Consider this business arrangement. I will do business with you only if you can provide me with supplies more cheaply and faster than anyone else. Even if you accept this challenge, there is no guarantee that I will ever do business with you again.
Sounds a little unfair if you happen to be the supplier in this business deal. Do you try and comply, or do you simply turn away a good business prospect?
It seems to me that e-business exchanges all too often reward the former approach and scorn the latter. If the Web was the great equaliser that allowed small companies to compete in a global market, e-business is where the multinationals fight back.
They can form powerful cartels via a Web-based business-to-business portal and exploit, exploit and exploit their dominance.
Shouldn't we question the ethics of allowing two of America's largest car manufacturers to create a closed parts-and-supplies exchange built on e-business?
The question is not whether to legislate, but to what extent exploitation and anti-competitive practices should be curbed.
Large companies' suppliers must weigh the pros and cons of joining an exchange. They could be held to ransom. But, equally, there is a golden opportunity to become part of a larger market, target potential buyers directly and reduce sales and marketing costs.
It is not the e-business technology that needs attention.
If anything, the "e" in e-business should stand for ethical. We must decide how we wish to conduct business. Is it acceptable to do business with a supplier that exploits the Third World? Is it acceptable to penny-pinch when the lives of entire communities are held to ransom by a mouse click?