The mere mention of business ethics often prompts
expressions of amusement.
Many are cynical about the whole concept. Some say it is a
contradiction in terms. Indeed, this cynicism is actually encouraged by the
self-righteousness of those who take it upon themselves to lecture on the
Yet in practice, most entrepreneurs are, on average, more
honest than most.
Since there is no one telling us what to do, we are
responsible for our own actions, and so we tend to think more about
responsibility than the “we were only obeying orders” crowd.
Morality in business is usually straightforward – “Thou
shalt not steal”; “Thou shalt not bear false witness” etc.
Yet the recession has presented some questions to which
there are no easy answers.
1 To break or not to break? Insolvency and
bankruptcy usually involve default on legitimate creditors, and so are best
avoided on both moral and practical grounds – but is there a point when a
business is unlikely to turn around, and delaying a declaration is simply
piling up more debt that cannot be repaid?
2 To fire or not to fire? Making people
redundant is always painful – but it may be necessary to get rid of part of an
organisation in order to keep the rest of it viable.
honest is honest? One should be frank with everyone – but it is plain
stupid to give away sensitive information to people who are likely to take
4 Who gets paid first? The creditors to
whom one owes most may not be the people who need it most.
5 What is law? Laws have become so complex
and contradictory that sometimes you have to decide which should be taken
seriously and which are essentially window dressing.
There are no easy answers to these questions. The only
comfort is that you are not alone in wishing you did not have to ask them.