Blogs & Comment

Business ethics around the globe: Zimbabwe and Russia

On the role ethics plays in developing economies.

Think ethics don’t matter? If you’re flying in one of these Russian Sukhoi Superjets, it matters. (Photo: Pierre Verdy/Getty)

If you have an interest in business ethics, it’s worth keeping an eye on the international scene for commentary about the role ethics plays in developing economies. Here are a couple of recent examples.

First, by Manson Mnaba, for the Zimbabwean publication NewsDay: “Corporate Zimbabwe should embrace business ethics.” Two things are worth noting. The first has to do with Mnaba’s description of the state of Zimbabwe’s economy:

We are a nation emerging from the woods and doldrums. The past decade was particularly painful, strange and unique in every aspect. Conventional economics failed. Strait-jacket business principles failed to offer corporate direction. … Executives had to think outside the box through creativity and innovation. But creativity and innovation devoid of human conscience is disastrous….

This sounds a lot like how many Americans would describe the U.S. economy. The difference, of course, is that Zimbabwe is actually poor, with a per person GDP that is 1/100th that of the U.S.

Second, what Mnaba also sees clearly—perhaps painfully clearly—is the necessity of ethics in building an economy:

A business landscape where there are no ethics is a gangster’s paradise. Business ethics and corporate governance workshops would help us to sharpen our business intelligence quotient….

Next, to Russia. While not a developing nation like Zimbabwe, Russia’s economy is in transition, still struggling to come to grips with the mechanisms and traditions necessary to sustain a free market after generations of oppressive rule under a command economy.

Andrew E. Kramer”s “At 35,000 Feet, a Russian Image Problem” in the New York Times recounts the trouble that Russian airline manufacturers have faced in trying to build jets for the Western market. Just one stumbling block:

…Russian television station NTV reported that 70 engineers at the plant making the Superjet had obtained fake engineering diplomas by bribing a local technical college; Sukhoi said those employees were not directly involved in assembling the planes….

Unfortunately, this isn’t all that surprising given that Russia scores near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption perception index. As I’ve pointed out before, trust—and hence ethics—is absolutely essential to commerce. And if Russia wants to expand its market, and thereby its economy, it’s going to need to figure out more consistent business ethics.