Academic journal article Journal of Economic and Social Development

Ethical Issues in the Employment of Expatriate Leaders in Corporations

Academic journal article Journal of Economic and Social Development

Ethical Issues in the Employment of Expatriate Leaders in Corporations

Article excerpt


As trade barriers fall, enterprises and their leaders are moving across boundaries to take advantage of the opportunities offered by global trade. At the same time, in response to the continuous disclosure of poor and unethical decision making and behaviour, society is demanding that our leaders respond by recognising the human rights of communities, employees and other stakeholders, are socially responsible and protect the environment.

In this context, the attributes, competencies and ethics of expatriates has become an important issue. While there are many papers about leadership, there are few which examine how culture and ethics influence leadership. The paper examines who are expatriates, the difficulties for individual, families, the cultural differences encountered, ethical issues and how the way they are addressed is influenced by individual personality, ethical stance and perceptions of the expectations of their followers. Examples of the difficulties faced are given, as are consequences. The article begins by defining who expatriates are.


An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing, as an immigrant, in a country other than that of their citizenship. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (out) and patria (native land). In common usage, the term is often used in the context of professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies. Unlike migrants, the intention of expatriates is to return to their home country at some stage. A distinction can be made between corporate expatriates sent overseas by their companies, and self-initiated expatriates who, rather than being sent overseas, are recruited by local companies.

Being a self-initiated expatriate (SIE) in general refers to expatriates who are hired individually on a contractual basis and are thus not transferred overseas by a parent organization (Andresen, Bergdolt & Margenfeld 2012). Selmer and Lauring (2010) define SIEs with regard to three specific characteristics, namely that they had acquired their current job independently (self-initiated), that their current job was a steady position (regular job) and that their nationality was different from that of their host country (expatriate). Among these are the employees who live in one country, but commute to another for work. Typically a worker will spend a week or two at the work location and return home at weekends. This is common for domestic employees in Asia, and in the mining companies of far Western Australia the miners will commute from Perth or another major city, i.e. fly in and fly out (FIFO) according to their work schedule. Many not-for-profit organisations, such as Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, operate in this way, flying their staff expatriates into and out of disaster and war zones to provide assistance.

To these could be added a growing number of people who follow the sun, often backpackers, or retirees owning homes in both their birthplace and overseas. In some cities, the expatriate population outnumbers the locals. In Dubai, for example, expatriates from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines and Western countries represent 80 per cent of the residents.

There are further distinctions between those who travel with no intention of remaining; those sent by their company to provide expertise or learn; those who choose to live elsewhere with the clear intention of returning home at some stage; and those who have a working holiday in order to further their experience.

Another category of people are students and academics, who go abroad temporarily for education purposes. Recently the OECD (2016) reported that six per cent of all tertiary students in the OECD (approximately 4.5 million students) were studying in a country other than that of their citizenship.

It would be a significant omission not to mention those who choose to retire abroad. The commonly given motivations of older expatriates are a lower cost of living, a less stressful lifestyle, and better weather (Eisenberg 2015). …

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