Indigenous Knowledge As A Strategic Resource: An Ethical And Societal Challenge
Organizations, particularly large multinational firms, have a substantial impact on the economies and societies in which they operate. Unfortunately some far-reaching influences are not anticipated, and, the consequences of these organizational actions can create long-term, adverse outcomes. Increasingly, indigenous knowledge has been recognized as a valuable strategic resource offering rare, inimitable, non-substitutable and effectively commercialized insights for new agricultural, biological, pharmaceutical, and aesthetic products. While the business case for industrialized companies to acquire and use indigenous knowledge is compelling, and the economic results of these activities are highly profitable, the unanticipated costs can be serious and irreparable, particularly for the communities that provided the original knowledge resource. This paper describes the strategic attractiveness of indigenous knowledge and provides examples of unintended, but severe, adverse consequences for the surrounding business and social ecosystems that can result from the use of this knowledge by non-indigenous firms. We articulate the business logic for the use of indigenous knowledge from the perspective of the resource based view of the firm. We then discuss the ethical concept of ‘respect for persons’ and argue that explicit consideration of this principle in the strategic decision making process would illuminate the previously unrecognized outcomes. We use a case example to illustrate how considering both the resource-based strategic value of indigenous knowledge and the principle of ‘respect for persons’ when making choices about the use of these resources would yield more desirable and more sustainable outcomes for both the firm and the indigenous community.
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