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How to Navigate the Ethics of International Business

At the core, most countries believe in honest and transparent business practices, but definitions of what that means can change drastically from country to country, and international business ethics take a lot more care to navigate due to these cultural differences. If your team is planning on globalizing, or already has and is running into some unforeseen issues, a deep understanding of the practices surrounding cultural awareness is point number one for anyone who will be involved in international business. 

Training should be frequent and robust in cultural awareness and inclusion, and once a firm understanding that what is taught in America may be different than other places, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong is the ground floor for successfully navigating the ethics of international business. Here are 4 ways to help your team do so. 

Lead by Example

Though not a new concept, it’s doubly important when dealing with a team new to the international business world. Global business leaders not only need to prepare their teams for the differences that will come with international dealings, but they must also present themselves as staples of cultural awareness to ensure everyone follows suit. There will, no doubt, be times when international business leads to “discoveries” about other cultures that may not sit well with your team at first, but as a leader (with business on the brain) it is your job to understand why these cultural differences occurred, and explain to both your team and the potential clients where the differences lie, ultimately allowing for compromise and respect of each other’s cultures. 

As your business continues to grow, it’s doubly important to look for empathy and understanding as qualities in anyone who may become a client-facing leader for your international business team. 

Clear Policies

Just as businesses have codes of conduct and mission statements they try to adhere to whenever making decisions stateside, these businesses should have similar policies for conducting international business. It’s also a great practice to put these international policies online so any potential international business partners can reference them before meeting with your team. Encouraging these potential clients to do the same with you adds a level of respect and understanding before any sort of discussions have even started. 

For the leaders mentioned above, similar internal policies should exist, clearly stating expectations of anyone conducting business with individuals overseas. As the climate of international business changes very often (the U.S. administration change is an example), leadership teams should update and study these policies and their corporate governance very often as well. 

Legal Teams

Speaking of the ever changing climate of international business, one of the most important places to focus when conducting cross-border commerce is on laws in a given locale. Taxes and fees regarding imports and exports are certainly part of this legal focus, but rarely do these bring with them questions of ethics. Labor laws, however, do. It is very important to understand how work will be performed on your company’s behalf before making any sort of business deals, as wages and child labor laws (among other things) could be very different to the point of being viewed as unethical by your team, and ultimately your stateside customers and clients. 

Embrace Differences

Though important in all aspects of international business (and just business, for that matter), embracing differences at an international level can lead to enormous creative breakthroughs, because just as different cultures mean different ethical values, they also mean different ways of thinking. One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it relates to commerce, is that many companies that were forced to change to a remote work environment have found that this is a great way to save money, offer benefits to employees, and increase the employee pool overseas. 

Having a firm grasp and genuine display of cultural awareness when dealing with clients is well and good, but having a true company culture that reflects it makes your company a sterling location for prime international talent, especially if they are able to stay at home in their chosen locale. Virtual leadership should reflect the same focuses as face-to-face leadership, and many studies have proven that a diverse and inclusive workspace is a successful one. 

Do it All Again

International business means even more unforeseeable changes revolving around day-to-day practices, and especially if international business is only a small part of your overall reach, it’s very important to have a team in place to constantly stay abreast of any administrative changes that could lead to legality changes within the countries you conduct your business. 

Every team that touches things involving international business within your company should have at least one chosen person to keep an eye on these laws and administrative changes to ensure all of these steps and policies can be updated accordingly and passed on to all personnel involved in global dealings. 

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