Given the destructive human rights situation in China, how do we decide to interact with companies there? I don’t think no action is a choice; the sheer amount of influence the Western world and China exerts on each other through commerce alone makes it impossible for any one person or company to remain unaffected.
Free marketers like the Cato Institute argue that “America should not play the dangerous game of pitting human rights activists against free traders. American prosperity and global prosperity are better served by open markets than by well-intended economic sanctions.” But this does nothing to address the human rights problems, and we know that ‘all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.‘
And there’s no doubt we should be careful about it, as even seemingly innocuous efforts like Yahoo!’s can draw undesirable attention.
One option is to exert pressure politically. The U.S. government is already doing this to a limited extent. But given we cooperated much less with the communist Soviet Union and apartheid-ridden South Africa, it’s surprising we cooperate so much with communist, oppressive China. Politicians could use this issue in order to embarrass opponents for their cow-towing China-friendly behavior, but given the reflexivity of the dollar that’s a long shot. A subtle variation on this would be to embarrass anyone not willing to reduce our debt because it’s handing control of our economy to Asia, which in turn will give us more leverage with Asia on issues like human rights.