Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dead Right Carol - but you could have put it better

Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo, said a few days ago, that it was “not our job to fix the Chinese government". She was responding to a question from somebody from Amnesty International who asked a question at the company’s AGM about filtering of internet information in China.

She’s dead right. It is not the job of companies to advance political or social causes. That’s the job of governments, the United Nations, religious institutions like the Church, etc. Not companies.

She could have put it better though. Her choice of words was not exactly great.

Companies come under increasing pressure from all sorts of organizations who want to promote their agenda and find companies as soft targets. They use pressure tactics and publicity to force companies to further their agenda. These range from very worthy causes to cranky, and to , frankly, batty causes. But the worthiness of the cause must not cloud the issue. It is the not the business of companies to further political, social or religious causes at all.

Companies must follow the law of the land. Period. Fully, in letter and spirit. Since laws are mostly national, they must follow the law of the country they operate in. 150%. If they do not, then by all means quarter, censure, kill them.

But what is to be done if the laws of any particular country are “not right” in the eyes of another country or some non governmental organization. That is the business of governments to sort out. They need to take it up , either bilaterally, or in multilateral institutions, like the United Nations. If they dislike the laws of a country so badly, they can prohibit their companies from operating there at all – like the United States has with Cuba and Iran, or many countries in the world had with South Africa in the apartheid era. Once they allow companies to do business with a country, then companies should obey the laws of that country fully – its not their business to question these laws.

The US Congress, periodically summons executives from Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Yahoo and lectures them on the "morality" of their business in China. Wants them to admit to shame. The shame is actually on the US Congress for hitting at soft targets. If you are so concerned, why don't you preach this to Hu Jintao.

In the case of internet censorship, I, living in China, find it abominable. But I don’t blame Yahoo, or Google or Microsoft for it. I don’t want them to solve the problem.