The goal today is to discuss business ethics, corporations, companies, non-profits, workplaces, and industry: what best practices are, which ethical principles are relevant, what can go wrong, what ought to happen, how corporations fit into the scheme of corporate social responsibility, how business ethics relates to sustainability, the “triple bottom line,” and the like. Ronald F. Duska, Ph.D. is my first partner in dialogue. He served as a past president and executive director of the Society of Business Ethics, and has published many books on this topic. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in the graduate business schools of St. Joseph’s and Villanova Universities. My second guest is Michael Boylan, Ph.D., the John J. McDonnell, Jr. Chair in Ethics as well as the philosophy department chair at Marymount University. In addition to books entitled Natural Rights and The Origins of Ancient Greek Science, he put one out last year named A Just Society – his manifesto on ethics and social-political philosophy.
The following piece, “Business Ethics,” is chapter 16 in the book Values & Ethics: From Living Room to Boardroom (itself based on an Internet-based talk radio show of the same name I did in times past). My interesting and reputable partners in dialogue are Ronald F. Duska, Ph.D. and Michael Boylan, Ph.D.. Ronald’s words are indicated by the initials RF, Michael’s are MB, and mine are JM. For paragraphs with no initials, assume they are a continuation of the speaker who was speaking in the previous paragraph. I highlight words having to do with values and virtues by placing them in boldface type. Enjoy this look at values-based leadership, business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and economics.
“It is a commonplace executive observation that businesses exist to make money, and the observation is usually allowed to go unchallenged. It is, however, a very limited statement about the purposes of business.” ~ Daniel Katz & Robert L. Kahn
JM: Hello, this is Jason Merchey, host of Values and Ethics from Living Room to Boardroom, here on World Talk Radio. The goal today is to discuss ethics in businesses, corporations, companies, non-profits, workplaces, and industry: what best practices are, which ethical principles are relevant, what can go wrong, what ought to happen, how corporations fit into the scheme of corporate social responsibility, how business ethics relates to sustainability, the “triple bottom line,” and the like.
Allow me to introduce Ronald F. Duska, Ph.D. He served as a past president and executive director of the Society of Business Ethics, which is the publisher of Business Ethics Quarterly. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in the graduate business schools of St. Joseph’s and Villanova Universities. Professor Duska held the Charles Lamont Post Chair of Ethics and the Professions at The American College from 1996 until 2011, where he co-founded and served as the director of the College’s Center for Ethics. The Center created The Mitchell Forum, which brings together chief executives in the financial services industry with business ethicists. He has taught at The Wharton School, The University of Virginia, Pennsylvania State University, and St. John’s University. Dr. Duska is a senior fellow at the Olson Center of the University of Virginia, and a senior fellow at the Pedro Arrupe Center for Business Ethics at St. Joseph’s University. He is the author, co-author, or editor of numerous articles and books, including Accounting Ethics (2nd Edition), Ethics for the Financial Services Professional, Contemporary Reflections on Business Ethics, The Next Phase of Business Ethics: Integrating Psychology and Ethics, Moral Development: A Guide to Piaget and Kohlberg, and Ethics and Corporate Responsibility: Theory, Cases, and Dilemmas.
I must say I’m impressed! Hello, Professor Duska.
RD: Hello, call me Ron.
JM: Great. I’ll begin by asking for a little information about yourself: do you have a way to characterize your perspective on business ethics? For example, I studied psychology, so if someone were to ask me what my theoretical orientation was, I could indicate behaviorism, cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, family systems, etc., but I’m ignorant about business ethics in that academic sense.
“We must think through what management should be accountable for, and how and through whom its accountability can be discharged. The stockholders’ interest, both short- and long-term, is one of the areas. But it is only one.” ~ Peter Drucker
RD: I primarily started out in philosophy, doing my doctoral work in ethical theory, and I did some undergraduate work in psychology and literature. I moved from theory to applied ethics, in which I have been involved for the last 20 or 30 years. It’s an intriguing field; its aim is to bring theories down to practice. You learn a lot about the theories by looking at particular practices, as well. I guess my philosophical bent would be “common sense Aristotelianism,” if you will. I like to analyze practices, determine what constitutes right and wrong, and try to simplify some of the complex concepts and such.
JM: It’s interesting to apply an Aristotelian approach to modern-day problems. So, how does that look? You would work with an executive in a corporation, and introduce an idea Aristotle wrote about, trying to kind of “bring it into the room” and utilize it in some fashion?
