Inundated with Un-ethics

Jan. 1, 2020
In January, I wrote a column wherein I observed that the mega trends of globalization and technology seemed to be increasing the number of ethical quandaries we are facing.
In January, I wrote a column wherein I observed that the mega trends of globalization and technology seemed to be increasing the number of ethical quandaries we are facing. To get a more detailed look at how these trends affect aftermarket business behavior, I invited readers to share examples of ethical quandaries they had encountered. Well, in a classic example of be careful what you wish for, I was inundated with examples from my readers.

Many of these stories were about abuses of returned goods privileges. In one case, a distributor made a substantial return of offshore purchased products to its domestic supplier. They expected to receive full credit from their North American supplier's current price sheet. When incoming inspection of the product clearly determined it had not been purchased from them, the supplier refused to issue the credit. The distributor became agitated, arguing that because they purchased many other "similar" items from the supplier, they should be willing to take them back.

One thing that bothers me most about this story is that the perpetrator made no attempt to mask his deceit. I have to wonder how we got to a place where this sort of behavior is practiced so openly. Certainly some manufacturers have brought this on themselves. And when you consider the surplus of capacity in many product lines, flat to declining demand and the mega trend of globalization, it can add up to more leverage for distributors.

The aforementioned behaviors weren't the worst offenses revealed by readers. That honor was reserved for an import company that sources products from low-cost countries and sells them to warehouse distributors. Many of the products they source are "counterfeit" in the sense that they violate patents held by North American suppliers. But here's the coup de grace. The North American patent numbers are actually cast into or stamped on the products. Opinion: this is not only unethical, it is illegal.

Bad enough for you yet? Wait, there's more. This company also operates a Web site for online parts lookup. As I already mentioned, the part numbers that are returned are the part numbers of the companies they are counterfeiting. In what may be considered the ultimate irony, the company linked to the Be Car Care Aware online consumer electronic catalog. Though not illegal, this certainly is a bold misuse of technology. Using something intended to promote the public good for your own nefarious end is the most despicable of all behaviors.

When the folks at Be Car Care Aware learned of the infraction, they took action. "We tried to keep them from linking to the site, but anyone who has a desire to link to any Web page can do so," says Rich White, chief executive of the Be Car Care Aware campaign. "We had no other choice than to shut down the catalog look-up feature on the site." So a good and valuable service gets unplugged due to abuse of globalization and technology — mega trends that should be positive forces for the aftermarket.

Virtually any technology enables people and companies to do many things, like buying parts in China, using established part number systems to sell against those who created them and even returning parts to a company you didn't buy them from. Or, using an industry public service to sell counterfeit parts. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. And this is where we in the aftermarket have to hold one another to a higher standard.

Bob Moore is president of Bob Moore & Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in the automotive aftermarket. Moore can be reached at [email protected].