International Hospitality Ethics: If everyone is playing the game...

A few years ago at an ethics seminar I facilitated for an industry organization chapter, international students from a nearby college were puzzled by how to apply the industry standards set by US-based meetings/hospitality organizations when they moved back home to improve the economies of their countries. They asked to meet with me after the session to discuss what they could do when business was done by bribes and those who didn't operate in that way would lose out. I had no easy answer. How could I tell someone to choose what I believed was the ethical course when it would mean not having any business?

Because I write and conduct ethics seminars frequently, I constantly think about the implications of my actions, our actions, as an industry, the appearance of what we do to others, and how to operate globally.

All of the Convention Industry Council (CIC) organizations are supposed to have ethics codes or standards in order to be a CIC member. Those of us who belong to any of these organizations have, by virtue of joining, regardless of who pays the dues, agreed to abide by those standards. Like the code I helped write as an Ethics Committee member - and later Chair - for ASAE (the American Society of Association Executives), they may be aspirational. That is, they serve as a guideline without repercussions if one violates these standards. Other codes, like those for CMPs (Certified Meeting Professional) are actionable.  

As our industry continues to expand globally, I asked one of the more global CIC members how they were discussing their code with members outside North America where the ways in which doing business might be very different. I did not get a definitive response. Maybe we are still unsure what to suggest.

Reading this article about how Chinese parents use bribes to get their children into elite schools, I was struck by this: “If everyone else is playing the game, how can I refuse?”

If one grows up in a culture of bribing, how will we do business together? Will we choose the ethics of the country in which business is done? The ethics of one of the countries of those doing business and in what way?

It makes me wonder what life will be like for our industry when bribes, in our industry, called “incentives” and “gifts," become the norm.  

What do you do now when working in or with a culture of bribing? In what ways can we guide others in our industry? And what role do our industry organizations have in developing and ensuring business is conducted ethically...and by whose standards?
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