Attitudes of University Students Towards Business Ethics a Cross National Investigation of Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong

Attitudes of University Students Towards Business Ethics a Cross National Investigation of Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong
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  Attitudes of University Students towardBusiness Ethics: A Cross-NationalInvestigation of Australia, Singapore andHong Kong Ian PhauGarick Kea ABSTRACT. With the current globalisation and com-plexity of today’s business environment, there areincreasing concerns on the role of business ethics. Usingculture and religion as the determinants, this paper pre-sents a cross-national study of attitudes toward businessethics among three countries: Australia, Singapore andHong Kong. The results of this paper have shown theattitudes toward business ethics to be significantly differ-ent among the three countries. It was also found thatrespondents who practised their religion tend to consider themselves more ethically minded than those who do not.Additional findings on gender have also revealed signifi-cant differences between the males and females for respondents in Singapore and Australia. Males are gen-erally considered more ethical than females across thethree countries studied.KEY WORDS: Business ethics, religion, culture, ethicalattitudes and values Introduction Research interest into the field of business ethics aspioneered by Baumhart (1961) has emerged as oneof the most important research directions for inter-national business (Cardy and Selvarajan, 2006;Lindfelt and To¨rnroos, 2006). Most have attributedthe phenomenal globalisation of businesses as themain factor influencing the study of business ethics(Ahmed et al., 2003; Al-Khatib et al., 1995; Barclayand Smith, 2003; Beekun et al., 2003; Cherry et al.,2003; Christie et al., 2003; Lim, 2003; Moore andRadloff, 1996; Walker and Jeurissen, 2003). Therecent spate of scandals and corruptions in largecorporations (such as Enron, WorldCom, TycoInternational, Arthur Anderson and Qwest Com-munications) has also magnified the emphasis on theethics morality of today’s business. More impor-tantly, with the growing power of transnationalbusiness corporations, the role of business ethicswould have to be articulated and conceptualised toeffectively satisfy the growing concern for improvedmethods of accountability and governance for cor-porations (Barclay and Smith, 2003).Research has also indicated that the cost of operating business in a corrupted environment to bemuch higher than ‘clean’ one. For instance, Inter-national consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers,had estimated that the cost of corruption in 35emerging and developing countries might amount toas much as US$500 billion in 1997–1998 alone (Lim,2003). Arthur Anderson, who was previously re-nowned for its all-time active contributions andsponsorships in endorsing the teaching of businessethics, further accentuate the severity of unethicalpractices in business when the firm was exposed of their involvement in the Enron accounting scandal(Vitell and Muncy, 1992).Among the several determinants identified toinfluence business ethical attitudes, most practitionersand researchers have attributed culture to be the Dr. Ian Phau teaches Marketing at the Curtin University of  Technology. He is an avid researcher in the area of countryimage and branding issues. He also edits a peer reviewed marketing journal.Garick Kea is a researcher with the Curtin University of  Technology. His research interests include consumer ethno-centrism, Consumer Animosity and marketing ethics.  Journal of Business Ethics (2007) 72:61–75    Springer 2006DOI 10.1007/s10551-006-9156-8  predominant factor influencing the differences inbusiness ethics attitudes across countries (such as,Ahmed et al., 2003; Christie et al., 2003; Moore andRadloff, 1996; Sims and Gegez, 2004). This notion issupported by numerous cross-national/cultural stud-ies being conducted (Beekun et al., 2003; Christieet al., 2003). While the culture–ethics relationshiptowards business ethics have been examined in manydifferent perspectives (such as using Hofstede’scultural topology and Integrative Social ContractsTheory), some papers (such as Moore and Radloff,1996; Sims and Gegez, 2004; Small, 1992; Preble andReichel, 1988) utilised the Attitudes Towards Busi-ness Ethics Questionnaire (ATBEQ) as the surveyinstrument to investigate the cross-cultural implica-tions on business ethical attitudes. However, thecultural influences examined and discussed in thesestudiesarebasedonthecomparisonofpreviousresultsreported from the earlier independent studies. Theanalytical results from these studies have providedlimited or only descriptive conclusions, thereby sug-gesting reliability and validity concerns in using theATBEQ scale to examine cultural implications onbusiness ethical attitudes.Based on these premises, this study aims toachieve two fundamental research objectives byreplicating earlier studies that have used the ATBEQscale. First, instead of conducting a cross-national/cultural study comparing results based on previousstudies’ results, this paper will conduct its cross-na-tional comparison using new samples collected for the sole purpose of this study. Second, departingfrom the limited and descriptive findings of earlier studies, a more robust analysis approach will beundertaken to assess the reliability and validityconcerns of the ATBEQ scale. However, to ensurecomparability with earlier studies, this replicationstudy will adhere closely to the parameters anddefinitions denoted by Hubbard and Armstrong(1994) and Reid et al.’s (1981) paper. Fundamen-tally, the study will not alter the conceptual aspectsor introduce new theoretical concepts that maydeviate from the srcinal research design, limitingthe replication to acceptable extensions