Green Futures for September/October looks at the question of how far business should reflect moral values.
Efforts to raise the benchmark through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives usually rely on making 'the business case' - in other words demonstrating that doing good is good business. However this carries an insidious message as Ian Christie points out .
But, over time it brings with it a damaging implication – that if it weren’t good business to do the right thing for social inclusion and the environment, we’d stop. The use of hardnosed language about the business case also subtly ‘puts ethics in their place’ – a subordinate one. This is unintended, but it has practical effects. It creates a sense that ‘philanthropic’ motivation is somehow old hat or inevitably inferior to tough-minded, business-case-based action.
Christie goes on...
One under-explored idea could be the foundation of a new approach from business to the case for CSR. It involves taking seriously the arguments of some schools of moral philosophy, about the existence of universal needs and rights that should be respected. When we know something to be the right course of action, the argument goes, what we mean is that we would wish it to be universally enacted.
The Just Values project, undertaken jointly by BT and Forum for the Future looks at the ethical case for companies engaging with the sustainable development agenda.
This all raises the question of the distinction if any between personal and corporate morality. If an action by an individual is judged not to be moral, how can that same action be acceptable when carried out by a business, simply on the basis that it would be unprofitable to do otherwise? The activities of that business are carried out by people to whom the moral strictures presumably apply.