Holding Firm to Ethics

Human Resource Executive Online | Aug 12, 2009
By: Scott Westcott and Anne Freedman

A recent case in which the Chinese government has accused Australian mining firm Rio Tinto of bribing steel companies has sparked tensions between the two countries and worried companies doing business there.

For human resources professionals working for multinational firms, the case raises questions about how to best prepare and train expatriate executives assigned to work overseas where business rules, customs and ethics often differ dramatically from those in the United States.

“The reality is that most people understand you’re not supposed to bribe foreign dignitaries, no matter what country you’re in,” says Wayne Brockbank , a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and principal of The RBL Group, a global strategic HR firm. “It doesn’t take a lot of air time to get that across.”

Brockbank and other consultants with expertise in “global skills” say companies need to emphasize to their employees early and often that fundamental ethics don’t change, regardless of where the company is doing business.