Ethical boundaries in business have become the norm for segments of society we least expected. When we took our first steps onto the Internet few of us could have imagined that privacy would become such a driving force, or that freedom of speech would be pushed to limits that borderline treason. It all comes down to one thing: demonstrating ethical boundaries in business (or trying to redefine them) sets reputations. While the benefits of adhering to some boundaries are clear (maintaining user privacy bestows major kudos), others are still being defined (Wikileaks, paving the way or hurting us?).
Last Wednesday I was asked to write a paper, a Master’s dissertation to be exact. I replied with my usual spiel noting the limitations of my help for academic work. The person called and insisted they needed my full help. They probably thought that if my job were made easier I’d accept and made a suggestion for me to rewrite a published research paper. They even went so far as to suggest their professor had sanctioned such a practice.
I was speechless and turned them down by e-mail. I did offer an alternative solution [link to letter].
Businesses rely on ethical boundaries. For some professions, say a doctor or lawyer, those boundaries are quite clear and have been around for generations: first, do no harm and attorney-client privilege. These not only exist to protect the customer, but also to establish a basis for quality. As a writer, I too am compelled to uphold an ethical standard: avoid plagiarism. I add to that by refusing to facilitate a client’s attempt to breech ethical boundaries in business or within their own line of work, which happens to be academic misconduct for most cases.
The show Breaking Bad does an amazing job illustrating the value of ethical boundaries in business. You have Saul Goodman, the unscrupulous lawyer who even under the threat of death refuses to give up the attorney-client privilege. There’s also Hector Salamanca and Walter White, both in positions to rat out major players in the U.S. and Mexican drug business, refusing to go to the DEA. In all cases, the biggest benefit is shown to be a mode of establishing or maintaining reputation. The scenario in the real world is no different.
On the Internet, user privacy and safeguarding user data are ethical boundaries in business that have motivated Yahoo, Google, and Facebook to pursue clearer and more rigorous standards to balance the information they protect and the information they are willing to sell to their advertisers. What used to be obscure and rarely read portions of their websites have become major reputation-setting elements that these businesses constantly update and refine. Google even ran an ad campaign to help clarify what they do.
Reputation can make or break a business, so ventures would be wise to identify the ethical boundaries in their industry and proactively work to show their customers how they abide by those standards. The added rhetoric can also add valuable (and inexpensive) marketing material.
As for that Master’s dissertation, I never received a response to my e-mail. I like to think that person took the high road and simply decided my help was unnecessary.