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.