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The Jewish Ethicist: Renege

The Jewish Ethicist: Renege

from aish.com by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. I agreed to use a certain service provider and even signed an agreement, but the agreement is not valid until I obtain some authorizations from the authorities, so I am technically able to withdraw. In the meantime I came across a better deal. Can I renege on the original agreement?

A. Jewish law, based on commandment and personal commitment, includes many obligations that are not enforceable. This is true even in business regulation. So even when an agreement is not enforceable, there may be an obligation to uphold it.

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The Jewish Ethicist: Bankruptcy

The Jewish Ethicist: Bankruptcy

from aish.com by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. Most advanced countries allow indebted people to erase their debts through personal bankruptcy. Is this ethical?

A. It’s impossible to relate to personal bankruptcy in a vacuum. We need to examine this law in the context of the overall relationship between borrowers and lenders. The general principle is that an appropriate balance is needed between the protections and obligations of each side.

We find in a wide variety of economic relationships that the Torah balances the rights and obligations of each side, yet also leans slightly in favor of the weaker party.

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The Jewish Ethicist: Witness Character

The Jewish Ethicist: Witness Character

from aish.com by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. Much of my income as a real estate appraiser comes from testifying as an expert witness. The litigants who hire me expect me to give low appraisals which will help them in court, and they’ll stop hiring me if I don’t meet their expectations. Can I tailor my testimony to the needs of my clients? JF

A. In order to answer your question, we have to clarify a critical distinction. There is a big difference between a litigant or party to a trial and a witness in a trial. Everyone understands that the litigants are not impartial, and that their claims may be carefully crafted to help their case in court. But a witness is expected to provide only facts, and to be completely impartial.

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The Jewish Ethicist – Sweatshops

The Jewish Ethicist – Sweatshops

from aish.com by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. Many consumer products are made in third world countries in sweatshop conditions. Is buying these products exploiting the workers? Or perhaps it is actually helping them, because it provides them with work and gives them a chance to improve living conditions? What about the effect on local workers?

A. The foreign sweatshop debate has raged for generations. Organized labor has traditionally demanded better working conditions not only in the home country, but also abroad; cynics have complained that this demand is really a way of fending off low-cost foreign competition which benefits consumers.

A verse from Leviticus (25:14) can help focus the debate: “And when you sell something to your fellow, or buy from the hand of your fellow, don’t exploit each one his brother.”

The simple meaning of the verse is that we shouldn’t exploit each other in commerce by charging an unfair price. But Rashi’s commentary points out that the verse contains an implicit mandate: when we sell, we should preferably sell to our fellow; when we buy, we should buy from our fellow. In a previous column, we explained that this preference both provides a livelihood for community members and also builds a feeling of connection and solidarity among members of a particular community. [See: Malicious Merchant] Many authorities have stated that we should even pay a premium in order to do business with fellow community members, thus making economic relations complement social ones. (1)

The critical question then becomes: who is my “fellow”? My neighbor? My fellow citizen? Any fellow human being? In past generations this question was easier to answer, because both practically and emotionally mutual awareness and concern could exist only among those who were close by. In the age of globalization, many people believe that it is both practical and obligatory to view all humans as our “fellows”; others worry that this approach carries the danger that existing, functional community relationships will be weakened in favor of a still-hypothetical “community of man,” resulting in the loss of all communal concern.

Presumably what we need is a concentric set of communal relationships, each one on a suitable scale. It is practical for everyone to be concerned with world ecology and global warming, which are truly global problems; conversely, a free loan society for needy individuals in a small neighborhood is practical, but it would be hard to administer one which serves an entire region.

If you believe that consumers in advanced countries can create genuine empathy and solidarity with sweatshop workers in East Asia, considering these distant individuals our “fellows,” then it is definitely appropriate for you to take steps, including consumer activism, to promote better working conditions for these workers. Of course we should take care that our steps don’t actually work to their detriment, by destroying their livelihood during a prolonged boycott or pricing their goods out of the market. If you feel that your first concern should be for workers in your own region or country, then you should try when practical to give preference to local manufacturers even if there is a moderate price difference.

