Today global markets are rapidly opening up, as more and more countries are coming to realize that development has to be an essential part of the country’s economy, and for that to happen, local companies have to fight among their foreign counterparts. Thomas Freidman (2006) points this out with what appears to be unerring accuracy, and simultaneously, business ethics have become a hundredfold more relevant today than it was 20-25 years ago. The importance of business ethics is perhaps the second to the environmental safety and eco-preservation concerns.
The United Arab Emirates is a nation comprising of several small nations. Though, the UAE is much more liberal than other Islamic countries. The Emirs and Royal families govern the UAE. The parliament is in the form of a National Consultative Council, which has groups of eight members looking after different portfolios. Our objective of this paper is to get an idea of the business ethics concept prevalent by the means of an interview of a NCC Senior Member.
Merck, the giant German pharmaceutical company, found that in the Middle East corruption is a way of life in developing countries, and it could not do so transparently, being against company principles. Despite its name and brand, Merck found that to carry out business profitability is extremely difficult. It underwrote a center for the forum discussions on business ethics. Merck spent 3.0 million USD and set up the center, with Ethics Resource of Washington, DC also footing some cost.
Merck announced officially that the center would be a sort of forum where intellectual property rights and business ethics could be discussed. Unofficially, it gave itself legitimate brilliant business strategy
Merck’s brilliance was not admired but criticized all over the world. Two of its major partners, Vioxx and Furasan flopped on Merck. Merck sold the ‘intellectual property rights concept’ to the National Consultative Council (NCC) in its new role as a representative of an ethical minded company. Merck’s role became confusing to the UAE members and they started applying pressure on Merck. As of today overall, this situation prevails.
In 2002, Merck called upon the Boston College Centre to carry out a study and the final ignominy was that the DEC concept was described by the BCC as “one of the most impossible business concepts of the century”. The study noted that although only a couple companies had made attempts on the real organizational change, the new receptive mindset was meaningful in a country where the concept has never existed before."
This is the controversy. It is true that Merck did underwrite the DECR which was CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, and not as per the dubious stakeholder’s theory of business ethics, but there was no attempt to culturally align them with the local culture and the end effect was felt in company’s bottom line, to the maximum extent.
Interview of the Hon’ble Member Sultan Bin Ahmed Ghanoum Al Hameli, his Excellency of the UAE’ NCC and Council Group leader for health affairs, work and social affairs. Interview conducted by Mr. Khalid Al Qubaisi. To avoid repetition, the transcript is given in Q (Interviewer) and A (Interviewee)
A: Wale quam Salaam
Q: First of all, let me thank you for spending the time of your hectic schedule to be with us.
A: That is nothing. You know me very well. Have I ever denied information to anyone on what we do within the group? I am always ready to pass on the information to our beloved citizens.
Of course, you will realize that running a great nation like ours involves various kinds of information and news. Not everything can be revealed in the interests of the nation, but whatever can be revealed, we do reveal. We try to be transparent as much as possible.
Q: But who decides what information to give and what not to give?
A: I do, but not alone. I do so as guided by his royal highness as Allah, the almighty, in turn guides him.
Q: Yes, indeed you’re Excellency.
A: Than let us start before the time for namaaj arrives.
Q: Yes, Sir. We have received many letters from our viewers who are concerned about FDI
inflows in the health sector.
A: What is there to be concerned with?
Q: Our industries are dying, Sir.
A: We want everyone in our nation to be happy and in good health. We do not have the necessary knowhow, and if we start now, then by the time we finish our research, the situation will be grave. Till date, FDI in the United Arab Emirates with a population of 4 million in the health sector is 5.7 billion $. This money is coming in and is being used to build up infrastructure in our country. Our people are being employed. Tomorrow we will have the money as well as the expertise. So how is that bad?
Q: Sir, the local industries have closed…
A: (Interrupting). Ah, the local industries. Do you know the amount of money a company spends on its R&D – billions! That money they spend without any guarantee of success. So, once they are successful, do you want them to run at losses? They will not do that. Are they charities? So we pay them for their initial investment. Now, if you spend 200 dinars on a business, you will expect to be favored first, am I not right?
