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International crises and differences in cultural perspectives

A glance at a newspaper is enough and you almost always find some organisations involved in some sort of crisis. And indeed there is a plethora of different reasons that will force an organisation to engage in crisis communication and crisis management. But what became clear in recent years is that crises are becoming more and more international. Regardless of Brexit, globalisation has made the world a common market place with customers, suppliers and producers who have entwined business relations. This makes things difficult to begin with, but when a crisis hits your organisation and creates victims that you barely know most organisations find themselves unprepared and overwhelmed.

What makes international crises so difficult for most organisations is a difference in cultural perspectives and an absence or complete disregard for ethical standards. As a firm expands its international presence, its vulnerability to crises may also increase. There is a greater potential for an ethical breach to occur as well. Two clear examples can create severe ethical dilemmas and can cause tremendous reputational damage:

1) The temptation to make illegal cash payments Illegal cash payments is a fancy way of saying bribery. Isn’t it? Well, to us in the Western World it seems that way but in many parts of the world, offering bribes is an accepted way to conduct business. What should you do in a region where there is no legal infrastructure that forces everyone to play by the same rules?

2) The possibility that a foreign contractor is highly unethical The working condition of Apple’s main assembler Foxconn has caused negative press as workers committed suicide as an ultimate protest due to perceived inhumane working conditions. Samsung was fined to pay $85.8 million to 200 people who have worked in their vendor’s chip and display factory and later fell ill.

There are measures that organisations can take to avoid these pitfalls, create an ethical culture and, if needed, be ready to manage a crisis. Enthusiasm for crisis management and training, focusing on the prevention of ethical breaches and abiding by both government regulations and the highest industry standards will be good first steps every organisation should take. A code of ethics should be drafted with organisation-wide principals and behaviour to which every employer is accountable. Short classes and workshops to raise awareness and top-level executives that set examples have been found to be effective measures too. Realistic goal setting that does not encourage cutting corners to attain impossible goals and regular ethical audits can all help to establish an ethical culture at your work place where potential ethical dilemmas such as bribery or dubious foreign suppliers are dealt with accordingly.

By Claude-Patrick Kleineidam


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