Does international business lead to ethical relativism?

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Not necessarily, no, but to a considerable extent, it does. Businesses, especially large-scale multinationals, have to adapt themselves to the cultural norms of the countries in which they operate. Many of these countries, especially those in the developing world, will have radically different cultural and ethical values to those of the West, where most large international businesses are based. And in order to operate successfully in these countries, international businesses will need to tread carefully so as not to offend against indigenous sensibilities.

In practice, then, what we often see is a huge divergence between the corporate values of a company in, say, the United States, and those on display in its offices abroad. For instance, whereas a large company with its headquarters in America may proudly tout its credentials at home as an LGBTQ-friendly employer, it will not be quite so vocal in other parts of the world where it operates. It is just such practices that have led to the charge of ethical relativism against some international businesses.

In many countries of the developing world, homosexuality is not just considered immoral, but is actually a criminal offense, in some cases even punishable by death. In such cases the question then arises as to how the line should be drawn between international businesses staying true to their core values and respecting the cultural and ethical sensibilities of the countries in which they do business. Ethical relativism is one way of dealing with this dilemma, though it is a highly controversial and somewhat unsatisfactory means of doing so.

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