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.

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