Sunday, March 31, 2013
Is haggling over price sometimes wrong?
In early March, a California reader returned from a trip to Uganda to visit the mountain gorillas there. Her tour was quite expensive. She traveled with many of the same people on this tour, most of whom travel throughout the world at least once a year, if not more.
While in Uganda, they visited the Batwa people at a small demonstration village they have established in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
"In a country where many adults earn less than one dollar a day, the Batwa are considered much more impoverished," she writes. "Many of the children we saw appeared malnourished. All children and adults were very, very thin."
The Batwa people had displayed an array of handmade items for the tourists to purchase, including beaded jewelry, wood carvings and handmade baskets. "All prices were well below what would be charged in a village shop or in a U.S. fair trade business," my reader writes.
But she takes issue with the fact that several of her fellow travelers insisted on bargaining down the Batwa peoples to half the price they were charging for their goods or less. "One Batwa woman was asking the equivalent of $7.20 for a lovely hand-woven tray," my reader writes. "She was offered and accepted $3.60.
After she raised her concern about negotiating the prices down on the goods being sold one of the women on the trip with whom she had traveled before explained to my reader: "They love to bargain and expect to come down in price. They'd be very hurt if you didn't bargain and they'd think you were stupid."
My reader responded: "Sure, they'd rather get half the amount than have the money to feed their kids or to purchase firewood for cooking. I don't care if they think I'm stupid." She reports that the conversation went downhill from there.
Later in their tour, their tour leader who -- a biologist who has spent a good deal of time in Africa -- thanked her for paying the asking price for the goods offered.
"Was I wrong?" my reader asks about paying the asking price rather than negotiating -- and raising the issue with her fellow travelers.
My reader wasn't wrong to pay full price. She also wasn't wrong to raise the conversation with her fellow travelers about the ethics of negotiating already low prices down with people who seemed like they could use the money. They each saw similar situations in the village and could determine whether it was appropriate to haggle or not. That my reader chose to pay full price in an effort to pay what she deemed to be a fair price for the goods received is laudable.
What's curious, however, is that no one on the trip, such as the tour leader who had spent a good deal of time in the region, saw fit to give the tourists guidance. That she thanked my reader for paying for full price suggests the tour guide had an opinion on the right thing to do in the situation. The right thing would have been for her to share that opinion with the tourists she led through the marketplace. The choices they made based on that opinion would have been entirely theirs to make.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.