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Thought Thursdays

 Guiding Principles for the Role of Business in Society: Responsibility and Sustainability

2011-03-23 00:00

Presented by Dr. Obiora F. Ike, Professor of Ethics and African Studies, Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu State, Nigeria

  1. Business exists to be sustainable 
    It is normal for businesses to understand their fundamental role in society as working to help create wealth (prosperity) by making profitable investments in the short and long terms.  This aim is not enough. It is suggested that sustainable wealth generation be made an aim by placing the human being at the centre.  “Man is the author, the centre and the end of all social and economic life”, to quote the documents of the Catholic Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 1965, No 2. This is enhanced by an understanding of development as integral, not simply wealth generation, profit making or increased shareholder value.

  2. Companies are part of communities
    In local environments, wherever they operate, businesses and companies are part of communities. If they consider themselves “offshore” or Trans-national”, they act irresponsibly.

  3. People form the basis for sustainable corporate agenda
    Companies perform well if they have a market focus that includes the people as part of their business priorities. To make the primary mission of business profits before people is today no longer a sustainable corporate agenda.  Short-term profit must not mean long-term loss.  Corporations and businesses survive in a climate where they co-operate with communities in other areas of life.

  4. Core values
    Integrity, trust, rule of law, transparency and honesty remain virtues, which corporations can and ought to adapt as core values for long term business activities.  Bribery and corruption are short term without long term gain.  Support for dictators end in a blind alley.

  5. Minimise harm, maximise business corporate culture
    Measures that provide a healthy workplace, environmental protections, safety standards, rights of employees ensure that the environmental impact of what is done is minimised.  This is carried out through charitable activities, today known as corporate social philanthropy and responsibility, in areas such as medical science; diseases control and cure HIV ARV drugs provision for infected persons to mention but a few.

  6. New technologies
    Businesses and corporations must engage in research and further product development with processes that guarantee higher value; affordability; ever better performance and greater consumer efficiency and benefits.  New technologies can help societies in unimagined ways.

  7. The social fabric
    Corporate citizenship involves contributions to the social fabric where a company operates through job creation, skills enhancement, knowledge transfer, education and capacity building of the host community to mention but a few.  The measure of a business is in its corporate social responsibility, culture and contribution to the social fabric. These include:   peoples promotion; environmental protection and investments into the host community development programmes.

  8. Corporate citizenship
    Businesses are citizens wherever they operate with rights and duties. Corporate citizenship is freedom plus responsibility – a tall order indeed – that helps a firm or business operate in such a way that maximises benefits and minimises harm.

  9. Ethics
    Businesses are founded on a sustainable path if they are ethical, that is rational in their options of short term benefits or long term survival with a good reputation by following and internalising the rules. Corporations need an ethical foundation to operate meaningfully, and these have to promote life, serve life, enhance life and promote solidarity, communal values, shaping of attitudes towards the respect of human rights and dignity and the observance fundamental freedoms.

  10. Ability to close shop
    The rule must not be or remain, namely: If you cannot beat them join them.  Rather the rule must be: If you cannot beat them, close shop. Companies must have the ability and moral audacity to withdraw from environments where they are prevented from being socially responsible – This is the really tall order for many do not and thus, they survive in the short term and collapse in the long term, having hurt humans and society and not having remained sustainable and ethical in the long term.
On 4 March 2011, Dr. Obiora F. Ike, Professor of Ethics and African Studies, delivered the key note address at the official launch of the Centre for Business in Society. This is an excerpt from his key note address. The complete key note address, "Moral Leadership of Businesses for Sustainable Development in Africa", can be downloaded.
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Business in Society