Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When RenRen does it ...

My friend's RenRen account was shut down for some unknown offense.

She then posted her reaction on Facebook. One of her comments:
At times, I get the feeling that "也有海外背景" 的人更怕政府,because they don't want to get kicked out of the country or hindered from doing business. They love their profits too much, so they bend over backwards to please the government.

Sometimes these people exhibit scruples; sometimes they just don't. But unlike local firms, the outside firms really *should* have them because their leaders were born in an outside context.

For Chinese entrepreneurs, at least they have the excuse that they grew up in (Mainland) Chinese society, which for the last few decades has had a much more fluid idea of ethical behavior, in no small part because of political campaigns to "smash" tradition. They are more used to compromising their values, because the ethical foundation of society is arguably not so solid, and moral education doesn't play much of a role in people's lives any more. (Compared to, say, a century ago, or to other contemporary Sinic societies in the world, where values and morality are still a very important part of people's lives.)

Moreover, this compromise happens on a daily basis. For example, see this piece in The New York Times: "Rampant Fraud Threat to China’s Brisk Ascent".

(However, just because this is the case doesn't mean we shouldn't work for change in this regard. In fact, many people hope for ethics to take root more deeply in China.)

But as for outsiders ... how ironic. Those who enjoy freedom at home, once faced with an uncertain business landscape, often comply more zealously than the government would want. Because they are not a domestic firm, they overcompensate and please the government.

Only once in a while do you have a Google take a stand, but perhaps that's because the founders are unusually principled, in addition to having business savvy. It's a little sad. Just because you're leading a corporation doesn't mean you get to divorce all ethical considerations from decision-making. I know you're driven by profits, but you and your employees are also still human beings. 至少应该有最底线 ... ... the problem is when such a limit doesn't exist, or if it keeps shifting in response to real -- or anticipated! -- government requests.

In America, we believe corporations are engines for bettering society and human life, too -- not just tools for making money, as important as that function is. Whatever your fiduciary responsibilities, you also have an ethical responsibility to your employees, your shareholders, your company's founders and to your clients.

Corporations are business *organizations* -- another way human beings have found to organize, "get together" and serve a social function. As heavy-handed as corporate America is, people don't stop being human beings when they join a company. I suppose it's the best companies that help their employees and their customers fulfill their human potential, as opposed to just make money. Those who can only do the latter are simply machines. (And sure, there may be incentives to act in such a cut-throat way ... which is why we have things like laws, government regulations, and voluntary policies set by industry groups, etc.) Those who can do both are truly laudable, and become the best companies to work for.

Foreign corporations are good on some counts -- they seem less apt to compromise quality and safety than domestic firms, especially if their goods are bound for export markets. But on issues like this one? They can sometimes be just as bad or worse.

Starting to see why "triple bottom line" isn't just a concept, but something to be implemented on a daily basis.

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