Would you sell to an enemy?

Last I heard, Iran’s official position does not include a happy USA. Why then, does an American company, Boeing, sell jets to Iran Air?* To make money, of course.

Funny how often making money gets in the way of doing the right thing, and doing the right thing means limiting income. That push-pull lays at the heart of ethical decision-making.

I do not know from experience, but guess that Iranian money spends as well as anyone’s. I also guess that if an American company does not sell jets to Iran, a European, Russian, or Chinese company will. Filling the market’s need before someone else does offers an age-old excuse for doing the wrong thing.

Ought we not question the ethics if not the art of the deal when the deal involves selling a thing to an enemy? Ethics often involves sacrificing the better thing—national security, in this case—for something that offers great benefit, like profit.

Questions for The Ethics Award

  1. How does your business decide which customers to avoid?
  2. What affect does it have on morale when the line and office regulars learn that whatever they’re building aids an enemy economy?
  3. If you cut a deal with a rogue nation and they use the resulting product against your nation, are you liable?
  4. Say you make the deal, it goes into production, and before you deliver, your government cancels the deal. How much soap will you need to get the egg off your face? How do you assess risk?
  5. How do you explain to your stakeholders the risks involved in unethical trading?

* Source: The Wall Street Journal.