Ethics – where to begin, given the situation that our country is in. We live in a Parliamentary Democracy, based on the rule of law, where people used to say that “An Englishman’s word is his bond”. We have just had a referendum that calls into question if not all of those principles then certainly at least one of them. So without me needing to say any more on that particular issue, you can see why I am struggling to write this. It is like the Elephant in the Ethical Room: something so large that one cannot ignore it without making a mockery of the subject that one is trying to address. Nevertheless, try I will.
Honesty is a key ingredient of being ethical: but it is of little value in its own right unless it goes hand-in-hand with integrity and factual accuracy. Over the years, during which I have had to grapple with communicating with people whose languages I may not speak and whose grasp of English has sometimes been tenuous to say the least, I have had to redefine my idea of what constitutes honesty in the sense of being something that is genuinely ethical. Recent events in the UK have made it all the more apparent – to me, anyway – that ethical honesty needs to embrace the following concept: to communicate to other people the objectively verifiable facts of which one is aware, stating clearly when something is opinion rather than fact, placing an emphasis upon ensuring that the other person’s understanding of the subject is in full alignment with one’s own. Politics and governance processes the world over would be much more effective if they embraced this principle. How often do one person’s ‘facts’ differ from somebody else’s? As long as there exists a disparity, I would suggest that the requirement for ethical honesty has not been fulfilled.
For SMEs it would seem simple enough to put this principle into action. Yet an implicit part of this involves being able to put oneself in the other person’s shoes and take an unbiased look at the subject. I’ve had to do this because it’s my profession; but over the years I have observed that it is a skill that needs to be cultivated. It does not come naturally to people (myself included). Seeing things from our stakeholders’ points of view is in my opinion one of the most important skills that we could acquire in conducting business ethically: and when one can do that, other people sense it and respond positively … which has to be good for both business and the world in which we live.
Stuart Brown – Head of Ethics & Sustainability