Understanding the ethical issues you may face abroad can help prevent problems.
Understanding the ethical issues you may face abroad can help prevent problems.

The majority of ethical issues an individual encounters abroad occur when your cultural expectations clash with those of the country you're working in. These issues can create a dilemma and cause you to doubt yourself and the company you're working with. In these cases, it's best to remain calm and try to understand the foreign culture while respecting and preserving your own ethical integrity.

Legal Differences

One of the biggest issues you're likely to face abroad is differences in local laws. Laws about issues such as kickbacks or bribes may differ in different countries, and while businesses abroad might think offering forms of compensation to visiting workers is good manners, you may be in violation of laws in your own country. Laws such as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act dictate what is and is not permissible when working abroad. To avoid breaking the law, reject any favors or compensation that you wouldn't normally accept at home. Fortunately, the first international agreement on this kind of corruption, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Bribery and Corruption Treaty, has laid out a unified set of ethical practices for working abroad.

Other Companies

Some of the issues you may encounter when working abroad may have little to do with your own actions. If you're dealing with a company that violates or skirts local or international laws, your business transactions can have ethical or even other implications for you. For example, if the business you're working with has dealings with a local criminal organization, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. To avoid this, it's a good idea to discuss your ethical standards and the standards of your company before doing business. Outline your expectations and make them clear to the company.

Working Conditions

An issue you may face when working abroad may also concern the practices of your own company. If you are sent abroad to oversee the production of goods on the manufacturing end, you may encounter working and living conditions that are below your expectations. Although North American laws prohibit the existence of sweatshops, regulations in foreign countries are often less strict. Furthermore, your company may not be in violation of labor laws, but may be outsourcing work to other companies. Understanding the working procedures of your company can help you avoid dealing with unethical companies. Educate yourself about the country you're traveling to so you know what to expect.

Daily Considerations

Besides issues at the workplace, daily life in another country can present a number of problems that test or challenge your accepted ethical mores. Outside of work, you may encounter culture shock. For example, gender expectations can be radically different in foreign cultures, and women may make up a much smaller percentage of the work force than you're used to. You may also encounter gender issues in countries with strict religious beliefs that dictate a woman cover her head or face. Similarly, local diets may present an issue if you are invited to eat food such as whale or horse that you have problems consuming. However, it's important to be flexible. Respect foreign cultures and do not accuse others of being wrong because you are unaccustomed to living in their culture. Another daily concern might be health and safety issues, which can also present a problem for people working abroad. Simple acts such as drinking water and using the washroom can present ethical problems. Underdeveloped countries may lack proper sewage systems, causing sewage to leak into the local water supply. Before you go abroad, learn what to do if you encounter these or other health and safety issues.