Edmund Rice Business Ethics
30 August 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am no expert on the philosophy of ethics and morals and I do not claim that what I say is in any way novel.
In reflecting on ethics in public life let me say what I mean by public life in this talk.
Danny Gilbert at work!
By public life I mean that vast collection of political, cultural, social and economic structures, organisations and institutions, including the workplace, which make up and which underpin cohesive societies. People who are engaged in leadership positions in those organisations and who actually influence the lives of others are to varying degrees engaged in public life.
Of course I would not just want to leave it there. Healthy societies depend on the widespread participation by citizens in public affairs and in the institutions that make up civil society. Each of us has the obligation to contribute to the building of social capital, that is to say, to the forces and influences which bind us in community spirit and concern for each other.
First I want to say that ethics in public life have to be grounded in ethics in private life.
Second, I will say something about some of the philosophical thinking on ethics and morals.
Third, I will make some very broad comments about the personal challenge of ethics.
Finally I will make some observations about our times and the challenges we face in promoting the values of truth, authenticity and value in public life.
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Watching British MPs grill Rupert and James Murdoch was an interesting example of attempts to find out the truth of what the phone hacking affair at “News of the World”. We could call the process “ethical pathology” because it represents attempts to find out what produced such a blatant and far reaching abuse of people, a clear ethical failure. As is often the case, finding out what went wrong is linked to apportioning responsibility and then sanctions, in other words a legal process. And, as is often the case, the uneasy relationship between ethics and law is being used to confuse the truth.
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The number of Australian people who smoke has declined steadily in the past 30 years. The decline is a specific goal of various governments in response to the clear harms to health, and the economy, of smoking. The latest government initiative is legislation mandating that all tobacco products be sold in plain packaging by July 2012. The Alliance of Australian Retailers is lobbying against this new legislation including a national advertising campaign. It is very likely that the funds are coming from Big Tobacco.
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The Edmund Rice Business Ethics Initiative held a Breakfast at Gilbert & Tobin on October 26th. Kate McKenzie, Telstra’s Chief Marketing Officer spoke on “If doing the right thing is seen as weakness”. The questions Kate addressed were :- Does what drives you in your job push you to be mean? How does that sit with your own moral compass? What motivators do the job for you? For your business? For yourself?
Kate held a conversation with the 78 people present and spoke of her own personal journey in caring for those who work with her. Kate gave examples from her working experience in various positions within the public and the corporate sectors. Her message was that care of the people in the work place is best done by knowing their concerns and needs. Those up the ladder need to take time to get to know the people who work with them. Kate demonstrated her reflective approach to her position and the people who work for and with her. It is pleasing to see senior executives who want to work justly with care and concern for those around them. Thank you Kate for an inspiring hour.
Thanks too to Gilbert+Tobin for sponsoring the event yet again.