When you talk global business scandals and ethics, it’s easy to think of Wall Street and insider trading of the mid ’80s.
Since then the subject of ethics has developed into specialty in most companies and respected academic discipline.
“Few people would have predicted such an important role for bus-iness ethics in 1985,” says Ron Berenbeim, professor at New York University where he teaches markets, ethics and law.
“US interest in the subject was cyclical and reactive. Each cycle began with dramatic incident [eg Watergate] that generated concern that dissipated over time until new scandal demanded fresh response. Outside the US there was little interest or no interest Ñ business ethics was regarded as quaint American relic from Puritan times.”
Berenbeim, director of New York based The Conference Board, is an authority on business ethics and corporate governance issues, and will visit New Zealand in August at the invitation of the NZ Centre for Business Ethics.
He sees the trends in ethics as:
a) The international focus of business ethics
“Until recently the focus of corporate concern was on developing business conduct rules in domestic or familiar markets.
“All that has changed. US and European senior executives in large companies look at the US and Western European growth prospects and they see that those markets aren’t going to grow. Growth will have to be in places where the company’s leaders are unfamiliar with the culture. These senior managers are looking for high comfort level that their representatives are not going to expose them to unnecessary risks.”
b) Business ethics has developed problem solving methodology
“We now have ethics problem solving methods that incorporate reasoning processes from philosophy, and generally accepted economics and legal principles.”
How can businesses adopt best practices?
“There’s really only one way for businesses to adopt best practices and that is through the orderly processes that the company uses to make all its business and policy decisions.
“The leadership, esp-ecially the CEO, has to be convinced that the thing is worth doing and he or she has to persuade and involve everyone else.
“You need people throughout the company to be involved in all phases – formulation, implemen-tation, monitor-ing. The point is often made that this is necessary to obtain ?buy-in’.
“I suppose that view is both true and important but the more important reason is that you need to involve all these people so you can find out what works and what works best.
“In other areas you can rely on the training and expertise of your managers.
“With ethics practices and procedures you need to ask your people.
“Once you have put together system, you need to build it into incentive and training programmes and you have to make it clear that it’s dynamic process. Your policies and procedures are constantly open to review.”
During his visit, Berenbeim will discuss the Conference Board’s report on global Corporate Ethics practices, which involved over 140 companies around the world.
His visit is seen as valuable opportunity to: Ñ
? raise the profile of ethical business practice in NZ
? move ethical business into the mainstream
? provide valuable information on international trends
? highlight practical ways to adopt best practices in EB
? refer to case studies and key benefits gained by doing so.
His engagements are:
? NZ Centre for Business Ethics Conference, August 27
? NZ Business for Social Responsibility Conference, August 25/26.
There will be other business meetings in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, and Christchurch, as well as academic presentations to tertiary institutions. Contact The NZ Centre for Business Ethics, at the AUT Foundation, phone 0-9-307 9797, email: [email protected]