Ethical Dilemma

This week’s news raises an age-old dilemma. What responsibility do company’s have to operate with a moral compass concerning human rights? I remember reading stories of US businesses providing capital that supported Hitler’s war machine and wondering what was the thinking of these leaders? Were they so consumed with profitability that concerns such as human rights were drowned out?

One of the reasons that I produce the radio program Business Matters is that I feel that businesses have a profound impact on our local, regional, national and global cultures. I believe that we lose our footing as human beings if those who help shape our beliefs and values don’t reconcile their actions to their public statements.

It is with this background that I am looking at recent developments regarding internet-based information access in China.

In January of this year, Google announced that it would not longer filter its search engine results, news service, or images to meet the censorship standards of the Chinese government. Google says it took this action because of cyber attacks on its Gmail service that were at least tacitly supported by the Chinese government.

While the Chinese government denied this claim, they have waged a strong war of words on Google. This rhetoric has resulted in chinese companies and companies, who want to curry favor with the Chinese central government, either canceling or not renewing agreements with Google.

On Monday the 22nd of this month, based upon a lack of progress with negotiations with Chinese government officials, Google acted. They began redirecting their China users to their Chinese language search and news service operations in a more tolerant Hong Kong.

What are the consequences of this decision for Google? China is the third largest internet market in the world. Not only is Google’s search engine business in this rapidly growing market at risk, there is the potential of a dramatic decline in advertising with Google in other parts of the world from china based companies. This stand of defiance could also undermine the adoption of Google’s android cell phone platform in the China market and lower or eliminate other business product revenues from china-based internet users.

Wall Streets’ reaction has been filled with remonstration and fear. Analysts are raising the flag on how this action will impact Google’s future earnings and competitors (including Microsoft) are rushing in to take advantage of this situation.

I know that making decisions with this level of impact on the future of a public company are challenging for its leaders. I applaud the Google team for choosing to live by their principles rather than only focusing on what will make the most money. What lies ahead is uncertain. Who knows maybe Google will win the day in the end by showing that integrity matters.

What I know is that I am reminded of the importance of courage and determination. This example provides me with a reminder of how I choose to act even when it’s very uncomfortable.

Author: Thomas White

Over the past thirty-five years, Thomas White has created and led private and public organizations that initiated breakthroughs in areas as diverse as computer software, publishing, printing, market research, leadership development and organizational change. The common ingredients in his success are simple. He looked beyond the limitations that others believed and found real solutions to needs that business leaders have. He attracted the best talent to translate these innovative solutions into practical products and services that were of high value to customers. He created cultures where people love what they do, work at their best and produce extraordinary results. In addition to his role as a business leader, Thomas has been a pioneer and inventor of technologies in the computer-networking field. He is a patent holder for innovations in business process and workflow technology. As part of his passion for educating others about the interface of human and computer systems, he was the co-author of “New Tools for New Times, The Workflow Paradigm”. He has also written articles for numerous publications. In 2001, he turned his attention from leading companies to supporting leadership teams in creating organizations of excellence. After many years of being a part of the machine of change, Thomas recognized that business is the most powerful force in the world. It has a major impact on public policy and governments everywhere. It is a key influence on how we use our resources and sets an example of the values that shape communities from local to global. He formed the consulting firm of Profoundly Simple to be a guide for exemplary leaders - leaders who wisely uses the power they are entrusted with to serve their constituencies first and themselves second; leaders who know that it is good business to treat people with respect, honor the environment and act with impeccable integrity – leaders who inspire greatness in those around them and by doing so create great organizations that are notable examples of success. Feeling the itch to get back into the game again, Thomas joined with two long time friends, to start the C-Suite Network. This network of business leaders offers an online network, events, services, and insights to its 500,000 member community. In addition, the C-Suite Network produces and distributes television and radio content to an audience of over 5M per month

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