The seemingly growing lack of ethical behaviour among entrepreneurs is as disheartening as it is frightening. What is scarier than the obvious lack of ethics across all strata of the society, is the fact that many people are not able to recognise that their behaviour is wrong.
The combination of a lack of ethical consciousness and self-aggrandizement is a real threat which needs attention. As individual phenomena the concepts are dangerous, but when brought together they become a conundrum which can easily hinder a nation’s success.
In the business community we are seeing an upward trend in the number of clients trying to find ways to avoid paying for services.
We see fellow entrepreneurs sneakily trying to cut corners and to circumvent normal procedures in order to pay less taxes or to try and stop the growth of entities outside of their own.
As I ponder the situation, my mind is brought back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He held the view that there are two kinds of economic systems: oikonomikos which is primarily household trading and chrematisike which is trading for profit.
Aristotle abhorred the very thought of trading for profit. In his way of thinking, anyone who did not work in a way which specifically contributed to society was a ‘parasite’. Trading for profit was seen as working for oneself versus working for the good of the wider society.
While my own thoughts on economies do not mirror those of Aristotle I do believe that unethical business practices harm the wider society and I can therefore appreciate Aristotle’s perspective.
Many business people and non-business people alike believe that to be successful one has to be unethical and lacking in integrity. We see this played out in everyday activities.
How many of us have tried to get an EBM receipt at certain businesses and been told that the price will increase if such a receipt is issued?
This is but one such example. How many of us pay for a service in our home countries, without thinking twice, but here refuse to do so because “This is Africa”? Yes, that is also unethical.
Unlike Aristotle who held an extreme view leaning to the idea that business for profit is unacceptable, acclaimed scholar Robert C.Solomon believed that enterprises should not be synonymous with a lack of virtue or integrity.
The abstract for Solomon’s 1992 book, Ethics and Excellence: Cooperation and Integrity in Business, states in part,
“....capitalism may require capital, but it does not require, much less should it be defined by the parasites it inevitably attracts. Capitalism has succeeded not with brute strength or because it has made people rich, but because it has produced responsible citizens and - however unevenly - prosperous communities. It cannot tolerate a conception of business that focuses solely on income and vulgarity while ignoring traditional virtues responsibility, community and integrity….”
Solomon only refers to entrepreneurs but his point can be applied much wider. As human beings we find ourselves often operating selfishly - thinking only of how we will benefit and how to cut corners to benefit more.
Understanding why this happens is not difficult but the bigger issue is how do we as a people get away from selfishness to a situation where we neither cheat nor try to hinder others outside ourselves or our circle? How do we not take advantage of the less fortunate even if we are able to do so without consequences?
Legislation and the teaching of moral instruction (not the same as religious instructions) are possible ways to help curb the problem. It has been proven that, as a general rule, humans should not be left on our own to do what is right in all circumstances.
Legislation which is enforced acts as a buffer against certain negative human tendencies. Exposure to moral instruction does not always modify behaviour in those who know better but choose to act counter, but it has proven to be effective in guiding the views and behaviours of the younger generation.
What other strategies can be implemented to help mitigate against the spread of unethical behaviour? Or, is this just an imaginary problem in my mind?
The writer is the owner and operator of Forrest Jackson Properties Ltd.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.