In a way, both the stated or cynical understanding of labor groups have relevance. If we do share a sense of community, or worker solidarity, with sweatshop workers in distant countries, then we should be concerned with their working conditions, and not exploit them (as the verse states). If we don’t share a sense of community with them, we should try to give precedence to local workers who are our “fellows”.

Our aspiration should be for economic relations that harmonize with communal ones; we should engage in buying and selling with our fellows, and avoid exploiting them. When practical, we should either display concern for the workers who make our goods, or buy goods from those workers for whom we can effectively display concern.

SOURCES:
(1) Responsa Rema 10.

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The Jewish Ethicist: Disinformation

The Jewish Ethicist: Disinformation

from aish.com by: Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. In a recent column you condemned prying into the private information of competitors. My business rivals didn’t read your column, what steps can I take to protect myself?

A. Just as there is a burgeoning field of “competitive intelligence,” we are witnessing equally robust growth in the complementary area of “competitive counterintelligence.” One aspect of this field is safeguarding sensitive information, which is certainly proper. But another prominent element in effective counterintelligence is disinformation, designed to make life difficult for competitors and to keep them guessing. This aspect raises some interesting ethical questions. Let’s examine the various manifestations of the disinformation business.

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“It’s Only Business,” What’s Kosher About Business Ethics?

“Its Only Business,” What’s Kosher About Business Ethics?

from rabbincalassembly.org by Mark Greenspan

Introduction

“It’s not personal it’s only business. You should know, Godfather.” Those were the words of Licio Lucchesi,
one of the characters in the classic film The Godfather. After looting the Vatican-owned Immobiliare
Corporation of several billion dollars with the help of a high ranking Catholic official, Lucchesi turned to
Godfather Michael Corleone for help covering his tracks. While few of us will ever be quite so cunning or
deceitful it’s not uncommon for people to say, “Its only business” when cutting corners in business. The end
justifies the means. We presume that in the real world of business the standards of ethics are different than
they are elsewhere. After all don’t we say caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware?” In the world of business and
corporate dealings only the shrewd and the most cunning survive. We admire those people who manage to
get ahead until their actions have an adverse effect on our lives.

Biblical secrets

7 Biblical Secrets to Business Success

7 Biblical Secrets to Business Success

from aish.com by Bob Diener

After graduating law school and practicing for two years, I launched an airline ticket business which was quickly profitable. I sold that business in 1991 and then launched Hotel Reservations Network which became hotels.com. I sold the balance of my interest in hotels.com in 2003 and after a five year non-compete launched getaroom.com. Recently during our weekly Friday night dinner discussion, I mentioned that getaroom.com is growing and profitable and reached some new milestones.

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The Jewish Ethicist – Discounts

The Jewish Ethicist – Discounts

from aish.com by: Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. I have a standard price list, but I’m pretty liberal about giving discounts when I need to make a sale. Is this a problem?

A. Adam Smith noted that economic progress is dependent “a certain propensity in human nature,” namely “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”. After all, Smith notes; “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.”

However, people nowadays seem to prefer facing predictable prices over having to haggle over every exchange, and so most sellers today have standard prices which apply equally to all customers.

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The Jewish Ethicist – Snitch

The Jewish Ethicist – Snitch
from aish.com by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. I have a nasty co-worker who is hard to get along with. I’m thinking of putting him in his place by telling the boss about his frequent tardiness, but should I be afraid of being a “snitch”?

A. The Torah warns us to be very careful about disclosing people’s failings, commanding us “Don’t go about as a talebearer among your people”. But it also warns us to be solicitous of other people’s well-being, commanding us, “Don’t stand idly by the blood of your brother”, which can sometimes require telling someone about other people’s misconduct. In order to highlight the tension between these two mandates, the Torah places them in a single verse. The message is: don’t reveal damaging information unless it is necessary for a constructive purpose, such as protecting someone from harm or loss.