RD: Yes. It’s very interesting, indeed. I’ve been dealing recently with this notion of what he calls “the accumulator” – the person who accumulates for the sake of accumulating. He notes that’s not a very happy or fulfilled person. When you go to Aristotle, from the 4th century B.C.E., and try it out on contemporary issues, it’s fascinating to see how it works itself out; it gives you new insights and new ways of going at things. One can apply the idea to some of the things going on in Enron and WorldCom and the like — it opens up a whole lot of perspective on what goes wrong in companies that act unethically and betray trust.
“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” ~ Josiah Charles Stamp
JM: Yes, Enron is an interesting example in regard to this idea of accumulation. It’s probably not just simply greed which made this corporation worthy of blame; it’s deeper than that, right? Because one could picture someone who’s got a lot of money and they just want to collect cars or something— there’s really nothing unethical about that per se. So, tell me something about Enron that characterizes the nature of their downfall.
RD: Basically, they forgot what their mission and purpose and goals were, and became simply accumulators of profit. If you go back and look at some of their statements when they were growing under Jeffrey Skilling, he gave a speech indicating they want to be “the world’s leading company.” That is a curious kind of goal – leading at what? That elicits an Aristotelian question: Why do you want to be the leading company? What’s the point of that? It’s a limitless goal; it lead Enron to a kind of hubris and single-mindedness that got them in trouble.
JM: Hubris tends to do that. The utter lack of business ethics. The pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all else.
RD: Indeed. What I would insist on is that every business produces some product, and their vision ought to be to produce it well and make people’s lives better off. In the process of doing that, they’re going to make a profit, which is essential because they’ve got to stay in business. What happened with Enron and myriad other companies in recent years is that they got so enwrapped in becoming bigger and more and more profitable that they forgot what they were really about and why they existed. I think that inevitably leads to a lot of trouble, and in company after company, you can see that coming to pass.
JM: It sounds like you’re speaking of the purpose of a corporation; what are some ethical purposes of a corporation?
“Aristotle took note of those who ‘turn every quality or art into a means of getting wealth; this they conceive to be the end, and to the promotion of that end they think all things must contribute.’ Clearly, for Aristotle, this is a picture of someone corrupt. Like Midas, those who accumulate wealth for its own sake are ‘intent upon living only, and not upon living well.’” ~ Ronald Duska
RD: Well, I’m not sure I’d call them ethical. I think the purpose of the corporation is, fundamentally, to make goods and services and produce products. If you consider why in the world human beings invented corporations, it’s because human beings like new products, better products, and creating better living standards, so the corporation allows for a way to effectively and efficiently provide services and products to the market.
Adam Smith came along and posited that the best way to get there is to put some profit and self-interest into it; you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. You’re not going to appeal to people often, saying: “Be just and fair and do good things for your fellow man.” Smith said: “It’s not from the benevolence of the butcher or the baker that you expect your dinner, but from their self-interest.”
So he’s a kind of genius there, figuring out a way to incentivize people and foment “the profit motive.” I’ve argued fairly extensively that the motive is not to be confused with the purpose. Motive is like the engine: that’s what moves you: profit. The engine of a train is not the destination, which is akin to purpose.
I look at some finance departments and academia and they keep talking about “the purpose is to maximize shareholder value;” I don’t see it that way. I don’t think the original articulators of capitalism, such as Adam Smith, saw it that way, either. It’s become a kind of mantra: “We’ve got to maximize profit,” and: “Economic man is a self-interested profit maximizer.” I think that’s wrongheaded, and I think it leads one into trouble. What I envision is a kind of evolution of capitalism away from that kind of single-mindedness.
“If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization.” ~ Robert Noyce
…An interesting article appeared in the Wall Street Journal this morning about Ben Heineman, of General Electric. He said there are three dimensions: strong economic performance, strict compliance with accounting and the requirements, and ethical action beyond what the law requires. I think that means taking a look at what you’re for and what your purpose is, and sticking to it. That will be a long-term, successful company.
JM: Yeah. Let’s think about profit in regard to something like apples. It’s not unethical to sell a huge number of apples very successfully, or even to put your competitors out of business. Is that correct?
JM: Okay. But, the ethical problems might result if, let’s say, you lie about how many apples you produce, or if the apples that you produce receive an herbicide that ends up causing birth defects in fetuses. Is that fair to say? It seems to me that it’s not profit per se that is the problem, but if you use profit as the only goal, then you don’t even have to sell real apples— you could sell facsimiles that appear edible.
