by Dan and Marilyn Milton
According to Webster's New Unabridged Twentieth Century Dictionary, ethical behavior is defined as:
Ethical - conforming to moral standards of conduct of a given profession
Moral - relating to, dealing with or capable of making the distinction between right and wrong in conduct
Does the Llama Industry today have defined standards of conduct? Should it? The answers are yes, no, maybe, or "anybody's guess". If we had written standards then we would have to have a governing body to "enforce" them; a "sergeant at arms" for the industry, a judge, an ethics committee. The Llama Industry already has a self-policing system-of-sorts by way of a communication network to be envied by AT&T.
Should we be able to dictate, one to another, business conduct? That's a definite "No". Although some professions such as doctors and lawyers have specific written codes of ethics, our industry adheres to the standard unwritten implied common code of business ethics. In professions where written code violations are enforced, it can result in fines, suspension or expulsion of the person involved from the profession. In industries where codes are implied, violations beget a "punch in the nose" for that industry; individual versus collective impact.
NEGATIVE IMPACT OF UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR
How do violations of unethical behavior specifically affect the industry?
If we as an industry do not follow common business standards of behavior then, by default, the legal profession will force us to do so. Cases that end up in court can lead to precedence being set which could be harmful to the industry. In addition, the cost of litigation will be very costly for both sides.
Business is lost when those in the industry take advantage of new customers. Not only does the injured party "go away" but some take their friends with them and their friends and their relatives and so on and so on.
Unethical practices complicate our business dealings and increase our operational costs. In days gone by, a simple handshake would suffice. Then, to be sure there were no misunderstandings, we began to use a simple, one page, agreement. Now, for protection, we find it necessary to use a not so simple multipage legal contract.
Unethical behavior sets a negative example. When people use foul language, or hear it often enough, it becomes accepted as "normal". Do we want to have accepted as "normal" certain types of unethical behavior that are or are becoming common place. If we allow this to happen, the industry will become known as a high risk for new people, limiting our operational base.
There are people who depend on this industry for their livelihood. There are many more of us who would like to build our operation so that we could work at it full time. This requires a long-term viable industry. Unethical behavior jeopardizes the chances for this to happen.
Responsibility for the reputation of the industry lies with the individual. We need to make up our minds in advance of the situation how we are going to behave when questionable situations arise. Decisions then become easier. By keeping the welfare of the industry foremost in our business dealings we will, at the same time, establish reputations of honesty and integrity for ourselves.
TYPES OF UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR
This practice is unfortunately common place and encompasses a wide variety of situations:
Changing an animal's age, genealogy or species.
Selling an animal for a purpose when you know it has little or no chance of fulfilling that purpose.
Sedating an animal to make it appear to have a mild temperament.
Use of steroids to increase an animal's stature.
One seller who had a yearling animal that was small for its age represented the animal as a weanling for nine months until he found a buyer.
Another person, new to llamas, purchased an animal thought to have a mild disposition. When the animal recovered from its drugged state, it was so wild the new owner suffered a broken arm.
After purchasing a female llama, the buyers later felt they paid too much for her so they registered the animal as several years younger to "compensate".
Some breeders will assign a different sire to a cria simply to enhance its value, to cover a "mistake" or to protect their farm/ranch's image.
Other breeders broker out their culls so the farm/ranch is not identified. The animals become "unknown" and most likely end up being reintroduced into the gene pool bred back to their own line, if they can be bred at all.
The end result of this type of misrepresentation is the many genetic and health problems we are witnessing today, hence giving the impression to the world at large of an expensive, risky and heart breaking investment.
There are sellers who know from past experience that the animal they are selling cannot be a breeder, packer, cart animal, wool producer or even a pet and yet promote the animal's ability to fulfill the purchaser's wishes (e.g., 1 - selling an animal as stud quality when they know it should be gelded because of some unseen genetic defect or conformational fault; or 2 - selling a barren female as a productive breeder).
There are countless other cases of misrepresentation. We all know dozens of stories. Unfortunately so do others outside the industry.
Failure to Disclose
Hand-in-hand with misrepresentation, this practice is probably one of the most rationalized, by sellers and breeders, and the most destructive. Such rationalizations used for not disclosing the "full" story include:
they didn't ask
all's fair in business
the chances of it happening again are slim
it's only cosmetic
I've got too much invested
let someone else deal with it
they can afford it
they deserve it
I deserve better
they'll never know
why should I take the loss
All cases of what you don't know will hurt you; great examples of passing the buck. Who takes the final fall? Easy --- the industry.
