Microsoft’s operations are spread across the world. In the context of its operations in developing countries, the issues of national sovereignty and commercial opportunity are intertwined. In other words, large Internet portals such as MSN, Yahoo and Google, by way of exploiting global opportunities provided by the medium of the Internet have submitted to the imperatives of business. While their profits have shot up as a result of the new opportunities for advertisement, their tacit support of citizen censorship (as typified by the case of China) has attracted criticism. As a result of facilitating Chinese government censorship, these dotcom giants have done social injustice to the people of Tibet (Meyer, 2004). Similar instances of thwarting democratic participation can be found in countries such as East Timor, Cambodia and the Indian subcontinent. In essence, enterprises such as MSN, Yahoo and Google don’t seem to care an iota about freedom of speech and democracy in the countries in which they function, as long as their revenues remain impressive. Such profiteering attitude is ethically very shallow and does not project globalization and Multinational Enterprises in good light (Buckley & Ghauri, 2004). It is especially hypocritical that someone who claims for himself the title of ‘Philanthropist’ should show indifference to the suppression of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, as is obviously the case in Tibet and the greater China (Machan & Chesher, 2002).
Hence, it is obvious that to avoid double standards as those mentioned above, a comprehensive legal regulatory framework should be devised. These regulations should be made applicable to activities in the professional and personal lives of Chief Executive Officers such as Bill Gates. Already, certain initiatives are being made toward this end. The UK government’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) website is a good example. The opening page of the website proclaims, “We have an ambitious vision for UK businesses to consider the economic, social and environmental impacts of their activities, wherever they operate in the world” (www.csr.gov.uk). Consistent with its mission statement, the CSR engages in advocacy activities so that business corporations will adopt a sustainable model of growth and development. To help businesses with this transition, the CSR offers policies and institutional frameworks that encourage companies to adhere to the highest ethical standards. The CSR also provides substantial incentives for those companies that accept and adopt newer (and more just) regulations. The framework of CSR is very broad and it includes environmental protection, health and safety and workplace rights, alongside fair means of competition (Crane & Matten, 2007).
Apart from legislative measures, Multinational Enterprises across the world, including Microsoft, are also voluntarily adopting a set Code of Ethics, which reflects its overall approach to business. These sets of self-imposed rules originate from the aforementioned corporate social responsibility initiatives of business corporations. It also defines the values and standards by which the company conducts its business. It provides all stakeholders with a clear understanding of the procedures and processes at various levels of the organization. In other words it acts as the road map or set of guidelines to help the firm in acting and conducting itself in a socially and commercially acceptable manner. A well designed code of ethics will help highlight the resources available to achieve various goals set at the personal and corporate levels. A good code of ethics document will inspire confidence in all business associates – like suppliers, clients, employees and competitors. More importantly, it will also win the trust of the general public. (Shiner, p.10)
There is also a strong case for companies such as Microsoft to constructively liaise with regulators in the drafting of the Code of Ethics document. It is understood that a regulatory atmosphere conducive to fair and competitive business can help raise ethical standards of all businesses involved. For example, far too often, when some “potentially illegal or unethical business conduct” does not affect an individual directly, then it is likely to go unreported and unaddressed (Shiner, p.10). Keeping this in mind, the drafters of the code of ethics can include strict policies so that associates and employees can freely report their concerns about suspected breaches in the ethical code without fear of negative consequences. By making it a violation of employment agreement to not report such breaches and violations, the firm gives a clear message to its employees as to how important business standards are. Those who violate the company’s ethical standards, irrespective of designation or tenure, may be subject to legal disciplinary action that can lead to termination of employment (for employees) and contract annulment (for other associates) (Shearer, p.551).