Ethics:Schmethics…… why I want to join the Cranlana Symposium sometime

I’ve always wanted to find a way to participate in the Cranlana Colloquium – and in recent times, two things have strengthened that desire: a visit to Cranlana early last summer and my role this semester teaching CSR and the Law in the RMIT Executive MBA program.

Ok, so many would think that the first reason was pretty indulgent (and perhaps it is)  – but take a look at some of the photos I took in  Cranlana’s garden last year when (supposedly) getting ready for an event I helped organise for The Hunger Project.  You’ll see why it’s important.

The second reason?  Well, the course I’m responsible for delivering is as much about business ethics as anything else. Starting with an assessment of Fieldman (the social responsibility of the corporation is to make money) and Freeman (the father of stakeholder theory) – it moved pretty rapidly to explore a range of ethical models and concepts, an examination of the moral responsibilities of corporations, internal and external CSR strategies, global business ethics and shareholder rights. So there’s plenty there that I have strong feelings about and opinions about – but it was good to get into the books and reacquaint myself with the theory. And, as usual, it’s the true stories that resonate most with me.

RMIT and Cranlana recently ran a Symposim over two days: Everyday Ethics – looking at a range of issues: Do You or Don’t You: Give, Bribe, Buy … Care?. Here’s a pithy summary of the topics discussed – though however good the description is, it’s not a patch on being there.  In order to address any of the issues discussed, participants necessarily had to take a side.  What is a corporation for?  Why do we ‘do business’?  Where should the proceeds of our labour go?  And who should decide – the government?  Or some other stakeholder?

I found myself thinking a lot about the reading I’ve been doing on Conscious Capitalism as a consequence – and this particular quote from Bill Gates rings true:

 If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.”

So we began our work in the same way anyone here would begin it. We asked: “How could the world let these children die?”

The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and their fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.

But you and I have both.

We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism – if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. We also can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.

If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world.

This makes sense to me.  We can achieve so much for a sustainable and meaningful future if our understanding of the responsibilities of buisness are expanded.  I don’t think it’s inconsistent with Friedman’s idea that the responsibilities of corporations are to make profits.  Sustainable profit requires a strategy that encompasses more than short term revenues exceed short term outgoings – and a creative and conscious approach to capitalism can (as Bill Gates so elegantly put it) “… make market forces work better … if we can develop a more creative capitalism” and find a way to sustainably reduce inequity.

So that brings me back to why I want to get the opportunity to ‘do Cranlana’ as a Colloquium participant sometime – to sit around with a group of people who are interested in ideas, justice and responsibilities and discuss them deeply over a few days…. in a gorgeous setting.  Hell yes!  Count me in!