Ethics Corner – March

Stuart Brown, Head of Ethics & Sustainability Business against Poverty

The thing about ethics, by and large, is that it’s not rocket science. Working through how you actually put it into practice is, I admit, not always as straightforward as some might think; but it basically comes down to two things. First, think how you would like other people to treat you. Treat them in the same way, if not better. It’s good for business because – let’s be honest – nobody really likes having to deal with people whom they wouldn’t have as friends, given the choice. People come back to companies that treat them well. Second, if you find yourself having to defend what you’ve done against an accusation that it might not be ethical – then it isn’t ethical. That’s not an absolute, but it’s a pretty good guiding principle. Ethics is a bit like fuzzy logic: a kind of collective “what we know to be right based on what we feel in the pit of our stomachs”. I’ll give you an example.

Many years ago I was in Mumbai doing a budget for a waste management plan. I came across a budget item of $50,000 with no description. “It’s for our friends” I was told by our local partner, “to ensure that we win the contract”. Except that it would ensure nothing, because “somebody else may be friendlier”. Bribery, in other words. A colleague told me that it was just the accepted way of doing things in 90% of the countries where we worked. Did that make it ethical? Of course not. I told the local partner to take the budget line out. Whether they did or not, I don’t know. We did lose the contract but at least I retained the moral high ground and my colleagues admitted that had we won the contract through bribery, we’d have had problems during its execution. The point is this: insisting on ethical practices can sometimes place you at a short-term disadvantage and there’s no point in pretending otherwise; but it enables you to speak from a position of authority. Over time, people come to realise that you practice what you preach and that they can rely on you not only to keep your word but also to play it fair by them. That has to be good for business in the medium-to-long-term.

We are now taking bookings for our Ethics & Sustainability Seminars taking place this spring.  Book your place now

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