Morality in business: Oxymoron?

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

There are those who would say that the term “morality in business” is an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms. Businessmen like to believe that there are two sets of values – one for individuals and a different one for businesses and corporations.

Every professionally run company has a code of ethical conduct for its employees. Violations result in the employee being punished either in the form of a reprimand, suspension or even termination. But any discussion on an  ethical code of conduct for management practitioners and business owners is a difficult and hazardous topic. Any person trying to discuss or write about the topic is normally met with indifference or accusation  of either being unrealistic, self righteous or hypocritical.

These are the excuses given whenever so-called business decision are made. A businessman will say that he or she has to think of the ”good of the business”. But the businessman conveniently forgets that business decisions are made by persons and the decision maker must accept full responsibility for the consequences of his decision.

Peter Drucker, the most influential management guru of modern times wrote: “ There is only one code of ethics, that of individual behaviour , for prince or pauper, for rich and poor for the mighty and the meek alike.”

Today, the Filipino businessman like  business leaders around the world, are confronted with moral questions that cannot be decided simply on the basis of what is “good for the company.” There is the issue of the minimum wage vs. the living wage that institutions like the Catholic Church have been advocating for more than a century. Then there is the issue of contractualization and the continuing practice of hiring “casuals” who will be laid off after a few months work and then rehired again to avoid giving them regular status.

Tax evasion and money laundering through tax havens in places like the British Virgin Islands are now considered as an integral part of doing business. And when transparency about financial transactions and bank accounts are demanded, businessmen object on the basis of the “right to privacy.”

There is this widespread belief that it is only leaders of the Catholic Church, like Pope Francis, who are warning us that there is too much greed in the business community. But even non-religious management gurus like Henry Mintzberg believe that this “glorification of self interest” has been intensifying. More than ten years ago, Mintzberg wrote: “Greed has been raised to some sort of high calling; corporations are urged to ignore broader social responsibilities in favour of narrow shareholder; chief executives are regarded as if they alone create economic performance. A society devoid of selfishness may be difficult to imagine, but a society that glorifies selfishness can be imagined only as cynical and corrupt. In effect, our societies have been tilting increasingly out of balance in favour of markets at the expense of other social institutions.”

But for those who are interested, there are actually several ethical codes of conduct of business.

Dr. Ben Teehankee is the Chair, Faculty Development Committee, of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business at De La Salle University. He is also the official liaison between DLSU and the United Nation Principles for Responsible Management Education ( UN PRME). He is also the driving force in DLSU’s desire to inculcate ethical behaviour among its management students. It is the beginning of another trimester. Here is part of the message he has sent to all the faculty members in the College of Business:

“ Dear Colleagues: Remember also to  explain the attached RVR COB Code of Ethics as the principles of Lasallian business leadership that we want them to learn. Please explain that the Code is in line with the Lasallian Guiding Principles and our commitments to the UN Principles for Responsible for Responsible Management.

DLSU Ramon Del Rosario College of Business Code of Ethics

As a business leader I recognize my role in society.

• My purpose is to lead people and manage resources to promote human development and the common good and to create value that no single individual can create alone.

• My decisions affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and tomorrow.

Therefore, I promise that:

• I will manage with loyalty and care, and will not advance my personal interests at the expense of my enterprise or society.

• I will promote socially useful products and services which serve human development, keeping in mind reasonable access for the poor and underprivileged.

• I will understand and uphold, in letter and spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise.

• I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society.

• I will respect the human rights and dignity of all people affected by my enterprise, and I will oppose discrimination and exploitation.

• I will promote a humane and enabling work community within my organization.

• I will promote the just allocation of resources for all stakeholders of the company

• I will respect the right of future generations to advance their standard of living and enjoy a healthy planet

• I will report the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.

• I will invest in developing myself and others, helping the management profession continue to advance and create sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

• In exercising my professional duties according to these principles, I recognize that my behavior must set an example of integrity, eliciting trust and esteem from those I serve. I will remain accountable to my peers and to society for my actions and for upholding these standards.

This is an ethical code for business I would highly recommend.

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