Conference Report 2008

From 13th – 14th November 2008, a group of diverse leaders from all sectors of society gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels to chart a roadmap to sustainability, and discuss the global financial crisis and its possible link to business ethics.

They called for a reformation of the financial sector and a focus on holistic solutions that encompass all five pillars of society: politics, business, academia, spirituality/religion and civil society. They agreed that the crisis facing the world today is not something that can merely be solved through consultation between governments or between businesses.

The Conference identified the need for ethical leaders with a multidimensional approach. “Policy makers would tend to think that we need better codes of ethics and in some sense that would seem to be true. More transparency would help. However, Enron had a state-of-the-art code of ethics, so having these things in place are not enough to get out of the bubble-phenomenon. We need people who can spot when bubbles form. These leaders need to be courageous, ethical, perceptive and politically powerful,” said Michael Klein, Vice President of Financial and Private Sector Development at the World Bank.

Many of the speakers called for a Martin Luther King-type personality who could lead a complete reformation of the financial sector.

“We are at a turning point,” said Nirj Deva, British Member of European Parliament and Chair of the Conference Advisory Committee. “This is the time when the world decides if ethics will simply disappear in the battle for survival, or if it will become the foundation on which we build our future.”

Rudy Aernoudt, Former Head of Enterprise Financing, European Commission, highlighted the fact that we are now in the phase of a value driven economy. He went on to say that this crisis could mean a catharsis which might be a good thing. We have thousands of pages of regulations, and countless publications and yet nobody could understand what happened. If you speak of uncertainty, the only solution is trust. And trust comes from human values, he said. “And the key question is: how to earn decent money, decently. Ethics is good for business. Ethics, just like optimism, is a moral duty and presents an opportunity – a business opportunity.”

In discussing the global financial crisis, Sali Berisha, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, pointed out that it took a crisis to show us that when the parts work together, the whole becomes stronger; that smaller differences can be forgotten in a united search for the common good.

The Conference culminated in a resolution, which stated that ethics should be the guideline for further development in all fields of life.

The Conference, now in its fifth year, is organized by the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), a charitable non-governmental organization dedicated to the development and promotion of human values in society. Over 300 delegates participated, including politicians, humanitarians, religious leaders and academics, as well as CEOs and senior representatives from multinationals such as Microsoft Corporation, Coca Cola, Wipro, Etihad Airways and GMR Group.

A Call of the Youth

It is rare that young professionals have the opportunity to engage with the current leaders of society in a meaningful way. Given the global economic crisis and the fact that the youth are our future leaders, an opportunity for dialogue at this juncture is particularly critical.

Recognizing the importance of this engagement, the Conference offered an open platform for young professionals to voice their call to business, academic, political and religious leaders of the world today. 54 youth aged 18 to 35, and selected from 16 countries, participated in the Ethics in Business – CCS World Youth Forum (WYF).

The WYF encouraged the young leaders to identify and discuss urgent challenges in the global scenario and define possible solutions, while developing and strengthening their skills and capacity to take responsibility in the world.

In the European Parliament, the youth presented their vision to the Conference delegates. Their presentation took three formats: a speech (with a clear message calling for a new definition of profit that encompasses the value of natural and human resources), a theme song (“Be the Change you Want to See in the World”, inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi) and a short film. Their message was received with a standing ovation.

IAHV Ethics in Business Awards 2008

The recipients of the IAHV Ethics in Business Awards 2008 were announced at the Conference:

  • Category of Outstanding Corporation: GMR Group for its outstanding contribution to the development of India’s infrastructure, and for making corporate social responsibility an essential part of its corporate mission. The award was accepted by Group Chairman, G.M. Rao.
  • Category of Outstanding Individual: Ibrahim Abouleish, Founder of SEKEM, the Egyptian organic food and textile giant, for integrating commercial success with the cultural and social development of society.
  • Category of Outstanding Scientist/Academic: Hans-Peter Dürr for his strong commitment and determined efforts to promote a sustainable, equitable and peaceful society.
  • Category of Youth Leadership: Natalie du Toit, the young South African Olympian and Paralympian and multiple gold medalist, for her indomitable will and strong determination to pursue her goals.

The Conference ended with unanimous optimism and commitment to make progress towards sustainability in business and society as a whole by capitalizing on the opportunities that are present, despite the immediate challenges at hand. The organizers committed to keeping this unique forum open for cross-fertilization of ideas and formation of new partnerships by continuing this annual Conference next year.