RD: You’ve got two things going on there: a defective product that’s causing harm, for which I believe there’s no ethical justification. The second thing you talked about is, basically let’s call them lies, about your product. The free market works very well and is very efficient because people assume I’m going to give you x and I’m going to get y in return, and I know what I’m getting and you know what you’re getting, so this free trade makes us both happier. The example you gave me of the apples is: “I think I’m getting a good apple, but I’m not,” so you’re going to be happy you got the money but I’m not going to be happy with the product. When subterfuge becomes, for the sake of profit, the way one operates, distrust is the result.
“If the firms that employ an increasing majority of the population are driven solely to satisfy the owner’s greed at the expense of working conditions, the stability of the community, and the health of the environment, chances are that the quality of our lives will be worse than it is now.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
…The philosopher Immanuel Kant noted that if everybody lies, then no one is going to believe anybody. Look at the damage and the cynicism created by these kinds of business practices. Case in point: the stock markets needed to know what these companies were worth. People invested money in them thinking they were investing in healthy companies. When trusted professionals such as accountants don’t live up to their responsibility, people really get hurt. People get deceived. When we don’t trust, we need more regulation; more regulation is costlier and less efficient. So I think there is a really strong argument for a sound market— even a market in apples.
JM: Let’s talk about this apples metaphor in regard to business productivity. For example, how does a person get ahead in their apple farming, distribution, marketing, and so on without cheating? It seems like the only way to do that is to work harder, faster, smarter, get better people to work with you, invent a better hybrid, etc. But many business owners, managers, and workers either cheat (which I think is clearly immoral), or they don’t do the right thing in other ways— price-gouging or reverse engineering or refusing to pay for even a little maternity leave, etc. What do you think causes a self-serving value system in corporations and in the workplace, or the callousness we see from corporate America quite a lot? It’s the pursuit of profit, isn’t it?
RD: Well, yeah it’s partly profit, partly psychological makeup— I think there’s a whole bunch of variables that go into it; I don’t want to simplify it. One of the problems, when you talk about price-gouging (which is an interesting concept), is supply and demand. One might call price gouging immoral, whereas an economist could say, I suppose: “It was just supply and demand – they were entrepreneurial enough to provide a much-needed product and were just charging what the market could bear.”
JM: So, you’re saying, “Is it necessarily wrong to charge what the market will bear for a product?” I think that’s pretty reasonable; few people would consider selling a new television for $3,000 price-gouging. Either a consumer can afford it or they can’t. But, the ethical aspect has something to do with one person taking advantage of another person who is in a weak position, right?
“The proposed frame of reference for thinking about and implementing corporate responsibility aims at spelling out the processes associated with moral responsibility of individuals and projecting them to the level of organizations. This is similar to (an inversion of) Plato’s famous method in the Republic, in which justice in the community is used as a model for justice in the individual.” ~ Michael Boylan
RD: There’s a medieval principle: whatever is held in superabundance is a “natural right” to those in need, and that’s just kind of a flat-out ethical principle. I think that’s what you’re alluding to; in other words, if someone is in need and there is something you can do to help them, then they’ve got some sort of claim to that stuff. Water, air, etc.
I think the new talk about “corporate citizenship” brings that to the fore, because we’re talking about, “Hey, as a corporation, you are a citizen; you have an effect on the people around you,” and so on. You get into theories like stakeholder theory. We confront that cold notion of the corporation as simply: “go ahead, make your profit, and the devil take the hindmost,” with no concern about other people.
Those are the really interesting discussions that I think are going on in business ethics. If you look at the evolution of the modern corporation, that’s the kind of discourse I hear and the attitudes that corporate executives – the really good, forward-looking ones – are talking about. Why? Because they want to look in the mirror, too. They don’t want to feel that they’re responsible for: “Oh my Lord, I have all these apples, and all these people are starving.” So we’ve got to work on the pharmaceutical companies; “We’ve got this thing and it can save lives; what exactly are our responsibilities?”
The trick is to make that part and parcel of corporate thinking. One can go all the way back to Adam Smith; he said you can pursue your self-interest as long as it doesn’t violate justice. If justice is everybody getting what they need, deserve, and are due, and you have somebody starving who needs the apple (or somebody is sick and they need medication), for which there is a pretty strong argument that it’s their due, how do we make corporate social responsibility conform? That’s the trick, and I think that the apple example is good.
