Corporate Eye

Oh No, Not MORE Ethical Business!

Gunslinger art trim

Earlier this week, I forget why, I was wandering around the internet looking for something (as you do) when my eye lighted upon an editorial in The Progress Report.

I’d never come across the Progress Report before so I had a good look round.  “Interesting”, as Sir Humphrey Appleby might say.

The editorial focussed upon ethical businesses and on one proposal in particular: “On being Ethically Certified”.  I have to say, I read it, groaned, held my head in my hands, and (as techno-gunslingers might say) prepared to blog.

Ethical Certification

In brief, the editorial proposes all business executives should be ethically certified.  The mechanism would be as follows:

A board comprising

ethicists in the fields of philosophy, economics, political science, and business

would provide

a basic course in ethics and specialty courses in the ethics of business, accounting, marketing, government, law, construction, religion, engineering, and science.

To gain certification a candidate would have to pass

a written essay exam and an oral exam … for the basic course and for one or more specialty courses

On passing (and gaining certification!) the candidate would

provide a bond of $10,000 to the board [which could be paid in instalments]

If there are any complaints about the individual, the board would investigate and

if they found an ethical violation, the holder would lose the $10,000, and his name would be entered into a list on a web site of those whose certification has become void

What’s more,

at the age of 65, the bond would convert to an annuity (a guaranteed lifetime income). If the holder died before the age of 65, the funds would be transferred to a beneficiary

… which is an interesting, and refreshing, take on bonds.

Easy Targets

I wouldn’t have a problem with this proposal, if it wasn’t for the fact that this emphasis upon ethics is becoming more and more prevalent across the sustainability business community.  This is not a new point of view .. see Please! No More Ethical Businesses.

When I wrote that post, a lot of people disagreed with me, saying that ethics should come into business management and that sustainability is nothing more than a branch of ethics.

I still disagree.  Sustainability has nothing to do with ethics.  Sustainability is all about resource management and the recognition that society (including business) relies upon a finite supply of basic raw materials, from the air we breath to employee goodwill.

Ethics, on the other hand, is all about one’s personal and social moral compass, the decisions we make day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year.

There is no empirical ethical business .. that is nothing more than the belief in social and moral imperialism.  Ethics can and should be allowed to change day-to-day … to say otherwise is to imply that we do not learn from our experiences.

Ethical Certification In Balance

I have to emphasise that the Progress Review editorial was focussed upon individuals.  It embraces businessmen, but its main intent is to propose that …

candidates for government offices, for example, could become ethically certified. Executives of companies could also be ethically certified. Maybe some religious leaders might also seek ethical certification … [people want] their doctors, accountants, lawyers, and construction contractors to be ethically certified. People would want to buy services and products from ethically certified producers. Perhaps people getting married would want their spouse to be ethically certified!

This is where the “ethically correct” agenda is leading.  The Progress Review editorial continues:

there is ethically certified timber that avoids wood from unsustainable logging. Several organizations, such as the Rainforest Alliance, ethically certify coffee and other goods. There are products such as cocoa that are certified as “ethically responsible” and “fair trade certified.” But I know of no organization that provides ethical certification for persons.

This a) confuses ethically correct actions with sustainable actions, and b) suggests that what is right for a corporation is right for an individual.

PLEASE, No More Ethical Businesses

So once again I say: PLEASE, No More Ethical Businesses.  Ethics should not be a stricture or commandment against which businesses can measure themselves.  I choose where to buy my food because of my beliefs, but just because I champion organic food does mean to say it’s wrong that I sometimes buy non-organic food because it has less food miles.

This is what is meant by a free market: putting all the options on the shelf and allowing the consumer to decide.  The moment you bring ethics into the equation you’re making a moral decision for the consumer .. and if you believe in a consumer based society, you have to see that that is (ahem) ethically wrong.

Picture Credit: Gunslinger Art by planetc1 under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence.  Trimmed by Chris Milton.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.