A crisis of ethics?

Title:A crisis of ethics
Publication: New Europe / The European Political Newspaper
Date: 17 February 2013
Author: By Nirj Deva MEP

Over the past five years we have played witness to an unfoldingeconomic crisis, the consequences of which have been felt, toone degree or another, by us all globally. Here in Europe vast bailouts and financial relief packages have become remarkably common as blocks of nation states teeter onthe verge of an economic and social abyss.

We have looked onas Governments have made drastic cuts to their public servicesand people have been forced to tighten their belts as any futurefinancial stability remains unclear. We have built ourselves a system that values greed, greed for money, greed for status, greed forpower; a system that all too often rewards success at any cost andignores consideration as to how it was achieved or who sufferedfor it.

David Hume perhaps summed it up best when he stated that: And indeed, we have allowed market trades to operate withoutconsequence in their investments and individual borrowers tolive beyond their means.

We have ignored governments who goon borrowing past their ability to ever repay and deferred theirmistakes to future generations. We have exploited our environment recklessly, depleting natural resources without thought fortheir possible replenishment. What we face is not an economicproblem or even a political one. We face a crisis of ethics.

Almost ten years ago I helped found the World Forum for Ethicsin Business with the aim of bringing all stakeholders, from thepublic, private and political spheres together with one aim – to address the critical and pressing need for a common system of values for all business practices. We have found ourselves with the critical imperative to translate accountability and transparency from words into reality; auniversal need for a common system of values that mainstreams Corporate Shared Responsibilities (CSR) and demands lucidity in business practices, ruling out ambiguity and producing measurable results. It is all too easy for us to make sweeping statements, indicating a need to cultivate such concrete codes of behaviour; codes that address themselves to the external monitoring and implementation of verification mechanisms in business practices, especially in the area of extractive industries and procurement.

Yet the ugly truth is that these are not easy solutions! In the recent Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer, a poll taken from 91,000 ordinary citizens, an alarming 97% of Europeans stated that they believed that corruption hadeither stayed the same or gotten worse over the past few years.Clearly we are not doing enough. Yet we must be careful not to fall into the trap posed by overregulation. Increased regulation to business practices will merely serve to overburden already struggling small businesses; the very building blocks of any economy.

The focus must instead be onclarifying and enforcing existing rules. However, at the very heartof this issue, we need to affect perception; to change the way we view business collectively. Such a change demands the involvement of all stakeholders, from every sphere, if we are to make theconcrete and resolute strides necessary for a better future.