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Friday, 6 November 2009

Ethics or Profit?


Today’s International Business and Leadership Symposium on Ethics in Business saw the European Parliament play host to an unusual mix of speakers.  Drawn from the highest levels of business, politics, academia and civil society, the panellists speaking to a packed conference hall brought unique perspectives to the question ‘What role should ethics play in business as we recover from the economic crisis?’

The day kicked off with the presentation of the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) Ethics in Business Awards to Dr. Brigitte Mohn of the Bertelsmann Foundation, Germany, and Mrs. Sung-Joo Kim of the MCM Group, South Korea.  Dr. Mohn spoke of the moral responsibility of companies to improve society as a whole, while Mrs. Kim contributed her own views of how the entrance of women onto the business leadership stage has changed attitudes to corporate social responsibility among top executives.

The common theme of how ethics should be integrated into business was highlighted by Mr Rutger Koopman’s (Netherlands-India Chamber of Commerce) reference to the economist Adam Smith, who apparently regarded his work on ethics, ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ as far more important than his work on economics, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ for which he is now better known. 

The speakers’ discussion on the re-evaluation of the causes of the recent financial crisis suggested that ethical failings were one contributing factor, but it was agreed that the relevant political structures and international community rules, as well as an emphasis on collective responsibility, are also needed in order to build stable and sustainable business models for the future.  The enthusiastic and stimulating debate sparked off by this fascinating mixture of speakers from different sectors strongly suggests that a similar multi-partisan approach to the role of business in society may be the way to go in our post-crisis society.

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