Values Can Become Dollar-And-Cents Asset, Consultant Claims

By John S. McClenahen As the heated debate over international labor standards expands, U.S. manufacturing executives are increasingly likely to be asked whether paying production workers in the U.S. according to one pay scale and their counterparts in less-developed countries by another standard is ethical. The answer may not be "Yes" or "No." David Gebler, president and founder of the Working Values Group, a Boston-based consulting firm, believes the issue is not a business ethics matter. To think there's going to be a single global pay scale, for example, "is kind of nave," he asserts. However, Gebler is not discouraging manufacturing managers from confronting such values-loaded issues. Indeed, he's encouraging them to do so, suggesting, for example, that executives show respect for their non-U.S. workers by visiting the plants where they work and asking the workers what issues are important to them, including whether or nor they are making a living wage in their part of the world. Such actions not only demonstrate the value the company places on respect, but also may have the "collateral benefits" of reducing operating risks and boosting the company's public image, he says. "Demonstrating that you are proud of how you're handling the situation in a lesser-developed country has strong ripple effects on your reputation, which you can actually ascribe a dollar value to," Gebler says. "Companies are starting to see that what used to be kind of soft, fuzzy, [and] altruistic [has] really brass-tacks dollars-and-cents benefits."

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