“No commerce, no evil” is no more: how China’s ethical standards affect your business

There was a Chinese saying: “no commerce, no evil”. Merchants were thought to be unscrupulous, and commerce was historically considered an ignoble industry in China.

This contemptuous attitude towards businessmen no longer exists in current China. Making money is given priority now.

However, problems come up when this priority may be the only consideration for many businessmen in China. Media reports that forced laborers are widespread in Shanxi province, and many of the victims are children. One brand of toothpaste from China contains diethylene glycol that can poison people. Gluten sourced from China was tainted with melamine that killed dozens of cats and dogs in the US.

Many businessmen in China are not well-educated. They are motivated by a single clear goal — making money. They have no idea how their products and business behavior would influence the health and well-being of other people. Many of them are not conscious about business ethics and social responsibility.

In China, due to the overall education level, the general public has limited knowledge about certain products, such as tools that may use harmful chemicals or foods that contain unhealthy ingredients. Many detrimental effects of the products are cumulative and not immediately seen. So monitoring from the public sector to the business sector is not so strong.

The supervision from the government to businesses is also weak. The government officials are not so fervent about the interest of general public. They care about meeting the economic development benchmarks set by their superiors. Those bosses — scrupulous or not — will help them attain the goal. Bosses and local officials are on the same boat. It is very unlikely local officials will trouble the bosses.

The law in China is also under development, which means that many areas of business are not regulated. When the law is underdeveloped, unscrupulous businessmen usually can take advantage of the weaknesses in laws. Even when the law is well-developed, such as in the USA, there are still examples of corporate fraud like Enron.

A better solution is to voluntarily adopt and practice business ethics and moral standards.

When doing business in China, you should assume social responsibility and adopt moral standards, especially when dealing business with Chinese counterparts. Sometimes it may be the only strong oversight available.

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