or changeson the sampling and analysis methods.To conduct cross-national comparison using newsamples, a three-nation comparative study will beadministered in Australia, Singapore and HongKong. While the implications of culture on ethicalattitudes had been independently studied in thesecountries (Australia – Small, 1992; Hong Kong – Tang and Chiu, 2003; McDonald and Raymond,1988; Singapore – Lim, 2003; Snell et al., 1999), thispaper will be examining these countries on the basisof comparing their cultural differences as well astheir earlier findings.Australia is a developed country with vast naturalresources and stable economic growth. As a com-monwealth country with close and historical linkageto the west (particularly with the United Kingdom),Australia is considered a western society, despite itslocality in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite the influxof migrants into Australia, particularly from Asiaover the last few decades, its ideologies and culturehave not changed dramatically from the West(Pecotich and Shultz II, 1998). For instance, Small(1992) found that there was no significant differencebetween the Western Australian’s ethical attitudesand those of the Americans. A similar version of theEnron-Arthur Anderson accounting scandal hadsurfaced recently in Australia with collapsed propertygiant Westpoint made high-profile headlines impli-cating its auditor, KPMG.Singapore is classified as an advanced developingnation and has established itself as one of the major financial hub in Asia. With its strict laws and gov-ernment regulations, Singapore is reputable for itscorrupt-free environment (Pecotich and Shultz II,1998). The government’s emphasis on educationhad also resulted in high literacy rate with majorityof the population receiving formal education. Whilethe ethnic Chinese, who forms majority of thepopulation are brought up based on Confucianvalues, they are largely influenced by Western cul-ture (Pecotich and Shultz II, 1998).After Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, thebusiness activities between the Special Administra-tive Region (SAR) and its mainland has increasedtremendously. Despite being under British rule for acentury (justifying the presence of western cultureinfluence) and notably established as a highlydeveloped city, the people are largely exposed to themainland China’s culture and business practices (thathas been negatively perceived). There has beenconcern about a possible rise in corruption in HongKong associated with the 1997 transfer of sover-eignty (Chan and Leung 1995; Kraar 1995;Schoenberger 1996 cited in Snell et al. 1999),62  Ian Phau and Garick Kea  especially when ‘‘under table dealings’’ and personalrelationship, i.e. guanxi (Tang and Chiu 2003;Dunfee and Warren 2001) had been witnessed inmany successful business transactions between HongKong businessmen and their counterparts.As the study is conducted on the primary premiseof replicating earlier studies and validating the AT-BEQ scale, the key research questions are developedand delineated as follows:(1) What are the attitudinal differences towardsbusiness ethics between the three countries?(2) What are the implications of gender on atti-tudes of business ethics between and acrossthe three countries?(3) What is the relationship between religiosityand self-consideration of ethics morality?This paper will first present a comprehensive liter-ature review on the implications of culture andreligion on business ethics. The research method-ology will be detailed, followed by an analysis of thedata and discussion of the findings. A summarydetailing a critical evaluation of the ATBEQ scalewill also be presented. The paper will conclude witha discussion of the limitations and future directionsof this study. Relevant literature Reasoned action and planned behaviour theory The theory of reasoned action by Fishbein and Ajzen(1975) suggests that there is link between attitudesand behaviours, which will help explain how aconsumer leads to a certain buying behaviour (Fishbein, 1980). It is purported that ‘‘attitude to-ward buying’’ and ‘‘subjective norm’’ are the twoantecedents of performed behaviour. ‘‘Attitudes to-wards the behaviour’’ measures how an individualmeasure the favourability of the behaviour. ‘‘Sub- jective norm’’ refers to how expectation of relevantothers (such as family, friends and peers) may be amajor factor in the final behavioural performances.However, under certain circumstances, behaviour may not be completely under an individual’s con-trol. As such, the construct of perceived control wasthen introduced to improve this measure giving riseto the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen 1985,1988). The earlier version of the theory states thatbehavioural control is mediated by intention.However, it was later suggested that there is a directlink between perceived behavioural control andbehaviour instead of mediation by intention (Ajzen,1988).These theories have been applied to differentdomains including voting intentions (Granberg andHolmberg, 1990), college retention decisions (Bid-dle et al., 1987), brand loyalty (Ha, 1998), adoptionof internet banking (Shin and Fang, 2004) just toname a few. Interestingly, a number of studies reflectresults deviating from the theories. For instance,Charng et al. (1988) found that the role identity asadopted by an individual as a blood donor willinfluence intentions to blood donation indepen-dently of the attitude towards the activity of blooddonation. Results from other studies have similar findings, which seem to allude to two conclusions.First, ‘‘intentions to behave’’ is a better predictor tosubsequent behaviours than do ‘‘attitudes’’. Second,attitudes only moderately predict intentions. Theseissues have implications to the behaviour towardsbusiness ethics of university students. For instance,the culture of the organisation that a business