Failure to Fulfill Guarantees and Agreements
Here is where the "letter of the law" versus the "spirit of the law" some into play. Many sellers, as shown in the following examples, spend a great deal of time and effort "splitting hairs" to meet or change the "letter" of the law and conveniently forget the "spirit" of it.
A seller guarantees a female to be reproductively sound. The female has a baby but is unable to provide milk because of a defective bag. The seller says the reproductive system and the lactating system are two different things, gets a veterinarian to agree and disclaims responsibility stating that the "reproductive" system is indeed sound.
A broker verbally guarantees an animal. When it has problems and comes back to him, he blames the original owner for not following through, thereby releasing himself from responsibility.
A newly purchased animal turns out to be unbreedable (e.g., has missing parts). The guarantee states that a replacement will be provided. The seller provides an animal with a deformed face stating that's all he has as a replacement. Some breeders offer replacements and follow through -- four years later.
Not fulfilling the "spirit" as well as the "letter" of the law is self-destructive. Successful marketing in our industry depends on a person's reputation and integrity. Since individuals are part of the whole, whenever anyone "splits hairs" resulting in a win-lose situation (i.e., seller wins - buyer looses), the whole industry is adversely affected.
Use of Shills, Rafter Bidding and Prearranged "Deals" at Sales and Auctions
Many say the llama market is "soft". Shills, rafter bidding and "deals" were employed extensively in the past. What was the effect? First of all, prices inflated fast and furious. This invited into our industry many short term investors ready to make a quick buck and then exit stage left leaving us in their dust. Secondly, it broadcast a message to the world that llamas were only for the elite; "average" folks will always be on the outside looking in. Some, who were previously doing well became discouraged and retired from the business. After several years of convincing the public they "can't afford" llamas, the industry has a long road ahead to rectify the loss of these new buyers.
Now, with legitimate sales bringing prices where they should be, things are on the mend. If the industry can pull together to focus our marketing on the new buyer instead of spending our dollars impressing each other and commit ourselves to honesty and integrity, it shouldn't take long to rectify problems of the past.
POSITIVE IMPACT OF ETHICAL BEHAVIOR
Fortunately, as the following examples show, most people in the llama industry do go the extra mile to insure the contentment of their customers.
A baby, alive at birth, died a week later. Although the breeder was "in the clear" being only responsible for a live birth, he still provided a free breeding.
One animal that was just purchased began to display a severe behavior problem. The animal was collected immediately by the seller and the money was refunded. In addition, the seller was offered a free breeding to the their stud as "compensation".
An individual enhances his ability to compete in the market by building his business on trust and integrity. A buyer who gets a fair deal is more likely to buy from the same people he purchased from originally. From a marketing leverage standpoint, a seller gains the most for his advertising and promotion dollars when he can sell to the same person over and over again.
However, it is typical, but unfortunate that we hear negative experiences louder, clearer and more often than positive ones. When we go out of our way to help those we sell to, we not only gain a valued customer but we also gain a friend for ourselves and for the industry. A friend who will tell their friends how great they were treated.
CURRENT AMERICAN CULTURE
America has always fostered fair and ethical business dealings. The cultures of many other countries do not. Some other cultures say that anything is fair; do whatever you must to win or survive. Are we headed in the same direction? An interesting book, "The Day America Told the Truth", by James Patterson and Peter Kim, chronicles a dramatic 40-year shift of American human philosophy and behavior. The authors point out some very disquieting information. According to their extensive surveys, they discovered that:
Lying has become an integral part of American culture - 91% admitted to lying regularly.
Over 75% of Americans would be willing to include an innocent party in a lawsuit if they thought they could win a large judgment or get them to settle out of court just to get rid of the lawsuit.
Most of us at times have been lied to, cheated, betrayed by friends and ripped off over the years. Perhaps its because we assume most people are honest and we prefer working from a basis of trust. It seems a shame to change that philosophy to one of "careful suspicion".
WHAT SIDE WILL YOU CHOOSE?
We all know what we need to do to help the industry grow. It's a matter of self discipline, turning our backs on greed, realizing each person makes a difference and making a personal commitment to act responsibly in our business dealings.
We are all given the freedom of choice. However, we are required to live with our choices, right or wrong, for a long time. Remember that there may be gray areas in matters of opinion, but there is only black and white in matters of truth.