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How Much Is It Worth?

By Steve Jones,

This editorial was originally published on Nov 21, 2005. It is being re-run today as Steve is on holiday.

How much money is it worth to work with someone that kills and tortures people? Twenty five investment groups are working with Reporters Without Borders and looking to partner with, invest in, and help companies pursue a profit, but not at the cost of dealing with some governments.

Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and many non-tech companies have made investments in and done tremendous business with various governments around the world, often ignoring the social policies and issues of those governments. This is nothing new, however. When I was in college, there were many companies that did business with South Africa, regardless of apartheid, simply to turn a bigger profit.

Profit is not the only goal of a corporation. Or at least it should not be. Being a good citizen of the world should also be something that a corporation deals with. Most companies have theses noble and strong vision statements, but when profits are down or the "number" is threatened in a quarter, the leaders ignore the strong moral and ethical message to gather a few more pennies per share.

It's amazing. Read some of the statements: Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Wal-Mart). They all mention ethical conduct and corporate standards. But they have all done business with suspect governments. Google is especially interesting in their 10 things list: You can make money without doing evil. The description of this seems to be something written at Slashdot by engineers. Not analog citizens in the physical world.

Perhaps the problem is that we don't know what "ethics" are. Maybe everyone's ethics are sufficiently different that we don't agree on what is unethical and when a rule is bent v broken. You can justify almost everything that you do in some way. But that doesn't make it ethical, moral, or the right thing to do.

Maybe the first step is a global definition of ethics to follow.

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Steve Jones