studentworks in future is more likely to influence their employee behaviour rather than the type of attitudethat these students possess in the first place. Thecollapse of high profile cases such as Enron in theUnited States of America and Westpoint in Australiasuggests that it was the organisational culture thatsupported unethical behaviour rather than theemployees already held unethical attitudes. Culture and business ethics Among all determinants identified as interdependentvariables influencing business ethics, culture isprobably the most explored variable (Al-Khatibet al., 1995; Ahmed et al., 2003; Beekun et al.,2003; Cherry et al., 2003; Christie et al., 2003; Lim,2003; Moore and Radloff, 1996). Business organi-sations embracing the exploding global businessopportunities are finding variables such as culturalvalues, economic background and ethnicity to varysignificantly across national boundaries. With anincrease in transnational trade and investment over   Attitudes of University Students toward Business Ethics  63  the past decades, an understanding of acceptablebusiness practices across cultural boundaries isparticularly more important than before (Ahmedet al., 2003). Certain values, ethical behaviours or moral principles considered to be conducive to theeconomic development for one country may not befor another. Hence, understanding the relationshipbetween culture and business ethics would be vitalfor organisations and their managers to operateeffectively and efficiently in the global market.While the above have provided the fundamentalrationale behind the culture–ethics study, researchhave also further identified some current situationalissues or cross-cultural settings that require the in-depth understanding into the implications of cultureon business ethics (Cherry et al., 2003; Lim, 2003).A good example is the increasing flow of labour resulting from growing cross-border business activ-ities (Lim, 2003). The lack of mutual understandingbetween people from different cultures, causingmajor failures in cross-cultural work and businessrelations, greatly substantiates the need to understandthe ethical attitudes across countries (Jackson andArtola, 1997 cited in Lim, 2003).As most research on business ethics tend todemonstrate moral reasoning using vignettes, thetheoretical implications of the nature of moral rea-soning involved had not been sufficiently considered(Cherry et al., 2003). An understanding of howdifferent cultures may differ on this ethical judge-ment dimension will enable theorists, researchers,and practitioners to predict and manage individualreactions to questionable practices across culturesmore effectively.Despite the numerous contributions made toidentify the cultural influence on business ethics,there is no consensus to the key cultural determi-nants, which have the greatest influence. Whether itis the cultural divergence or convergence that exists,implicating the ethical issues in our globalisingeconomies remains a point of debate for manyresearchers. For instance, Moore and Radloff (1996,p. 863) argued that ‘‘the increasing globalising of international economies is making business practicesmore uniform and the social organisation...increasing similar’’. Also supporting the premise of convergence, Ahmed et al. (2003, p. 90) concurredthat ‘‘today’s products are being sold across culturalboundaries with little or no need for modification tosuit local conditions’’. While both research advocatethe cultural convergence of our globalising envi-ronment, Blodgett et al. (2001) argued otherwise.They justified that it is the existing cultural diver-gence that makes the study of business ethics studiespertinent and relevant in today’s business. Countriesstill differ greatly in terms of economic development,legal-political systems, cultural standards and expec-tations of business conduct despite the effects of globalisation. Similarly, some comparative researchbetween various countries and the attitudes towardsbusiness ethics seem to indicate the cultural diver-gence phenomenon (Vitell and Muncy, 1992).In comparative studies between the Western andAsian culture (Ahmed et al., 2003; Cherry et al.,2003; Christie et al., 2003), the concept of ‘‘Guanxi’’is particularly relevant. Dunfee and Warren (2001)define  guanxi   as ‘‘the social interactions within thenetwork place and its members in the equivalent of an infinitely repeated game with a set of people theyknow’’. However, in some Asian culture such asChina,  guanxi   is a synonymous term associated withbureaucratic corruptionorbribery (SuandLittlefield,2001). As a result,  guanxi   may represent an ethicaldilemma for many global managers. This is especiallyfor western managers, who find it difficult to differ-entiate between the use of   guanxi   as ‘‘a way to buildlong-term business relationship’’ or ‘‘a conspiracy incorruption and bribery’’.Culture is a loaded and complex variable thatincludes an extensive number of dimensions andvalues. Findings only demonstrated that thoughtwo countries can be similar in a particular culturaldimension, they may be highly different in variousother dimensions (Beekun et al., 2003; Christieet al., 2003). For example, Beekun et al.’s (2003)found that while the Brazilians and Americans donot differ significantly when they use egoisticcriteria for evaluating ethical decision-making;ethical decisions of the countries are very differentwhen the utilitarian criteria are applied. Hence,Christie et al. (2003) have argued that formalinvestigations do not show the influence of culturein specific and the extent of it to ethical attitudesand behaviours. While the relationship betweenculture and ethics had been widely identified asthe prominent area of research in business ethics,the difficulty to provide consistency in findings isstill a major concern.64  Ian Phau and Garick Kea
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