How can our companies have acquired those technologies? They have copied it. The Quran tells us that justice delayed is justice denied. Therefore, we ask our companies to suffer little losses for the greater health of the nation. What is so wrong about that?
Q: But Sir, we do not have to go as per Western patents…
A: No, we do not have to go by their patent system, but if we allow patents to be disregarded, then ultimate chaos will prevail. Can a society run without laws? No. Similar is the case with our nation. We have to respect some laws of our Western and Asian friends.
Q: But Sir, in this way, if we keep going, where will it all end? Our oil and gas reserves are not inexhaustible.
A: It will end the day we have a stable economy. The day we need doesn’t hire expats to look after us. Our youth have understood the situation only now.
Q: So, are you saying that foreign companies should live and our companies should die?
A: All I am saying is that if a person or two has to earn less money for the welfare of others, they should be prepared to do so. Qurbani (Sacrifice) is an honor meant only for those who are with Allah. I just cannot see what this noise is all about.
Q: What about the banning of the drugs of Merck in the US?
A: These things can happen. I think two of Merck drugs have been banned . Everyone can make mistakes.
Q. Fine, your Excellency!
A: Next question.
Q: Sir, is it ethical or not to have a competition? People think that with their ethics story, Merck is guilty of unethical behavior by paying bribes in kind.
A: False. I admit that earlier baksheesh system was there. Now it does not exist. Let other companies also come like Merck and set up here. See Ranbaxy of India. They have built the unit here. If no competitor comes, are we to blame?
Q: Finally, Excellency, what is the plan regarding the Merck medicines.
A: Well, we have been discussing this and my junior has written to the US FDA asking for their advice. We will also ask our brothers and if Merck is guilty of selling banned medicines to us, they will be punished. As I told you before, the time is soon coming when we won’t have to depend on foreign companies. Our youth is capable. Give them some time.
Q: That finishes the interview Sir. Thanks again.
A: That is all right. It is my duty.
It is easily seen from the interview that the Hon’ble Member is not that conventional in his thinking and logic. However, he has been able to define the goals clearly. The UAE has to be independent in know-how in all sectors from technology to agriculture. How can this be brought about? The member appears to think that education is a kind of input-output machine. The country’s youth can be put into at one end of this hypothetical machine and competent know-how will emerge from the other side. Planning is the weakness of his Excellency. He makes plans, but they are of no good, since they are vague. The member’s solutions are something like a perfect road linking two places, but with a broken bridge in the center. You can see your goal, but you can’ see any way to reach it. The member still indulges sub-consciously in thinking like the nomadic Bedouin.
If I were him, then I would have sat down with all the members and brainstorm a foolproof plan, so the UAE need not be at the whims of the global monoliths like Merck. The two important portfolios of health and social welfare are under me. I will first make the goals and then plan how to reach these goals. Initially, they will be short term plans.
I would convince my Emir to pass laws, so that the following actually takes place.
•Every citizen will have to pass a certain level of education at the expense of the government.
•Depending upon natural aptitude, students or the youth will be segregated into different groups for obtaining different knowledge types, civil engineering and economics for example.
•Educational institutions and vocational workshops will be built up of the highest standards, by luring away the faculty of the world’s premier organizations and universities.
These institutions are necessary, because young people going for studies abroad tend to forget their country and often opt for doing constructive work in the Western countries, where the infrastructure is present. I will make this infrastructure available here itself, so that the students could find their jobs without any problems. For every expat, I will decree, so that a citizen is in constant touch with him and learns from him. I will not depend on oil&gas alone, but will also encourage other vocations like forced irrigation agriculture and food processing etc. Trading should not be the main vocation of the citizens.
To do all these, I will take permission from the Emir and Allah, make a plan and put it down on paper. After equal periods, there will be milestones, where we can gauge for ourselves how far we have come and check the correctness of the route. If the planning is done in such a way, then implementation has to take place, because of the milestones. Innovation and creativity will be rewarded at these milestone meetings. If this is done within three generations (if not two), we will have both the knowledge and the means to fend for ourselves.