Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Conflict of Interest in the Free Software Community
Conflict of interest is a rather simple concept. It happens when your decisions in one capacity is influenced by your interests in a different capacity.
Suppose you are the secretary of your apartment's owners' society, and in your day job, you work as the marketing manager of a paint manufacturer. You have a conflict of interest when your society is discussing which manufacturer's paint is to be purchased for next year's maintenance; and your employer (and at least one other competitor) makes the same quality of paint.
Another example situation is like this - you are the owner of a restaurant; and also a committee member of the restaurant owners' association. You come to know that a particular organisation is looking out for prospective restaurant owners to operate the cafeteria for its employees. What happens when you approach the prospect introducing yourselves as a representative of the restaurant owners' association, make a proposal on behalf of the restaurant owners' association, and then go on to enter into the final contract with that prospect in your personal capacity?
You have just misused your position of trust, in which you were placed in your capacity as office bearer of the restaurant owners' association.
It makes no difference if you did this in your capacity as the officer of your employer; or if instead of the restaurant owners' association, it was a charitable society; even if it is permitted to enter business contracts.
When people indulge in such acts, not only are they doing something unethical, they are also bringing a bad name to entire community they are part of. The problem is not merely occupying posts carrying conflicting roles; but exercise of you position in both organisations / capacities for gain of one organisation and such exercise of your power and/or capacity being detrimental to the interests of the other organisation.
People in all walks of life are placed in such situations; but in certain situations, the law forbids people having conflict of interest from occupying certain offices.
And I am saying this here because I have come across certain people in the free software community occupying such positions of conflict and using their positions in community organisations for obtaining business for their personal organisations.
This conflict of interest has severely impaired progress of the free software movement in India. More than one person I have come into contract has asked me ``why is organisation X so ineffective in its stated objectives?'' and almost, as if answering their own questions, pointing out the organisations involved.
I hope the people concerned realise that they are being watched by the community.
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