Thursday, March 15, 2007

Business is business - ethics is ethics is something else altogether

UK arms manufacturers, pretty much beyond reasonable doubt, bribed their way into getting multi-billion pound contracts from Saudi Arabia. The current UK government, which is pretty close to or has beaten the governmental sleaze factor introduced during the disastrous Major years, has ended an official investigation into the issue on the grounds that it would not be in the 'national interest' to investigate the matter. The reason (ie the 'national interest') is that the Saudi government threatened to stop buying any further arms from the UK if the investigation continued. They were upset that their cosy little corrupt world was just about to be opened up to the glare of the public eye (mass media, the lot). No wonder that high-flying ethical governance principles were discarded in an instant by Tony Blair and his governmental cronies.

In Germany Siemens managers admitted to having paid kick-backs to secure contracts from Italy's state owned energy company Enel. Goes without saying that they insist that they didn't 'offer' the dosh, but that those Italians demanded it out of the blue - what choice did they have other than to pay up. It goes also without saying that Siemens has an ethics structure (mission statement, compliance staff etc etc) that's second only to Enron.

Which brings me back to 'business ethics'. I am almost certain that all the business ethics activities in the universe won't make a difference to companies' real-world behaviours, unless there's a severe threat to a company's reputation and business, in case its ethical failing is discovered. So, at the end of the day it's about CONTROL, CONTROL, CONTROL, and almost certainly not about voluntary codes of conduct.

In the case of democratically elected governments that back corruption, at the end of the day it's about ELECTING A NEW GOVERNMENT. We, the electorate must hold them accountable and remove them as soon as is feasible.

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