PERSPECTIVE FROM AN INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATIONS Business
GOOGLE IN CHINA
In the early 21st century, a highly successful corporation called Google, Inc. decided to expand its business into China. The company first tried to circumvent China's heavy censorship, laws and regulations but China's ability to control the internet flow into and out of China all but defeated Google's attempts. After being thwarted by China, Google adjusted, began to comply with China and is now a successful business in China. However, Google's success in China may have cost the company its claim to the motto "Don't be evil."
Google was founded in 1998 by two Stanford University students. Larry Page and Sergey Brin met the University in 1995, built a search engine by 1996 that discerned the importance of different webpages and incorporated in 1998 as Google, Inc. with the mantra of "Don't be evil" (Google, Inc.). Though Google is headquartered in Mountain View, California, its popularity quickly rose and by 2016, Google had more than 70 offices in more than 40 countries (Google, Inc.). With a mission of organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful, Google focuses on building and maintaining an effective presence around the globe (Google, Inc.). China has a population of 1.3 billion people and approximately 110 million internet users (Google, Inc.), which made that nation an irresistible target for Google, Inc.'s expansion. With considerable difficulty and intense criticism for violating human rights, Google succeeded.
b. Cultural Differences/Barriers
i. Fundamental Universal Rights
Any company attempting to do business in another country is faced with a number of challenges. One way in which Google adjusted well -- maybe too well -- was with China's censorship. In order to ethically do business internationally, experts such as Thomas Donaldson suggest basic guidelines for universal human rights that should be honored by intercultural communications corporations. Those rights include: physical freedom; property ownership; freedom from torture; fair trials; nondiscrimination; physical safety, free speech; free association; basic education, free participation in politics; and survival (Boatright 336-7). While an American might respond, "Well, of course, people should have those rights," life is reportedly different in China.
The big difference in the case of Google is China's extensive censorship. When Google first decided to provide a special Google home page for China in 2002, its servers were not on Chinese soil; consequently, Google was not bound by Chinese laws and censorship. However, the internet into and out of China was controlled by nine fiber optic cables belonging to internet service providers who had to be licensed by China. China did not control Google servers but China did control the flow of information into and out of China. As a result, Chinese users of Google's search page were funneled away from content that the Chinese government wanted to censor; when users clicked on the links that came up through a Google search, either the links just didn't work or they took the users to pages sanctioned by the Chinese government. China's heavy censorship of information to and from its citizens became known as the "Great Firewall of China" (Chandler). Worse yet, on September 3, 2002, Google was completely blocked from China. Two weeks later, Google was back on Chinese computer monitors but the censorship was tougher (Thompson).
In the face of that heavy censorship and the loss of its competitive edge with Yahoo! And Microsoft in China, Google rethought its tactics with China (Boatright 358). Starting in 2004, Google consulted with Chinese Internet users and experts, human rights entities, local government officials and some of the country's business leaders to determine whether it should take a different path in dealing with China (Kahn). As one of its corporate leaders later testified to Congress,
We reached the
Despite Google's attempts to balance its mission and its users' interests by cooperating with the Chinese government, Google has been severely criticized for contributing to human rights violations in China by its cooperative self-censorship. In a February 2006 Congressional hearing, Google was essentially called hypocritical for having the motto "Don't be evil" while helping evil through its cooperation with Chinese censorship (Google, Inc.). Nevertheless, Google maintains that it is doing its best to balance all interests and bring as much free information as possible to everyone in China and around the world.
ii. Sweet Sweat Shops, Acceptable Bribery and Local Culture/Law/Taxes
One problem facing an intercultural communications business is that a practice considered unacceptable or even illegal in its home country might be perfectly legal in another country. "Sweat shops," which are normally considered terribly exploitive of poor workers in other countries, could actually better the local economy and lives of people in other countries because sweat shops give them work and income (Boatright 333). Multinational corporations must address the possibilities of absolutism, where they follow the same standards no matter where they do business, or relativism, where they adjust to the local laws and customs, even if those are unacceptable or even illegal in the home country, or even a hybrid approach in which the company is absolute about some values but relative about other values (Boatright 333). The international corporation must consider a number of factors when deciding how to act: important differences between developed and less developed countries; different cultural ideas of proper ethics, which might be very different from the company's home country; the basic rights of the people in the host country; and the day-to-day mechanics of doing business in the host country (Boatright 333-336). Google used experts from America and China to determine all those factors and draw up a successful plan for Google's entrance into China (Google, Inc.).
One big problem in day-to-day mechanics is the different attitudes about bribery. In America, we believe that offering a bribe and taking that bribe are both unethical and illegal. However, in some other countries, such as China, local officials expect bribes in order to give licenses and otherwise let companies work in their areas. Because of our own ethical principles about bribery, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) were passed by Congress to stop U.S. corporations from bribing officials in other countries. However, this put our own companies at a competitive disadvantage because corporations from some other countries were free to bribe local officials. Some corporations get around those difficulties by using agents in those countries and whatever the agents do, including bribery, is officially their own concern (Boatright 338). Also, the U.S. and 33 other countries signed an agreement in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to stop bribery from all companies headquartered in those member countries (Boatright 337-40). While Google would never admit to paying bribes to local authorities and business people in order to do business, if bribes are required for smooth business, they must somehow be paid, probably through agents so Google does not officially know about the bribes.
The local culture, laws and tax burdens can also be problems for a company trying to work in another country. Language, customs, laws and business practices can differ from country to country and can make the difference between a successful business and a failure. Consequently, companies must somehow bridge those gaps in order to do business in those countries. Google used local agents, for example, to understand the Chinese language, laws, tax burdens, culture and business practices, and to comply with all of them in order to work well in China and receive the necessary approval of authorities (Google, Inc.). In sum, Google has succeeded in China, at great cost to itself and to its reputation.
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