During the 2012 US Presidential election, both political parties were tripping over themselves to claim they cared about small business, either by sabotaging them with more costs in the way of health care on one side or by constantly giving breaks to giant multinational corporations that small businesses could not get on the other.

In reality, the politicians and pundits had clearly spent their years signing the backs of checks rather than the front of them, because the top priority of small business owners is not intangible social engineering, it is cash flow and survival. Fairness is not expected, they live in the real world. The only thing that changes when you cross borders is how the perception of fairness is different. And that could be challenging when dealing with other businesses.

 Lisa Scheer, Professor of Marketing at the University of Missouri,
and colleagues surveyed small retailers in 10 countries, including the United States, to determine their views on fairness in their relationships with suppliers.

They found that, although most small business owners were concerned with fairness, the degree of importance placed on fairness varied greatly. 

"Businesses constantly are concerned about the importance of fairness in their relations with customers," Scheer said. "However, less emphasis is placed on views of fairness among different business partners. In some cases, one business partner may be less interested in being treated fairly and more concerned about receiving adequate cash flow or profit for the business to survive. Investing time and effort to 'be fair' in those situations is wasted and even counter-productive if it undermines the factors that are more important to the other business partner."

"The data from our study show that retail managers with low tolerance for uncertainty place much greater importance on fairness than those comfortable with uncertainty, an effect which is enhanced when the managers have had greater exposure to cultures other than their home countries. It is particularly short-sighted to extrapolate one's own perspectives about fairness when doing business with partners in other cultures and in countries at different stages of development."

Scheer suggests that businesses should learn about one another's stances on fairness and other competing goals and business practices.

"Retailers should not assume that the priorities of their business partners match their own," Scheer said. "The managers may be surprised to discover that their business partners place much less importance on fairness than other factors. If business partners discuss their values and probe to determine what is most important for each party, contracts and interactions can be designed to better match each participant's needs, thereby building more effective business relationships. Everyone can ensure that they are on the same page and know what to expect when conducting business together."

Article: “Culture’s Impact on the Importance of Fairness in Interorganizational Relationships”  Journal of International Marketing. Source: University of Missouri-Columbia