Conference Report 2009

The two-day Conference on Ethics in Business – Corporate Culture & Spirituality concluded at the European Parliament on Friday, 6th November with a strong reaffirmation of the pivotal role of ethics and human values in the world of business. One year after the financial crisis swept through the global economy, CEOs, religious leaders from different faiths, policy makers and an array of thinkers called on all stakeholders to implement concrete policies and programs which elevate ethical principles and practices, and contribute to a more sustainable future. At the same time, participants emphasized the critical role of smart regulation and global standards to move forward.

Opening the conference, EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen spoke of the general lessons learned from the crisis: “Values are the glue that sticks societies together. No economic system can be sustainable if it is seen to work against those values. Today we learn it the hard way.”

The conference, now in its sixth year and organized by the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) founded by H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is a unique event which mixes meditation and laughing sessions with insightful analyses of issues on the global agenda. It is a conference which “combines head and heart,” as aptly described by Asian business woman and philanthropist, Sung-Joo Kim.

Religious leaders agreed that the crisis offered an important opportunity in the business community for an unprecedented renewal. Swami Pragyapad, representing IAHV Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, contextualized the challenges we are facing today: “These are difficult times, because people are losing faith. When you lose faith, you become depressed. Lack of human health leads to lack of human values. That is the crisis we are facing, and nobody is even thinking about this – the human crisis. Spirituality is the only solution.”

We need not just ethics, but good ethics. Good ethics is only possible through the conscious spiritual effort of human beings. For this we need education,” commented Rev. Piotr Mazurkiewicz (Secretary General, Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community).

Conference Chair and Member of European Parliament, Mr. Nirj Deva, emphasized the need to rediscover the virtue of individual and collective responsibility: “How responsible are we? Do we ask – what is the effect on future generations? Or are we thinking for the next three weeks?”

IAHV presented its annual Ethics in Business Awards at the conference, this year honoring two women who have made a tremendous impact in the domain of business. Dr. Brigitte Mohn of the Bertelsmann Foundation received the award for outstanding individual, in recognition of her exceptional work in health sector reform and promoting a stronger civil society, and for being an important role model for ethical leadership.

The award for outstanding corporation went to the Korean retail giant, Sungjoo Group, for its exceptional commitment to social responsibility, especially in empowering women and young leaders. The award was received by the company’s founder, Mrs. Sung-Joo Kim, recognized as one of the most powerful women in Asia, and named by Forbes as one of the 40 Asian Altruists.

In an effort to develop a more tangible action plan to realize ethics in business, the conference launched a new initiative called the World Forum for Ethics in Business (WFEB). The Forum is a Brussels-based public-interest foundation which aims to facilitate global dialogue and support cooperation among all stakeholders, with a view to fostering decency, promoting human values, and building wider public trust in business. WFEB’s main agenda for 2010/11 is to expand the conference to regional/country settings, develop unique leadership programs for ethical governance in public and private sector, and create a platform for sharing best practices and innovations in business ethics.

All conference participants concluded that it is time for concrete results, and agreed to report their actions at the next conference, which will take place next year for the first time in French-speaking Africa.