That can be a very complicated point. Almost every work for a big corporation could be (potentially) seen as wrong livelihood! Hard to find a big corporation that works with good products, ethical conduct, respects the environment, the employees and is not involved in tax evasion, bribe or any other scandal... so what is more important from a Buddhist's point of view: What YOU do in your work routine or what your company does or sells?


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It does feel like big corporations are somehow less ethical but I suspect it's related to complexity. In a smaller company it's relatively easy to understand whats going on and where the ethical grey areas may or may not be. I work in a company of 30 people so I've a reasonably good idea what we are up to and if there are any major ethical concerns. However in a bigger company all manner of things can and will be going on. Your department may be perfectly ethical but another department might be selling arms to unsavoury regimes. The office 50 miles away might have real issues about work place bullying. The executive board might be engaging in large scale tax evasion. In a big company there are a lot of conditions in play, lot of things going on, lots of places to hide. There is bound to be good and bad there.

But in reality we are all affected by each other. A small company has suppliers - what are they up to? A small company invests in pensions - is it ethically investing? A small company still has an environmental footprint - is it excessively flying its people to other countries? The more we think about ourselves and others, the more these issues will come up. I think we are living in a golden age for Buddhist practice (controversial I know) but I do think that our livelihood is one of the areas that is more difficult for us in the modern world. But we still need to consider this kind of issue - exactly as you are doing.

I've a personal preference for working for smaller companies but I'm not sure that it's because of right livelihood and general ethical concerns. It might be just my ego playing out - preferring to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

  • Dear Crab, it is more than that: In the time of the Buddha there were no corporations, you had one person producing intoxicants and another selling (sometimes the same person). Now think about our time, you can be a HR executive or an IT professional for a company that produces intoxicant or weapons, are you practicing wrong livelihood? Very grey area in my opinion, but I think the answer is no.
    – konrad01
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 23:06
  • Corporations could not build weapons without participants (employees), just as governments could not fight wars without soldiers. The problem is we have to compromise somewhat to make a living in the real world, so some people do build/sell weapons or become soldiers. How much compromise is acceptable is the personal decision, but what others do should not be a justification.
    – user3169
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 4:59
  • @konrad01 it is an interesting question which I will give more thought to. Isn't this though a critique of modern globalised capalitalism rather than large corporations particularly. I think my point is that it the complexity and massive amounts of interconnections within the system itself rather than big corporations that make right livelihood such a challenge. There are examples of big corporations being able to do positive things such as the Northern Rock foundations. So I'm reluctant to say that working for big corporations is always wrong. A case by case basis perhaps? Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 7:11
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    user I think it is not as simple as that. One thing is you actually sell the weapon, another thing is you work as an HR executive for a company that sells weapons! It is like the story on the dhammapada about the wife of a hunter, she used to clean his weapons and cook the dead animals, but he was the one hunting. The Buddha said she was blameless... just like you are if you buy meat on the supermarket. Your acts and mind are what matter
    – konrad01
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 13:31
  • But if the HR person is aware of the connection, it is in the mind. What is done in response is their choice, but to say such a person has no responsibility for the indirect consequences of their job activities becomes a drawn out conclusion.
    – user3169
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 21:02

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