Dave Scotese — A few days ago, there was a report by Ernest Dempsey on Digital Journal telling about a special incentive of Coca Cola and Sprite to some restaurants in Peshawar, Pakistan, so they may have competing soft drinks removed from the menu. The report gives rise to a question relating ethics in business and the rights of consumers: is it fair game, or a form of bribery?
Now what makes any game unfair is cheating – that is, breaking the rules to which you’ve agreed to adhere. I don’t think anyone mentioned in the article broke any of the rules they had agreed to. So it will amount to abusing the word “bribe” if we call it so. The meaning traditionally requires that it be a payment in return for unethical behavior. We hardly can call it “winning over a service provider” since it’s correctly called “successful negotiation”. It is possible to succeed in negotiations through bribery, but again, that requires a breach of ethics. To me, there isn’t any such breach here.
Competitors to the drink companies may choose to characterize ANY successful negotiation between their competitors and their clients as unfair. The immature conception of “unfair” has nothing to do with agreed upon rules of a game, but rather whether or not your chances of winning are good. Those who have grown up recognize that to be unfair, a rule must be broken.
Then there is this question of consumer’s choices which apparently are limited by the service providers in such cases. The consumer’s choices are limited when they choose a provider who offers a limited selection. If that provider is able to run a “better” (meaning more successful) business through such limitation, it means that the limitation is serving the customers. Note that this is true only for businesses that do not enjoy political privilege. Politically privileged businesses are always unfairly favored because no one ever agrees to get the short end of the stick that government offers. However, for businesses that enjoy no such political privilege, success requires that the business serve its customers well.
The proposal that the service provider should be treated as an unfair player suffers from a lack of respect. A service provider is like any other free agent. If it fails to violate the rights of others, then it is innocent and should be treated as such. To claim that its customers have a right to services or goods it doesn’t wish to provide is to enslave an otherwise free agent. Let’s be thankful that we aren’t (so far) stupid enough to enforce such slavery.
Can we apply that example to other kinds of businesses? For example, if a popular bookstore in an area is offered this kind of incentive and asked to stock titles only of one or two presses, would it be fair for the bookstore to accept the offer? Now to answer that, let me ask what rule is broken when the bookstore stops offering other books. None? Well then it’s fair. So really, this depends on the contract the bookstore has with other presses.
Every successful business puts effort into strategies that don’t enhance the quality of their product. Those who don’t, fail. It has been a fact of business since humans started trading that product quality is only one part of what a business has to do well to succeed. Making it the sole pivot of evaluation of businesses and service providers would itself be unfair.