“We need to begin with what we have in common, and then to see how commerce fits with it. What kind of relationship should we build between ‘the commons’ and the commercial? How can businesses function in such a manner that our common resources remain available to all? Can businesses help to make water, clean air, and knowledge available to all and owned by none? These may be the questions for business ethics today.” ~ Marvin T. Brown
The other thing is how to make sure you get enough apples for everybody. That raises all sorts of difficulties because it involves production: “We might be able to get enough apples for everybody, but how much pesticide, how much harm do we do?” I told you I am fond of Aristotle, and he noted that for every generation there is a corruption; every time you make something you destroy something else. When we do things, there are externalities. We’ve got to learn who has responsibility for the externalities.
One of the things I’m not happy with is the ability of corporations, because of the laws, to leave their garbage around. Somebody wrote an interesting article once, “Who Owns the Garbage?” You know? Look at some of the “Rust Belt” towns with the deserted factories— corporations came in, they used the environment, used the community, and then moved on and left the mess. They are to be held accountable for cleaning it up.
JM: Well, you speak wisely, though I’m afraid the sand has run out of the hourglass because Michael Boylan is on the phone and he’s waiting to take a crack at some questions. So I’d like to thank you Professor Ronald Duska for your time and bid you a fond farewell.
RD: Ok Jason, you’re welcome. Goodbye.
“We have to shift our emphasis from economic efficiency and materialism towards a sustainable quality of life and to healing of our society, people, and ecological systems.” ~ Janet H. A. Court
JM: I could have dialogued with him for another hour, but now it’s my pleasure to bring on Professor Michael Boylan. He is the John J. McDonnell, Jr. Chair in Ethics as well as the philosophy department chair at Marymount University. In addition to books entitled Natural Rights and The Origins of Ancient Greek Science, he put one out last year named A Just Society – his manifesto on ethics and social-political philosophy. I have read and appreciated it. Professor Boylan has published over 30 books and written over 100 professional articles. Three are edited textbooks: Medical Ethics (2nd Edition), Environmental Ethics (2nd Edition), and Business Ethics (2nd Edition). I read the latter and it is a solid college textbook. Michael holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Impressive c.v., indeed. So, Professor Boylan, welcome. How are you today?
MB: Hi. I’m well; how about yourself?
JM: Good, good. Would it be okay if I called you Michael?
MB: That’s fine.
JM: Did you happen to hear any of the conversation I had with Ronald Duska?
MB: I did hear the end of it – when you were talking about price-gouging. Speaking of medieval principles, Thomas Aquinas said that when nature is altered, then normal rules are altered as well. So, if you have a situation with a natural disaster or a fire or a famine or something in which nature has been altered, it seems to me that the natural balance between individuals and their communities and society is such that it’s tipped toward community. This means entrepreneurs can no longer act as if they were in a normal marketplace merely replying to supply and demand. In fact, they become members of the community, and ought to deliver goods and services reasonably (as measured by the people’s normal expectations for paying for goods). And, if possible, at little or no profit. It’s very unseemly to me for individuals to “profiteer” when a community (or a country) is in crisis. Community loyalty, patriotism, and ethics should tip the scales towards the community and its needs.
JM: I see what you’re saying. What do you have to say about this quotation by Michael S. Josephson? He said: “Though the ethical challenges we face in the workplace may be different from those in our personal lives, the principles of ethical conduct that apply to those challenges do not change. There is no such thing as “business ethics” – there is only ethics.”
MB: Well, that’s an interesting point. Largely, I would agree. Business ethics, medical ethics, environmental ethics, social-political ethics are part of applied ethics. With professions operating in the public sphere, there is kind of an equivalency between their professionalism and their ethical duties, and Josephson sites that ethical principles are ethical principles whether one is in a particular social role or not, and I would entirely agree. However, there are some duties above and beyond typical expectations when it comes to professionals. For example, if you’re an accountant you might have separate ethical duties in your role that an ordinary person might not have because they are not faced with the fiduciary responsibilities, etc.
“I do not believe maximizing profits for the investors is the only acceptable justification for all corporate actions. The investors are not the only people who matter. Corporations can exist for purposes other than maximizing profit.” ~ John Mackey & Raj Sisodia
JM: I see what you mean. That is apropos of our prior discussion of the individual who is selling a good or service in a time of crisis; perhaps they should be held to a certain ethical standard and not be excused because they are conducting financial services behind a corporate veil or operating in times of crisis. Ideally, such an entrepreneur would ask himself: What would I want to have done to me if the roles were reversed? One can never go wrong applying the “Golden Rule” to human interactions. It leads to empathy, care, and respect.
