Common Workplace Problems in Different Legal Environments
PART IV: PRIVACY, DIGNITY, AND AUTONOMY
Privacy, dignity, and autonomy may be defined differently across cultures and are manifested in the law in ways that reveal deep underlying assumptions about people, work, organizations, and markets. Consequently, multinational managers find them particularly challenging. “Autonomy” seems pretty clear conceptually: a right of self-determination, a freedom from control by others. As much cannot be said for “privacy” or even “dignity.” There is a rich texture of philosophical as well as anthropological and historical discussion of what we conceive of when we speak of “privacy” – and the conceptual wellspring grounding it, human dignity. Some of the historical context is discussed in Matthew Finkin, Menschenbild: The Conception of the Employee as a Person in Western Law, 23 COMP. LAB. L. & POL’Y J. 577, 590–91 (2002) (references omitted): The word “privacy” did not come into common English usage until the 16th century, a time of enormous economic development, domestically and internationally, both commercial and proto-industrial, and of urbanization. The two may not be unrelated. Ferdinand Schoeman has argued that the practice of privacy evolves only when there is a high degree of social and economic specialization, when this specialization liberates individuals from dependence on any group, and where social welfare and security come to depend as much on individual initiative as on cultural rigidity. This has been challenged … not so much on the historical record, which seems indubitable, as on the conclusion to be drawn to the extent it might discount an innate human need.
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