In this paper, we explore the ‘darker’ faces of international business (IB). Over a decade ago, Eden and Lenway (2001) raised the need for examining both the ‘bright’ and the ‘dark’ side of globalization in order to achieve a better understanding of the concept and of its impact on IB activities. In doing this, they posited the multinational enterprise (MNE) as the ‘key agent’ and ‘face’ of globalization and discussed, primarily, the relationship between MNEs and nation-states as the central interface of its impact. Additionally, they posited that, by and large, the communityof IB scholars positioned themselves at the bright end of the globalization spectrum, seeing it as essentially positive, whilst most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international political economy (IPE) academics set themselves at the dark end. Whilst they acknowledged their own ‘bright side’ tendencies, they called for a more nuanced consideration of MNEs as what they referred to as the ‘Janus face’ of globalization.
Here, adopting the ambivalent frame that Eden and Lenway (2001) advocated, we accept
that globalization and IB activity have both beneficial and negative impacts. However, in so
doing, we wish to prompt the type of critical thinking on the negative features that these authors identify as largely absent from the mainstream IB academic discourse. Taking a ‘dark side’ standpoint, we might assume that the human desire for power and authority, together with what some consider greed for money and resources, have been major drivers of IB activities over time (cf. Banfield, 1975; Boddewyn and Brewer, 1994).
Looking beyond the MNE/nation-state relationship, in the contemporary world of IB, we find many activities that fall outside this domain. These range from questionable sourcing of minerals in Central Africa (cf. Ayres, 2012) to criminal trade in heroin and human trafficking.
Throughout history, from the slave trade of ancient times to modern-day trafficking, and from legal trade in arms to the illicit disposal of electronic waste (cf. BAN, 2005), IB has encompassed many contentious activities carried out by a wide range of legitimate, illicit and criminal organizations. Building on concepts of the ‘black economy’ and the ‘black market’, developed to describe some of these endeavours, in this chapter we develop the concept and terminology of ‘black international business’ (‘black IB’) and we define and discuss it from an ethical–legal perspective.
Having introduced the concept of black IB and outlined the complexities of ethical–legal
deliberation, we offer a taxonomy of black IB typologies which is intended to promote and
support more detailed consideration of the full range of actors involved, the impacts of activity by and on them, and ethical deliberation on courses of action in response to these activities. Our framework for ethical consideration is grounded in Aristotle’s (350BC/2004) intellectual virtue of phronēsis – or ‘practical wisdom’. Aristotle outlines phronēsis as moral deliberation to inform action for the good of ‘man’ (sic). Here, we draw upon Flyvbjerg’s (2001, 2003) contemporary social science interpretation of phronēsis and his four ‘value-rational’ questions for interrogating courses of action. These require explicit consideration of the interests of all involved and affected stakeholders and, specifically, of issues of power.
We hope that this paper will both prompt and contribute to critical research, deliberation
and teaching on the full range of IB activities and their impacts across both the global community of stakeholders and the environment in which they live, both now and in the future.