American Normativity and Multinational Corporations
In the first of these four sections I introduced the concept of American normativity and suggested that it presents four complications in discussing globalization, one of which relates to United States multinational corporations (U.S. MNCs) and their global practices in employment, product marketing, and corporate identity.
Though there are certainly many facets of U.S. MNCs, these three functions present the most dangerous potential for abuse when discussing globalization. Furthermore, the very nature of international markets and the inevitable cultural differences between U.S. MNCs and their international customers requires an even keener sensitivity to international relations and proper business ethics.
Elsewhere, I discussed the notion of a global minimum wage as a conceptual tool to demonstrate the inherent exploitation of Third World laborers by First World corporations. Since so much of our revenue in trade and goods originate from U.S. MNCs, it is of even greater importance that we ensure and legitimize our employment practices abroad.
Regarding the percentage of our revenue in trade and goods, Raymond J. Mataloni Jr. writes, “U.S. MNCs continued to account for a large share of U.S. trade in goods. U.S. exports of goods that involved U.S. parents or their foreign affiliates were $425.4 billion, or 58 percent of total U.S. exports of goods.”(pg. 86).
One of the key advantages in discussing globalization, then, especially economic globalization and the role of MNCs, pertain to the incredible amount of capital that can be generated and ultimately saved by employing cheap labor. Since globalization presents an opportunity to minimize cost through the employment of Third World laborers, proper employment practices and strict regulations must be enforced to safeguard the rights of these laborers. Without international regulatory standards, a Third World country will invariably leave members of its population open to exploitation.
The desire to amass wealth must be met by an equal desire to ensure proper business ethic in the employment of Third World laborers. Not only will this protect the interests of laborers, it will also preserve corporate integrity and identity. Proper global employment standards can only benefit all those involved as it addresses both the need of the laborer and the manufacturer.
A second problem facing U.S. MNCs results from cultural insensitivity, which typically manifests as corporations fail to recognize the various norms governing other cultures. This misrepresentation can lead to a perception of American arrogance, wherein others view our callous business practices as representative of American disinterest.
Essentially, as the great philosopher George Berkeley noted, esse est percipi, that is, to be is to be perceived. Corporate existence is fundamentally based on its public perception. If the public approves of its business practices, profits will likely increase. If the public disapproves of its business practices, profits will likely decrease. Corporate identity, then, is undeniably tied to public perception.
Thus, U.S. MNCs must recognize that their existence and their ability to earn profits are directly tied to how they are perceived by a global audience. Their global perception must be flexible, as our cultures differ, which requires all U.S. MNCs to reconstruct their corporate identity and marketing practices for each market they enter.
The inability of any U.S. MNC to adapt to the specific expectations of a global market will severely limit its ability to profit from sales or reap the benefits from employing cheap labor. In business, identity is everything, and to undermine the corporate name, is to undermine the corporation.
The corporation is nothing more than an idea used to market products and services. Successful product marketing strategies in the U.S. may not translate to success abroad. Thus, a refusal to adapt the corporate idea to an ever-changing global market is to project an air of superiority.
The problem, however, is that such an air of superiority not only reflects poorly on the various U.S. MNCs abroad, it reflects poorly on the United States of America. To undermine corporate respectability is to undermine American integrity. U.S. MNCs represent more than the products or services they provide, they represent and embody the ideals of Americana.
In that representation, it is of the utmost importance that they recognize how corporate behavior is tied to American respectability. As a brand, America must seek to ensure and safeguard its good name, because like MNCs our existence is contingent on our global perception.