Is It Ethical To Trade With Iran?
Teaming up with Moojan Momen, a historian of the evolution of Iran’s Baha’i community and one of the world’s great experts on Shi’i Islam and its connection to Iranian theocracy, I have published an article in Newsweek about the ethical dilemmas that arise from businesses entering the Iranian market in the wake of the lifting of sanctions as a result of Obama’s nuclear deal with the Ayatollahs.
Over the last weeks the Iranian market has emerged as the premier untapped market at the forefront of Western business interest. The Italian Prime Minister was just in Iran trying to land deals for his county’s companies, while Italian letting agencies have extended a 5 Billion Euro credit line to the country. Conversely, British banks are chomping at the bit to get into the Iranian market while being prevented by regulatory issues.
As such, many multinationals are formulating their strategies about how to engage with Iran. In this Newsweek article, Moojan Momen and I lay out a framework for ethical business dealings in Iran, while explaining the history of the regime’s human rights abuses and the potential pitfalls that CEOs may face while landing deals.
One way of reading the article is an indictment of those doing business in Iran. That is not how I have intended it. I favour engagement with the Iranian regime and am very proud of Obama’s and Kerry’s successful efforts to lift the sanctions. What Moojan and I are saying is that it is important that Western business engagement helps the disadvantaged groups in Iranian society rather than simply giving the regime more tools to repress those groups.
Doing business in Iran raises the ethics question. Businesses like to demonstrate that they are not only profitable but also benefit the community. Many feel compelled to show that they are green, gender equitable, ethnically diverse, philanthropic—and ethical. So crucial are these questions to perception and brand imaging that business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are burgeoning disciplines worth billions a year to global companies…..
Acting with integrity today requires more than compliance with regulations, a code of acceptable conduct and advocacy of human rights: It requires a company not be party to or collude with the abusive practices of corrupt regimes….
If the result of engagement with the Iranian market improves the social conditions of groups that are discriminated against, leads to more openness and pressures Iran towards a fairer society, then companies can be said to have exercised ethical leadership and fulfilled their moral obligations. Otherwise, their engagement with Iran is keeping a corrupt system going and contributing to the unfairness of Iranian society.
To read the whole article click here.