Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Retail Ethics as Appraised by Future Business Personnel in Malaysia and the United States

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Retail Ethics as Appraised by Future Business Personnel in Malaysia and the United States

Article excerpt

Differences in ethical perceptions among individuals from varying cultures have been suggested as a source of concern for business firms involved in global activities. This study investigates a hypothesis based on the writings of Thorelli, that "lower" ethical perceptions exist among the residents of developing nations. This was accomplished by investigating the retail ethical perceptions of business students from a developing nation and comparing these perceptions with those of business students from a developed nation. The results suggest the retail ethical perceptions of students from different cultures attending collegiate institutions in their home countries differ, supporting the hypothesis. Implications are explored.

Perceived shortcomings in the ethical standards of those in business have become an area of increasing interest to researchers and to the general public in recent years. In the United States, this concern has been prompted in part by a number of recent highly publicized, ethically questionable events involving business personnel (Brophy 1987; Dimma 1991). As a consequence, several studies have shown that the U.S. public increasingly perceives the existence of ethical shortcomings in business as a major problem (e.g., McLoughlin, Shelded, and Witkin 1987; Williams 1985). Such perceptions also extend to collegiate business students (Beltramini, Peterson, and Kozmetsky 1991).

A similar situation is observed in other developed nations. For instance, such events as the recent business scandals in Japan (Neff 1991), the BCCI affair (Hall 1991), the Volkswagen/General Motors dispute ("General Motors and Volkswagen: Pistols at Dawn" 1993), and the bankruptcy of Barings Bank ("The Collapse of Barings: A Fallen Star" 1995) have shaken the faith of many in other developed nations in the ethical standards employed in business decisions.

Such concern for ethics in business is not limited to developed countries. The business communities in developing nations appear to be affected by many of the same ethical problems. For instance, growth in white collar crime in Malaysia, a developing nation, has shaken public trust and has gained the attention of researchers and politicians in that country (Zabid and Alsagoff 1993).

Although such ethical conflict within cultures or nations can have serious consequences, the magnitude of these conflicts and the severity of the resulting repercussions pale in light of the ethical conflicts which can occur in a cross-cultural setting (Wines and Napier 1992). Business activities which are international in scope can be expected to lead to a heightened possibility of ethical conflict given cultural differences, particularly among cultures at differing levels of development (Buller, Kohls, and Anderson 1991). Given the growing importance of developing nations in international trade and the increasing globalization of many industries including retailing (Marcus and Katzen 1993), research into the nature of ethical perceptions of individuals from differing cultures appears to be warranted.

This study explores the ethical perceptions of future business personnel from two different nations--one representing a developed culture and one representing a developing culture. Specifically, the ethical perceptions of ethnic Malay students enrolled in an introductory business class in their home country are examined based on a number of potentially ethically troublesome retail sales situations and practices. These perceptions are compared with the ethical perceptions of a similar sample of students from the United States.


Because of the parties with which it must interact, the retailing industry is unique in the business environment. As the final stage in the marketing channel, situations which present themselves in retailing are particularly visible to consumers and to society as a whole. Often the only business organization with which consumers and potential customers interact, the decisions and actions of retailers can easily be presumed to extend to the entire business community. …

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