For BUSINESS ETHICS students
If you could push a button that would redistribute all of the world’s wealth equally to every living human on Earth continually for eternity, would you push it?
Please respond by the end of November 2016. Use a clear line of argument (whether normative or descriptive) to justify your answer.
January 2017. Silence. The best answer sometimes.
A simple ethical framework
27 March 2015
There is always beauty in simplicity. At our public event yesterday, our guest speaker Sir Tim Lankester spoke about Business and ethics in international development, with special reference to the Pergau dam scandal in 1994, which he wrote a book about. He analysed the case from a very effective – because simple and clear – moral framework, consisting of three main criteria – legality, truth or transparency, and justice. (The latter one entails equality, fairness and all such variants). He applied each of the three criteria to both levels of management and responsibility involved in the aid-for-trade affair – the government (including civil servants) and company directors and partners abroad, respectively. The conclusion was that the Pergau aid agreement had been unethical on all counts – unlawful; dishonest; and unfair to both British taxpayers and the Malaysian people (who could have got a better deal).
There is always beauty in simplicity, and when it is matched by sound judgement, it can lead to valuable practical insights.
In transit from Europe to London
25th anniversary. 96 lives. What does one say on such a day – that they should be here today? That their families should have had more answers, much earlier? That ‘accidental death’ was such a nonsense verdict that it should never have been heard? What could possibly count as a tribute – a minute’s silence? A year’s? 96 flowers on seats? Or candles? Or better yet, an increased and concerted effort on the part of all, to ensure that no such ‘accidents’ ever happen again. As soon as the new inquests finish – and they should hopefully enable everyone to move on with increased confidence that justice and accountability still have a meaning.
March 2014, London
Nearly 30 years since the worst industrial disaster the world has ever seen, the legal case is slowly advancing. Union Carbide Corporation is, once again, wanted in the Indian courts. Initially, Dow Chemical (the owner of the company) was able to block the summons, but the blocking order has now been removed, and Dow is expected to attend the court in July.
There is no doubt that a case like this should end up in a criminal court, and that only criminal justice bears enough depth to indicate that someone or some organisation should assume moral responsibility (or lack thereof ). But the question that I would like to ask here is – to what extent should liability like this be inherited? Again, it is criminal liability that I am referring to – the kind that entails a deep sense of moral fault or responsibility – not civil liability, which can be easily transferable and settled. But if a certain legal person (i.e. a company) committed a criminal offence, can that liability be transferred to or inherited by another legal person, who happens to acquire it? As much as we want to see justice being achieved, I am not sure we have a straight answer to that.
January 2014, Singapore
As I was sipping my coffee in an air-conditioned hotel in Singapore, my thoughts wondered back to the sweltry roads of Bali, where I’d discovered (and come to appreciate) a more natural way of living, despite its mismatch with any of my usual expectations regarding social norms, personal hygiene, road traffic, or health and safety. A way of living that was less comfortable, possibly more risky (for my standards), but definitely more fulfilling. One’s rapports with the land, the sea, the Gods and the departed were all key aspects of that way of living, all intertwined in a genuinely organic way.
Over there, religion and the economy, for instance, are two facets of the same set of beliefs, which is directly translated into norms and action at every level of life. A family would bring offerings to the temple both for their own health and happiness and for their source of income (be that a shop, a rice field, or any other job). They would have a dedicated space in their home temple for the soul of their parents, as well as a special ceremony for any new endeavour. They have special gods for every aspect of life, and distinct ways of talking to each of them – because they are as moody and alive as humans. Mother land is one such god, and the Balinese wouldn’t dream of upsetting her in any way.