Dwellworks Blog

Duty of Care: International Ethics

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Ethics, integrity, moral principles, values, rights and wrongs, ideals, standards of behavior, virtues, conscious, righteousness, justice, morality…surely there must be an important concept behind these words, since there are so many ways to describe the idea behind ethics. Workplaces are filled with global communities, which has been facilitated in recent years by the ease of international travel, rapid communication with technology, and constant access to news.

The word ethics has roots in Greek, when it meant “the science of morals.” Ethos in Greek refers to the nature or disposition of something. The Latin ethice became the Old French éthique, from which the English ethos is derived. Today, there are ethical guidelines that are present in nearly every aspect of life, from the Hippocratic Oath in medicine to safe building codes for architects.

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” –Potter Stewart, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Global business ethics have stepped into the spotlight in recent years as major international corporations have suffered the repercussions of unethical practices in the workplace. Major scandals (and the manner in which the company responds to the issues) are capable of destroying entire corporations. Often, these behaviors were started by a few and allowed to slip through the cracks and by the time the unethical practices were exposed, the damage had been done.

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Elizabeth Clayton is an HR Business Partner at Dwellworks. She works with our teams in Europe and Hong Kong. Elizabeth added, “The world is becoming ever more compliance-focused and this means the importance of ethics is constantly in the spotlight, not least because in many countries there are now legal requirements (and penalties!) around conducting business ethically.” 

Some major areas where business ethics differ globally include:

  • Bribes
  • Gift exchanging
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Environmental impact
  • Labor conditions, wages, and benefits
  • Health and safety
  • Integration of religion and business
  • Abuse and discrimination
  • Compliance

International ethics are a duty of care consideration because a seemingly small misstep in another culture can be detrimental to a globally operating business. Elizabeth Clayton reminds HR professionals in the industry that “Culture plays a very important part in international business ethics too – what is completely acceptable in one country may well be illegal in another.” She adds, “Making assumptions can lead to misunderstandings, cause inadvertent offence, jeopardise business relationships, or even end in legal trouble. This is where intercultural training and policies come into play.”

Image representing the diversity of the globe

Considering the list above, a culturally aware person may note that for example, it is not ethical to order alcohol when visiting with Muslim coworkers or to accept a gift while balancing corporate expectations and one’s own reputation. 

Elizabeth advises, ”responsible employers provide the opportunity for assignees to learn about the culture and laws of their host country, and the most effective assignee is one who fully participates and engages in their intercultural training." 

"Once you know you are going on assignment, talking to your HR department about their policies and the intercultural learning opportunities available to you should be one of your very first to-do’s and will ensure that you don’t misunderstand the law or social expectations, and are able to fully enjoy your time on assignment," Elizabeth continues. Fortunately, intercultural trainers can offer creative solutions to anticipated ethical dilemmas, such as providing assignees with meaningful fair-trade gifts to exchange with international teammates. 

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Dwellworks values serving our customers with integrity and teamwork while offering consistently high performance. We uphold ethical practices with our Elements of Engagement, which are:

  • Be Accountable—do what you say, say what you do
  • Be Collaborative—listen, connect, engage
  • Be Fearless—embrace, change, innovate
  • Be Passionate—believe in what you do, live to make an impact
  • Be Respectful—appreciate differences, cultivate trust
  • Be the Experience!

Business trainer and author Jeffrey Gitomer said, “Great people have great values and great ethics.” This simple statement summarizes the key to success in the global business environment. A healthy company with ethical employees will rise above the competition, no matter the industry, because trust is a universal language.


Duty of care is an important topic at all levels and in all departments of a business. See how Dwellworks practices this commitment to service here.

Continue reading our duty of care series to identify potential areas of focus for employees at your global company.

To find out which intercultural training solution is best for your particular needs, click the button below. 

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