Or, less emotion-based, as Kant would have it, the actor would have to adhere to the categorical imperative: do nothing that they would not want to become the universal law of conduct (i.e., what kind of world would we live in if everyone took advantage of another when they were in a weakened position – would that be a good and functional place to live? I suppose it takes either an unwavering and highly-principled sense of duty to do something such as forego profit to be kind to another (in either the corporate sphere, or, more likely, one-on-one business interactions both in typical and in critical situations).
Whether one acts based on a theory of ethics that utilizes or eschews emotions, either way perspective-taking is required. Even CEOs and military leaders and politicians can and should ask: “Is this going to cause harm or help the other?” Theologian Martin Buber would call this an I-Thou relationship, rather than one that could describe countless interactions in our world: I-It relations.
MB: I suggest that we view those in pain and suffering with sympathy and compassion. This worldview is not as interested in a cause/effect relation that affixes absolute blame as it is in eliminating human suffering. Under this approach, it is most important to provide individuals with what they need, regardless of blame. Before one can properly interact with another, she must first be able to get outside herself and discern the personal worldview and situation of another. This includes being able to see things from the other person’s perspective and then reconstructing (as best as one can do) the worldview that the other person carries around with him. Sympathy requires one to leave the self-absorbed, self-oriented domain in which far too many people reside.
“When values occur, they point normatively to what should or should not be the case, and what is better or worse. When these values connect with the right and wrong of human action, then they are issues of ethics.”~ Michael Boylan
JM: Interesting. Yes, self-concern is one of our biggest problems as a society, and is probably causally related to one of our gravest vices, the love of money. In a similar vein, Ronald Duska and I were discussing cheating. When it comes to business ethics, cheating and other bad behaviors are ripe for the picking.
What’s your take on corporations? Are we allowing corporations to have too much privilege and not enough responsibility? Too much power and not enough scrutiny? Are they indeed a necessary and welcome part of society because of the goods and services they are uniquely able to provide? Ought we to consider them citizens? Are they conducting themselves in a way that could be considered unethical much of the time?
MB: Well, I think we need business in society if we want to be able to provide an adequate standard of living for people, but how business is organized is key. The corporation is itself rather unusual because it was created almost like a “mythical person,” so logically, it has a continued existence even though it is itself just a legal document. There are philosophers who have said, “Well, no, let’s take this metaphor further and think of the corporation of an actual person, and then let’s describe it as how we would describe an actual person to be.” It’s conceived as a “person-like entity,” and a corporation, like a person, could be sued and held accountable. However, it’s hard to know how you put the corporation in jail for malfeasance because it’s just a piece of paper. So, there are some difficulties with making the metaphor substantive, as those ethicists do.
“Ethics – or simple honesty – are the building blocks upon which our whole society is based, and business is a part of our society. It’s integral to the practice of business that you have a set of honest standards. It’s much easier to do business with someone when you look them in the eye and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and you understand what you each mean, and you can go away and get it done.” ~ Kerry Stokes
…However, like everything else in philosophy, they have a point in that the original intent perhaps of the corporation was to shield the officers and directors from liability, and some people have used that shield for activities that are not according to the rules and laws of society to avoid jail and so forth. On the other hand, it is a device which allows public ownership of companies, which brings the general population into the economic picture, in principle; groups of shareholders can vote on critical issues and can select the board of directors and so forth.
JM: Well, let me just ask you about this; pretty much “The Golden Rule” of business ethics. It is a 28-word statement from Robert Hinckley. Give me your opinion on whether it is “air-tight,” or if you see some problem with it: “A Director shall discharge the duties of the position of Director in good faith…but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, public health or safety, the communities in which the Corporation operates, or the dignity of its employees.” Is that fair— that a corporation can make as much money as possible, but not at the expense of those more primary interests?
MB: Yeah, I think so. Of course, there’s a lot of play in “not at the expense of…” because, depending on how that’s interpreted, it could mean a highly regulative environment or one that’s merely “lip service.” Almost no one would say, “I am for deteriorating the environment.” However, the way that they actually implement policy shows whether or not they mean that they are trying to contribute to sustainable development or not.
The goal in defining a corporation as an individual is to be able to create a model that requires it to be morally responsible for what it does. The ‘corporate veil,’ originally created to absolve directors, officers, and stockholders from personal liability resulting from the company’s actions, has often created a situation in which no person or entity is ever responsible for anything.
