Changing Business Practices: Going the ethical way

Business ethics have been in use since the days of Aristotle. The famous Greek philosopher had written about fair play, justice, equality of trades, greed and other themes, which continue to remain relevant within the business world even two millennia later. Business ethics as practiced in the 21st century have evolved since Aristotle’s time. However, the concept of a moral and ethical approach to business remains relevant within virtually every aspect of today’s society.

 

Father Ozzie Mascarenhas, S.J., May 2019, Photo by FES.

Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash

Profits are important but then business organisations which are purely guided by profits seldom grow well in the long run and never command respect in the society. Companies which have withstood the test of times, have something beyond making profit as their central belief. They are, therefore, able to adapt to changing conditions without being distracted by chasing short-term profits.

Last month, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung India in collaboration with the Indo German Chamber of Commerce (IGCC) and the XLRI - Xavier School of Management organised a forum on Business Management in the 21st Century with Professor Fr. Ozzie Mascarenhas, S.J. JRD Tata Chair Professor of Business Ethics, XLRI as the lead speaker. Following the forum, we met with him to talk about his take on the importance of ethics in the conduct of business today.

 

What are the driving forces of modern-day business and how changes taking place are impacting its constituents, including labour?

Fr. Ozzie Mascarenhas: The driving forces of modern-day business and how creative changes take place have always been and will always be human imagination, creativity and innovation. When all three are in full operation, there will be more inventions of productive technologies, discovery of more land and sea resources, and better recycle and reuse technologies. This will safeguard human and worker dignity, social development, general economic growth and prosperity, planetary ecology and cosmic sustainability.

 

With the cut-throat competition, human values have taken a back seat. Are we in the race to the bottom? What measures should the different stakeholders take to ensure better productivity, fostering of good human relations, employee development and image building of business in the broader society?

OM:Cut-throat competition is an outdated win-lose business model given a fixed pie.  When human imagination, creativity and innovation are incentivised, the market pie for opportunity, customers, revenues and profits will expand. Accordingly, we could reinvent our older tested and proven collaborative competition models such as foreign technical collaboration (FTC), corporate strategic alliances (CSA), inter-industry shared fundamental R&D and international joint ownership models. 

If we do this, then human values such as good will and striving for common good will take a front seat.  Rather than racing to the bottom, as we are currently doing even though unwittingly, we will knowingly and deliberately pace to the top of human capability and collective responsibility, global humanism and global harmony.  All these renovation and rejuvenation models will ensure better productivity, more meaningful jobs, foster good human relations, and better employee development. In this regard, a current view is to ignore the competition of red oceans and explore "blue ocean strategies" that create and capitalise new markets, as did Apple, Google, Netflix, Uber and entrepreneur like Elon Musk.

 

India has a huge working population. People are looking for jobs. Do you think decent jobs can be created keeping the moral values and integrity intact? 

OM: India has a working population that exceeds 500 million. Unemployment and underemployment are both high. At the same time, India annually produces more doctors, more nurses, more lawyers, more engineers, more professors and other professionals per million population than any other country in the world.  But India also records the highest brain drain to other more productive countries.

"If this trend is to be stalled or reversed, then India must create better job opportunities than any other developed country in the world.  And India has the capability, infrastructure and geographic opportunity to do so and needs to be backed by political and social will."

India must culture, nurture, motivate, sponsor or subsidise invention. This can be done through breeding of creativity and innovation among young people - starting from middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities and young work force via incubation and innovation centres. Research and experimentation seed grants should be made available to the young deserving entrepreneurs as done in many developed countries.  India can restructure and regroup to be amongst the most productive nations in the world. 

 

Why has the whole debate around ethics become so important in today's business world? Your mantra for businesses is to perform legally, ethically, morally and spiritually? Can you share examples.

OM: In order to bring about the changes mentioned in the previous answers, we need a strong legal, ethical, moral, and spiritual (LEMS) system of values, convictions, virtues and discipline.  India boasts of a spirituality system that dates from its Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa civilisations that probably predate 5000 BC. We need to catch-up and relive our spiritual traditions more than ape others in terms of exclusive capitalism, aggressive competition or attaining economic supremacy. India needs to provide and witness spiritual leadership that, in turn, blesses our imaginative, creative and innovative endeavours.

 

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