I watched The Constant Gardener. It is about a joint venture between three companies, each based in different countries.  This movie portrays the practices of multinational enterprises (MNE) and how culture in different countries plays a role in those practices.

The differences in cultures were evident throughout the movie.  The image of the British was striking in how they were portrayed as being very understated.  Even if their life was in danger, they rarely showed emotion.  Things were held very “close to the chest” and communication was laced with double meanings or innuendos.  Everything in their lives was organized and neat.   They wanted to control, not only their emotions, but also the situation.  They seemed to feel the need to be in control and their immediate surroundings reflected this need.  Their self-worth seemed to be tied to titles, power and money.  The Kenyans, on the other hand, seemed very different.  The movie cast them as being more expressive and colorful.  The majority of the Kenyans did not question authority and trusted, or perhaps accepted the actions of others.  An emphasis on family was evident with the Kenyans in the movie as well.

The MNE seemed to exhibit all the negative aspects of Hofstede’s value dimensions.  There was a great degree of masculinity in play when dealing with attitudes and behaviors through the lack of concern for others and the focus on materialism.  The level of acceptance by the host nation in the unequal distribution power was palpable.

The concerns for the host nation’s moral, social and economic welfare, due to decisions by the multinational enterprise, were paramount in the eyes of those who understood the impact of this drug trial.  At stake were the innocent lives of the nationals participating in the drug trails.  The MNE used an ethnocentric approach when setting their moral standards in the host nation.  They applied the morals viewed as acceptable in their home country regardless of the host country’s system of ethics.  In fact, they disregarded the dignity and welfare of the host country entirely.

To eliminate potential exposure to ethical concerns, authorities from the host nation were in collusion with the multinational enterprise to remove any damaging information or people associated with the potential exposure.  One example of this was when one of the diplomats was forced to turn over his passport.  This was an attempt to stop him from traveling to other countries and returning to Kenya from England.  Other extreme measures to stop exposure of unethical behavior was murdering two people and burying the victims of the drug trials in unmarked graves.

One way the drug company managed their financial and political risks was to make the host nation dependent upon them.   The pharmaceutical company manipulated control over the people and their drug trial results by threatening the “volunteers.”    The locals could not get drugs for one illness without volunteering for the drug trial of another pharmaceutical drug.   The drug company also had buy-in from others in the host nation due to promises of success and financial gains tied to that success.  If a negotiation process was in place, it was a win/lose type of negotiation where the MNE did all it could to be the winner at the expense of the host nation.  There seemed to be no desire from the MNE to establish a lasting relationship with the host nation.

Information technology plays a role in this movie and highlights the ease of communication throughout the world.  Through the global network, these businesses, governments and select individuals were able to communicate effectively and in a very timely fashion.

As an international business, this MNE was not concerned about the human rights of the host nation.  Its only concerns seemed to be based on the prestige of power, money and success.


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