“The fact of the matter is that today, stuff-selling mega-corporations have a huge influence on our daily lives. And because of the competitive nature of our global economy, these corporations are generally only concerned with one thing – ‘the bottom line.’ That is, maximizing profit, regardless of the social or environmental costs.” ~ David Suzuki
JM: Yes, and there are some real ethical considerations when one is operating in this unique sphere where the value responsibility is more indeterminate. For example, if a company develops a special seed for growing an apple tree whose fruit is pest-resistant, that sounds good because you can have more apples make it to market; however, that alteration of the genome may have some unexpected consequences or costs in the future that could or should have been foreseen. Harm may result.
MB: Yeah, absolutely. Some corporate leaders and ethicists fairly recently have been putting forth the economic principle of the triple bottom line. The first “bottom line” is conventional profit-making, of course. As in, you must make more money than you spend. The second bottom line is not based in accounting, but is ethical: social responsibility (at least within the community and the country in which it operates).
Imagine a retail company that pays its employees such a low wage that a good portion of them qualify for Medicaid. That’s not being a good corporate citizen to the state and national economies. If you had such a company – who could imagine, right!? – perhaps they even started in Arkansas or somewhere – they would be acting as a bad corporate citizen because it’s pushing legitimate costs in the marketplace, which in America includes healthcare insurance, to everyone else so that they can increase their first bottom line. That would be an example of violating the second bottom line.
The third bottom line is environmentalism, as you were talking about. There are some large companies such as ING, a Dutch financial services company, that actually had independent audits on all three bottom lines – which they used for salary incentives, bonuses, and so forth, top to bottom in their management system. It is an impressive way to show that they were really serious about all three; none of which get preference. One has to make progress in all three to get incentive payments.
“Of course, there are many elements to the story of America’s slow-growth economy, including familiar trends from globalization to technology-related job destruction. These are clearly massive challenges in their own right. But the single biggest unexplored reason for long-term slower growth is that the financial system has stopped serving the real economy and now serves mainly itself.” ~ Rana Foroohar
JM: That’s very interesting, very progressive. I remember a statistic from way back when that indicated that General Motors (I believe) was spending like $800 per car on health care for its workers. Maybe pensions were wrapped in as well. The point is, they had a very specific number that they were tacking on to the sticker price due to expenses that they could very reasonably (and ethically) pass on to the community or state. In fact, Japanese automakers were compared in this instance and they did not have such excess costs of production. $800 can certainly mean the Japanese vehicles were that much more attractive (on top of other attractive aspects of Japanese cars). It’s a stunning example of business leaders being divided: do we lobby for public health care like every other industrialized country, or do we try to protect the interests of the insurance industry?
A similar issue involves unionization of workers. Manufacturers ask themselves: Do we allow workers to have more rights, or fight tooth and nail (Boeing in the state of South Carolina spends a huge amount of money annually on a disinformation campaign against unionization)(and Washington state does not)? Union membership is at an all-time low, and it’s probably no coincidence that it co-occurs with low wages, pension erosion, and wealth inequality. I think corporations have to face the music when they put the interests of shareholders and executives before workers’ quality of life and environmental stewardship. It’s truly a matter of ethics.
But, I am willing to entertain an alternative perspective. Case in point: a corporation such as ING electively does the right thing – worrying about two additional bottom lines compared to their competitors. They would seem to be at a near-term financial disadvantage, and so it would need to pay off in regard to complying with government regulation, positive public relations, or ethics. There are good reasons to do the right thing from a corporate management perspective, but it might take some courage to prioritize alternative goals to the next fiscal quarter’s profits.
“Experience shows there are three valuable and overarching ethical principles that can be applied to the majority of issues in the financial services industry: (1) avoid deception and fraud; (2) honor your commitments; (3) fulfill the true purpose of your professional role.” ~ Ronald Duska
MB: Yes, it’s up to individual companies – and now the international community – to try to make it so the companies that are seeking to do the right thing get a competitive advantage from doing so. Until we do that, in highly competitive markets, it’s the good guys who suffer.
JM: I see what you’re saying. That’s about all the time we have, but I alluded earlier to your book, A Just Society, and I think it’s really quite interesting. This quote is particularly engaging to me: “The first step in establishing a just society is for everyone to submit to morality as the final arbitrator of all human disputes.” Would you be willing to spend a half-hour in the future talking with me about that concept?
MB: Sure, I’d be happy to.
JM: Great, well then I will work on that. I thank you for your time discussing business ethics with me today.
MB: Not at all!
Learn more about the book from which this chapter on business ethics was excerpted HERE.
There are many quotations about ethics in the Wisdom Archive, which is free and unparalleled. Look it up!