Business Ethics Roundup: Sept. 6th – 12th

We begin with the wave of fires creating waves of destruction in the American West. Governor Gavin Newsom says the debate over climate change is finished. He says in these California fires you can see the results of climate change with your own eyes. I strongly agree but I felt that the fires in Australia last year should have ended the debate. This is further evidence.

Climate change is going to be a continuing issue in business ethics. How are businesses, particularly, the international corporations, going to act on this issue? Their responses will be as important as that of many medium size nations.

Sir David Attenborough tells us in his latest documentary that 60% of the vertebrate animals have disappeared since 1970 and the rate of natural extinction has been accelerated 100 times.

Many businesses impact species extinction. The international trade in animals and animal parts is savagely destructive of the earth’s species. And we have only a limited time to act.

Let’s segue to a somewhat nostalgic and yet current note, that is, vinyl records have outsold CD’s for the first time since the 1980’s. That may be just a chimera though since streaming services are seizing the lion’s share of the market.

There is a famous insurance fraud case making the rounds on social media. A woman in Slovenia cut off her hand with a band saw claiming it was an accident that happened while cutting branches. Unfortunately for her claim, she had just taken out five insurance polices which would have resulted in an award of more the equivalent of more than a million US dollars. This was certainly suspicious but her boyfriend’s internet searches on artificial hands done before the loss clinched the case for fraud.

Apparently another case of stupid criminals but a very sad one (although the hand was reattached).

California’s legislature faced with a shortage of firefighters and inmates showing bravery and tenacity fighting the wave of fires has passed a law making it easier for them to expunge their records and become firefighters.

As a form of positive business ethics, I am impressed by the act. It seems to me simple justice that those on the frontline of fighting these terrible and now increasingly regular fires should be rewarded.

Rio Tinto’s CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques, is going to resign following the destruction of sacred aboriginal sites. The company attempted to deal with the crisis by canceling bonuses but considering the harm done this was a non-starter.

This was an appalling crime and there is no real penalty. Under the law, they could destroy at will any cultural artifact on the land they controlled. The Juukan Gorge rock shelters had shown evidence of continuous human habitation for 46,000 years. They were an irreplaceable evidence of human history completely unique.

What kind of people are these to disintegrate and destroy cultural artifacts at will? And what kind of nation allows its cultural treasures to be annihilated without a hint of caution or penalty?

And finally, I would like to add my voice to Emily Stewart‘s writing in Vox. She is calling for providing all citizens of the United States with Internet. I strongly agree. If we are going to advance as a nation, that is a minimal requirement. Further, in a crisis like the current pandemic we have already seen the importance of being connected.

But please read the article, the author is detailed and impressive.

James Pilant



A Bright Orange Crayola

A Bright Orange Crayola

I’ve always thought children were wonderfully intelligent but what I like most about them is their honesty, that they are genuine. They haven’t learned the dangers of showing your real feelings or real thoughts.

And they’re bright. Children are learning at incredible rate. Did you know that that by the time a baby is five months old, it has learned to match the facial expressions of an adult? By the time a child is five, its ability to understand facial expressions is almost as good as an adult. And they are clever. How clever?

Let me tell you a story.

On the wall of my office is a picture from a coloring book marked with a bright orange crayon.

There was a five year old and I gave her a piece of candy, something to color and some Crayolas to color with. I expected her to be gone for a while but she came back very quickly and asked for more candy. I from the very heights of adult wisdom told her she could have one as soon as she finished coloring her picture. She said, “That’ll take forever!” and left apparently depressed. She then returned very quickly with the entire picture colored with broad strokes from the aforementioned orange Crayola. She wasn’t very much in the lines but she did color the whole picture.

She out foxed me. I told her to color the picture. I didn’t specify how or in what manner or even that she should use more than one color. She had held to the strict terms of the agreement and defeated my intent that she spend at least ten minutes coloring. It was a triumph of lawyerly reasoning and I the actual lawyer was on the short end of the stick being out reasoned and out thought by a little girl.

Of course, the stakes were very small. I keep a good amount of candy in my office. Being a diabetic I can’t eat it myself so it all goes to the occasional visiting child and sometimes a co-worker comes by and gets one. Since I can no longer eat candy, I buy the expensive dark chocolate and caramels and live vicariously through other people’s happiness while eating them.

But even thought the stakes were small, a loss is a loss, and being clobbered in a David vs. Goliath style struggle is pretty unsettling when you play the Goliath role. Nevertheless, I admire her for it. She was clever and knew how to think and that’s at five years of age.

Of course, the sporadic visits of children to the office are not my only experience with the learning power or reasoning of the very young.

I have one son who is now twenty-four. When he was just a small boy, instead of telling him no all the time, we made a deal. If he could give me a good reason to have something. I’d buy it for him. At first he was clumsy and made poor arguments but very rapidly began to develop real negotiating skill. And I kept the bargain. If he argued well, he got toys, and as time went by, the toys became video games and then movies and books. A few years ago, I watched him negotiate with his buddies while playing a D&D style game. It was like watching a shark in a pool full of minnows.

With children, it’s important to listen to them and cultivate their abilities. I know it is hard. They often repeat arguments, have outlandish ideas and no experience. But if you stay with it, pay attention and talk to them like adults, it pays off.