Some neighbourhoods simply are not worth the trouble, and the entire nation of Ecuador may be one of them. Ecuador is a significant producer and exporter of oil (ranked 30th in the world), but it is also a place where effective rule of law is being called into question.
See this story, from Americas Forum: Chevron says rule of law no longer exists in Ecuador
James Craig, Chevron’s spokesman for Latin America, said in a recent statement that Ecuador, in the past seven years, has seen a deterioration in the administration of justice, which in his opinion began with the removal of judges of the Supreme Court in 2004….
Of course, this statement is from a corporate spokesman, so we’ll surely take it with a grain of salt. But those claims are not unsupported. See for instance this report (only slightly dated) on Ecuador from Global Integrity Report: Ecuador, 2008. Ecuador ranked 127th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010.
So, what should Chevron do? The short, harsh answer: get out of Ecuador. Multinational companies all need to acknowledge that there are some places where they simply cannot—should not—do business. For most kinds of companies, that includes war zones. But it also includes places where the kind of background conditions that make a market economy possible, including stable rule of law, do not exist. Naturally, corporate risk managers keep a close eye on such things. The risk that some cowboy government official is going to appropriate your earnings or toss managers into jail on trumped-up charges is not one to take lightly. But there’s also an ethical risk, here. The standard, conservative ethical rule for companies is that they should go about their business without force, fraud, or deception, and within the boundaries of the law. But that rule of thumb only makes sense—even a little bit of sense—where a reliable legal system exists. When the rule of law is in serious doubt, the preconditions for the ethical conduct of business simply do not obtain. Not only do such situations jeopardize the interests of a whole range of stakeholders; they eliminate the crucial fulcrum of ethical corporate decisions.