Google, human rights, and moral compromise

Journal of Business Ethics 85 (4):453 - 478 (2009)
International business faces a host of difficult moral conflicts. It is tempting to think that these conflicts can be morally resolved if we gained full knowledge of the situations, were rational enough, and were sufficiently objective. This paper explores the view that there are situations in which people in business must confront the possibility that they must compromise some of their important principles or values in order to protect other ones. One particularly interesting case that captures this kind of situation is that of Google and its operations in China. In this paper, I examine the situation Google faces as part of the larger issue of moral compromise and integrity in business. Though I look at Google, this paper is just as much about the underlying or background views Google faces that are at work in business ethics. In the process, I argue the following: First, the framework Google has used to respond to criticisms of its actions does not successfully or obviously address the important ethical issues it faces. Second, an alternative ethical account can be presented that better addresses these ethical and human rights questions. However, this different framework brings the issue of moral compromise to the fore. This is an approach filled with dangers, particularly since it is widely held that one ought never to compromise one’s moral principles. Nevertheless, I wish to propose that there may be a place for moral compromise in business under certain conditions, which I attempt to specify.
Keywords censorship  China  Google  human rights  moral compromise
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