Chinese Business Ethics Conference Focuses on Consumer Rights
"Consumer Rights and Corporate Responsibility" was
the theme of the annual conference of the Center for International
Business Ethics (CIBE) in Beijing, China, a partner organization
of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. The conference was
held Oct. 26 -27 in Beijing Sun City, and attended by scholars
from around the world.
Stephan Rothlin, CIBE Secretary General, noted, "From
the latest recall of potentially harmful toys by Mattel, to
poisonous pet food and harmful toothpaste, it is clear that
the issue of product safety in China can no longer be ignored."
Rothlin found "disturbing common trends" between these
scandals: an obsession with price cutting measures and the pursuit
of profits at any cost."
Markkula Ethics Center Executive Director Kirk O. Hanson serves
as CIBE's honorary chair and gave the closing remarks at the
conference. In his talk, he summarized the seven main questions
conference participants had debated:
- What are consumer's rights in China? Speakers chronicled
the growth of consumer rights globally and in China, including
newly passed laws requiring safer and more environmentally
- What are the mechanisms by which these are achieved? Speakers
described a variety of such mechanisms including government
action, enlightened self-interest on the part of corporations,
"fair trade" pressures from abroad, and social investment
- What is the ethical obligation of government to help secure
consumer rights? Product safety and environmental laws including
effective enforcement and sanctions were discussed.
- What is the ethical obligation of the individual consumer
to achieve these rights? Here, conference participants urged
consumers not to purchase illegally manufactured products,
but rather to actively look for "green" or "socially
conscious products." They also counseled consumers to
complain to the companies if they received faulty products
and to encourage government to tighten consumer laws.
- What is the ethical obligation of corporations in securing
these rights? Corporations, the participants said, must obey
the law, not only the letter but also the spirit. They should
not be looking for loopholes, but rather should support effective
enforcement. They should also be aware of the role that conflicts
of interest play in creating temptations to ignore consumer
safety and should look for ways to create incentives for their
- Where will China's values and ethics be grounded in the
next generation? Because values undergird consumer rights,
China must focus on elements of its traditional values that
will sustain consumer protection.
- How will China's understanding of consumer rights be integrated
with global concepts of consumer rights? Among the topics
debated was whether demands from abroad for higher quality
products and for more environmentally friendly manufacturing
are just protectionism or are genuinely motivated.