Posted By Ethnic Tribe on January 28, 2012
With the rise of the Occupy movement in 2011 it has become increasingly obvious that many people are dissatisfied with the unethical business practices adopted by big corporations and regard such practices as being significantly responsible for causing and maintaining social and economic inequality throughout the world.
Both the Occupy movement and the broader anti-capitalist feeling throughout the world are frequently accused by their opponents of not presenting an alternative. A classic strategy is to argue that the respective movements simply want the opposite of capitalism and then wait for them to describe what this might be. That is a nonsense position to take since the people involved in these movements have many highly nuanced positions, many of which do not reject money as a basis of exchange for goods and services, but are effectively nuanced criticisms of the existing free market economy and its culture of “anything goes as long as it is lawful or you don’t get caught”.
The issue is not one of adopting a simple anti-capitalist position. It is a critique of a culture of power, an economic oligarchy that shows no sense of accountability and every sense of operating form a position of the end justifying the means.
I have been involved in businesses of one form or another for a couple of decades now and there are certain characteristics of traditional business practice that I would argue are regarded as not only acceptable but many seem believe are essential to a well run business and yet are readily identifiable as having a divisive and socially destructive effect.
I have come across these beliefs expressed as almost axiomatic to business practice both explicitly and implicitly evidenced through practice, in large corporations and in small businesses. This is not intended to be a critique of big business per se, but a critique of very specific attitudes that permeate the world of business… not all businesses operate from these premises but those that do, I would argue, contribute to the increased division of wealth and opportunity throughout the world.
One of the common maxims of traditional business models is that in business one must maximise profit. This is a thorny one, as companies with shareholders have a duty under law to act in the interests of the shareholders, and this is generally interpreted as having a duty to maximise return for the shareholder. But what ultimately is the effect of making business decisions on the principle that one must always maximise profit? In global terms, it drives companies to buy from the poor and sell to the rich. It moves resources from the areas that need them most to those areas that need them least, or at least have many other resources that can be brought in to play.
It is also common to regard success in terms of growth. This can be expressed in terms of growth of profit, turnover, number of retail outlets… but in all cases growth becomes the goal and the measure of success. But in a world where finite resources are competed for, growth is a win/lose situation… growth takes place at the expense of another. So it becomes necessary to adopt the next maxim. That it is a dog eat dog world and if my business is going to succeed, another has to fail. This drive for maximal profit, perpetual growth and the need to compete for resources drives corporations and businesses to behaviour that in a person would be regarded as socio-pathic… having little or no regard for the consequences of the behaviour for others. And the individuals involved in such businesses have to behave accordingly.
This last point has a further consequence. Otherwise decent human beings, who love their families and respect their friends, often have to behave to a different set of rules when in a business context. So either in work, or outside, they are no longer identifying with their own core values as human beings.
OK, so the above is an hugely oversimplified critique of only the most negative cultural memes of the business world but what if… just what if… we were able to make every business decision based not on principles of maximal growth… what if we made our business decisions from a core principle that every action of our business was to bring something positive to the community in which it takes place? If we set out to create a sustainable, stable business the enrichment of which enriched the community?
The people who are effected by our actions are not remote, they are very very close to us. They are our family, they are our friends, they are friends of friends of our friends… these are not people we would wish to see harmed by our actions. They are people we want to support, to nurture, to see grow and feel some sense of satisfaction that we have somehow participated in their betterment. This is ubuntu, this is fair trading, this is ethical business and social justice.
Don’t choose an ethical business philosophy because it is trendy… because it is some kind of ideological fashion accessory. The value of a business philosophy that focuses on the impact that the actions of the business have on the greater community is that we are all enriched. Choose to adopt such a philosophy because a world enriched and improved by your actions is a better place for you to live and do business in.