Why We Fight

Why We Fight

Or Why Business Ethics Matters

ill_p384bLast month, I had an unusual experience, a week with very few business ethic issues. For a brief few days, it was hard to find a topic to write about. But that brief interruption in a cascade of moral decrepitude is over.

This week we have ExxonMobil caught paying millions to climate deniers after promising to its shareholders not to. This week we had the publication on the Internet of the 542 page Hoffman Report. It would appear from the report that members, psychologists, cooperated with the government in the practice of torture and that senior members of the American Psychological Association crushed attempts at inquiry and accountability.

And then we have bird flu. For many years, it has been argued that factory farming is dangerous to food production in the United States because this grouping of enormous, unprecedented populations of animals in small spaces with little genetic diversity is a formula for disaster. Well, now we know for a fact that this is true. Forty-eight million birds are dead and many more are going to die. We are very lucky in that the outbreak has thus far been limited geographically but what would have happened if we had been less lucky? – A future without chickens?

This is a business ethics issue. If you are operating a business based on an unsustainable model, you are not being ethical. If you are operating a business that endangers a major portion of the food supply for nations or the planet as a whole, it would be ethical to not or to take steps to limit the damage.


You get the idea. Throw in the Greek Crisis which I have written about here and here, and it has not been a good week for business ethics.

Sometimes, people infer that there is no such thing as business ethics and they point to the evidence of the daily headlines and published reports of business crime and stupidity.

But this isn’t true. Regularly there are stories of businesses sacrificing profit to do the right thing. There are stories of businesses that have held their employees even upper management liable for their crimes.

More importantly, there are tens of thousands of close or small corporate entities that have never and would never consider an illegal act and would shy away from the unethical. This includes most local banks and most professionals, doctors and lawyers.

We who struggle to encourage doing what is right by ethics and morality have not lost. If evil doings were pervasive in American markets, few would do business because without trust, capitalism does not function. For markets to work there must be a basic faith in fair and honest dealing.

Americans are a great and good people. It is just that the evil among us wield disproportionate influence in key industries. I realize that they have done catastrophic damage and these same people are protected from facing criminal and civil penalties by a government corruptly influenced by massive amounts of money. (Or should I say “corporate speech.”)

But they could not make enormous profits from a weak and villainous people. It is the very goodness, the basic humanity and hard work of the American people that gives the unethical and the immoral the opportunity to become rich.

We, the ethical and moral, are duty bound to struggle for what is right and true Victory is not inevitable. It never is. But that does not mean that the fight is pointless. Even in defeat, there is a glory in the fight well fought and a glory in having fought on the right side.

James Pilant