as I'm business-bashing


David McHardy Reid, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology writes that
Readers shouldn't be surprised by Microsoft's recent agreement to ban words such as "democracy" and "freedom" from use by bloggers on its China Web portal.

It is not the role of major corporations to police the behavior of other cultures. Companies of all hues regularly adjust their positions to meet the acceptable standards of the countries in which they operate.
USA Today notes that "Microsoft, Google and Yahoo declined to provide an opposing view". Let me help them out.

It is the role of major corporations to police their own behavior, and that of those they work with. By Mr Reid's logic, no corporation should balk at, say, buying organs harvested from unwilling victims, or sourcing items from slavers, so long as that behavior is acceptable in the countries where the killing and slavery occurs.

One answer to that is that the corporation is, by buying products made in unsavory ways, supporting such behavior, and as such, is morally partly liable for the bad acts. "Do no evil" is Google's motto, and should be every company's.

Another answer is that being a bad corporate citizen can lead to decreased shareholder value. Ask Union Carbide how their operations in India are going. Or Nestle how the "baby-killers" label affected their bottom line.

For me, living in a culture foreign to me, it comes down to this: a corporation should adjust its activities and policies to match local custom, so long as those adjsuted activities and policies do not violate basic human rights. So I think it's OK if workers in a garment factory here in Cambodia are paid less than similar workers in the US, so long as the salaries are adequate by local standards, the workplaces are safe, and the workers are treated with respect. The lower salaries are the major reason why the factory is here.

But freedom of speech is a basic human right. Microsoft should never have agreed to censor bloggers on its website.