Rethinking Global Business Ethics: The North‐South Paradigm

AuthorRichard de George
Date01 March 2017
Published date01 March 2017
Rethinking Global Business
Ethics: The North-South
This paper looks at the changes that have taken place
during the past three decades in developing countries (the
South) as reported in the 2013 UN Human Development
Report and how they affect the obligations of multination-
als from developed countries (the North). It argues that
the changes call for greater attention to the growing
North-South paradigm and its implicit Respect-coopera-
tion model rather than the still dominant Developed/
Developing Nations paradigm and its Dependency-victim
model. It examines some of the rethinking such a para-
digm change makes in approaching poverty reduction
and corporate social responsibility.
The World has changed a great deal since 1985 when Bent-
ley’s National Conference on Business Ethics focused on
“Ethics and Multinational Enterprises.” Yet much of the
writing, at least in the West, on international and global business
ethics issues continues to operate within the same paradigm as it
did then. The empirical changes, I shall argue, call into question
Richard De George is University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, of Russian and East
European Studies, and of Business Administration, and Co-Director of the International Cen-
ter for Ethics in Business, Emeritus, at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 66045 USA.
C2017 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by
Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Business and Society Review 122:1 5–25
the adequacy of a key current assumption of many of the writings
on international business ethics concerning the relation of the
industrially advanced and the less industrially advanced nations.
This in turn calls for a basic reconsideration of what ethics
demands of business on the international stage.
Prior to 1989 the generally accepted way to think of the world
was in Cold War terms of First, Second, and Third World countries.
This tripartite division is the nomenclature accepted and imposed
by those in the First World. It is hardly likely that the Soviet Union
considered itself the Second World. After the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, the generally adopted view of the world as found in
the Western literature was that of the Developed Nations and the
Developing (Less Developed) Nations. That became the dominant
paradigm and again it is one that comes from the so called Devel-
oped Nations, and the sense of development which it utilizes is
advanced industrial development. That view is now giving way to a
new division of the world. The UN Human Development Report
2013, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World
documents many of the changes since 2000 and describes the pre-
sent division between what it calls the North, roughly equivalent to
the industrially developed nations (including such nations as Aus-
tralia in the geographical South), and the South, the so-called
industrially developing or less developed nations (including China
and India). The changing terminology aims to reflect a change in
the world especially with respect to what have been called the
developing nations.
As the Report implies, the changes involve more than simply tak-
ing account of facts. In a manner similar to Thomas Kuhn’s
description of how science evolves, it pays attention to anomalies
that are not captured by the reigning political paradigm and that
are better captured by the new one. Not only have facts about the
so-called less developed world changed during the past 20 years,
but so has its relation to the so-called developed world. Some of
these changes and the difference they make to some of our moral
assessments and assumptions are documented in the too neglected
2013 Report. Although that document does not spell out the new
paradigm—the North-South paradigm—that it utilizes, I shall devel-
op what I see as the new paradigm, and present it for discussion.
When scientific paradigms change in science, they are only slow-
ly adopted and both the old and the new paradigms function

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