I can recall vividly in almost every business course that I studied in college and during my MBA program the subject of ethics coming up. The concept being that there are a certain set of ethical standards that we as business people must follow. Interestingly, even after completing the MBA program, my employers often had long policies surrounding acceptable ethical standards. The issue of “bribes” or “gifts” or “tips” always came up in dealing with ethics and international business. The corporate policy was always clear, that being “we do not provide gifts in return to being awarded contracts.” It seemed though that many American companies were willing to have a policy on the books while turning a blind eye while their employees paid whatever was necessary to process red tape issues or to be awarded contacts.

Luckily I have not been put in this position, greatly because my work experience has been based in the USA. Most of my international projects have taken me outside of the USA only on a virtual basis through managing extended teams across geographies. I must admit though that since I’ve been back in Amman I have thought many times about how I might act in the face of blantant requests for “gifts or tips.” I have always thought that ethics are universal and just because it is generally acceptable to give a bribe in a specific country, it does not make it ethical, moral, or for that matter legal. On the contrary, my general thoughts have been forming around how I can navigate through a potential business minefield while not offending those who I do business with. Again, I have been fortunate that I have not encountered this as of yet, but several of my friends tell stories around these issues.

This brings me back to the question, are ethics universal?