The weekend debate: Should we do business with people who don’t share our values?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

The weekend debates have been light on foreign policy so far, so for those foreign policy buffs out there here’s one inspired by our former leader.

Over at Ted talks, Paddy Ashdown has been discussing ‘the global power shift’ from the West to the rest and in particular to the nations around the Pacific rim.

He touches on a lot of areas, including what the future of global governance might look like, how long American power might remain dominant and the growth of a multi-polar world.

He talks about how our alliances will begin to shift in favour of new common interests and beyond our traditional allies: “We are going to have to do business with people with whom we don’t share common values but we share common interests.” And we have to understand that: “Increasingly I share a destiny with my enemy”.

So is he right? Arguably we already do business with those who don’t share our values but are we at the stage where we can no longer draw a line in the sand? And if we did what would that line look like? Would it include dodgy arms sales, poor human right or inadequate environmental protections or perhaps something else entirely?


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  • At first glance it wasn’t immediately clear that this was a foreign policy article

  • Well its a bit late now – the Lib Dems do it every day with the Tories.

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Jan '12 - 11:38am

    Yes, it is absolutely vital that we do business with people who don’t share our values. There are only two possible outcomes here:

    1. Do business with them
    2. Don’t stop until they’re all dead

    It is not possible to have a peaceful coexistence based on ignoring them. And I am not prepared to accept #2.

    The terms on which we do business, and the ways in which we use that interaction to influence them, are negotiable. But we must always begin by being willing to come to the table and work out terms.

  • I agree with Andrew. The Liberal part of the Lib Dems always based their values on free trade: that it was a force for good, both in terms of the favourable and real prices that it creates, but also that it helps to forge peace and forms cultural relationships.

    What we should also acknowledge is that today, if we don’t trade with a country, somebody else will. That’s the reality. They’ll do so with less available public scrutiny from their own people, and on their terms.

  • Simon Bamonte 14th Jan '12 - 1:40pm

    What, exactly, is Liberal about doing business with and enriching backward regimes where they execute homosexuals and refuse women the most basic of rights (Saudi Arabia)? Can anyone explain how it is true to our values when we do business with countries who torture or have horrid human rights abuses? Was it Liberal for Call-me-Dave to sell weapons to the Egyptians right after their revolution, only for those same weapons to be allegedly used against protesters later in the year? I don’t think so. I see nothing Liberal, at all, about working with nations who have not even the slightest concept of human rights.

    When the USSR existed, we in the west made quite a principled stand about how we don’t work with brutal regimes and countries who suppress their own people. But times have changed, sadly. I guess in these days, the days of coalition, nobody believes in principles and taking a stand for what’s right anymore.

  • We should make it as easy as possible for private businesses, individuals and charities to do work with nations with which we have a “difference in common values”. i.e. the people of the countries should not be discourages from forging common bonds and friendship through trade.

    On the other hand, large scale industries which are highly regulated by the state (arms and energy primarily) should be dependent on the progression of negotiation towards a mutually acceptable understanding of common principles.

    Finally, trade where the difference of common values relates to the commodity itself (e.g. war diamonds, products of slave labour, products that don’t meet a minimum of human or animal welfare standards, or which contribute to endangering animal species or destroying natural habitats) should be controlled in some way.

    I guess my take is: selling cars to Cuba and buying cigars and rum should be none of the government’s business. Selling arms to oppressive regimes and buying products made by people working as little more than slaves should be.

  • *discouraged in para 1, natch.

  • Andrew Suffield 15th Jan '12 - 12:48am

    I don’t really see why selling weapons to people who agree with us is better than selling weapons to people who don’t. Weapons only have one purpose.

    We don’t need to be arms merchants.

  • Michael Seymour 15th Jan '12 - 11:12am

    Yes! Why do we do business with the Israeli’s?

  • John Carlisle 15th Jan '12 - 12:06pm

    It is too general a question if it is a question posed of the economic realm. We do not do business with Israel. We do business with Israel companies or government organisations. The same goes for China, the USA or Burma. If we are more discerning and selective at that level we can do a lot of good. We can help grow companies that are doing “good” business no matter where they are, e.g. Tata, Infosys, John Lewis, Mondragon, Interface; and also NGOs or parastatals that are ethical.
    We can also decide to never to do business with Nestle, Dow Chemicals who own Union Carbide, and BA Systems. That would show a bit of integrity.

  • Simon:

    Well there are two sides to it: the social side, as you’ve said, preventing war, and as I said, extending cultural ties, but the specialisation allowed by genuine free trade is just as important for economic liberalism. It makes all parties better off, because of the principle of comparative advantage. Smith, Ricardo and Bastiat were some of my favourite C19th Liberals, they’re still some of the best promotions of why free trade is a good thing available today.

    I’ve not advocated the sort of thing you’re talking about, and I’m not sure all of it should be legal to produce in the first place. However, it’s pointless to impose sanctions generally (for example refusing to purchase fuel) from countries like Iran, as it does pretty severe damage to the ordinary people living there and rarely changes anyone’s values. If you want an example of what it looks like, read up on the UN sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s. Horrific.

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