Eruptions and best practice
Sudden eruptions seem to be the order of the day. First the Icelandic volcano with the unpronouncable name and then the sudden eruption of a corruption scandal in the world of Indian Cricket with accusations flying around the flambuoyant Lalit Modi, chairman of the Indian Premier League (IPL). At first glance, that may not seem closely related to the world of outsourcing but the problem is that a whiff of corruption can taint more than just one room in the house. It points to a different matter which is that, western economies and societies, from which the lion's share of outsourcing work has historically emanated, are applying ever stricter rules of conduct to their established business sectors. These come at the end of a long evolutionary process as to the ways in which business should be conducted. Also, the rules have been framed in the context of societies which are relatively wealthy, relatively equal, offer relative security to their people and feel
confident that the rule of law will discourage and punish bad behaviour. Some of the economies to which work is being outsourced do not share these conditions and individuals may still be influenced by a sense that one would be best looking after oneself and one's family.
Put simply, what to one eye seems a bribe might to another eye be little more than a grand version of the tip that we give to a waiter who has been very helpful and considerate of our needs. What might be dubbed nepotism in one context might, in a society with less mechanisms to demonstrate and endorse merit (i.e. trustworthy independent qualifications), be seen as little more than the common sense of working with people who you can trust because you know them.
This indulgent take on business ethics might have passed (it would never have been acceptable) in a world where economies, although trading goods, were largely isolated from each other culturally. But that is not the world of globalism and we cannot afford to be tolerant of any poor business practices, even in cricket, because, people draw conclusions which might well unfairly colour their view of, in this case, India as a business society. Also, because the businesses in whose name work is carried out are the product of highly regulated and prescriptive business environments, theirs are the standards that must apply, to which global business must default. The fact is that the whole of a process will only be judged as clean as its least clean component which could make potential customers for outsourced services think twice when corruption rears its head anywhere that can be associated with an outsourcing destination and it would be in nobody's interest for fears about cricket ethics to throw sand in the machinery of global business.
Corrupt business practices do, of themselves, hinder progress and business communities in countries such as India are well aware of that. So, an important element in globalisation must be to share not only the mechanisms with which to enforce clean business practice but also the cultural machinery with which to create a platform on which sound business practice is the logical and clearly preferable way to work. For individual companies contemplating outsourcing processes, supply chain management must be as much about spreading, by example, ethically sound business practices as about simply counting the pennies. Outsource service providers must be able to understand not only what results are expected of them but also the context in which and the standards against which those results and the methods by which they have been obtained will be judged (see 'Stronger Bonds' and 'Whose conscience matters?' in Issue 20 of Outsource magazine). In that way, both sides will gain real and sustainable value from outsourcing.