Why Not Just "Ethical Businesses" Must Truly Be Ethical

Now more than ever, with the stress and pressures of job loss due to the financial crisis, the concept of "Ethical Business Practices," especially in the areas of social business, microfinance and free trade, must indeed meet higher standards. And many of these great organizations such as the Grameen Bank, BRAC and others are doing wonderful things to make this world a better place. Yet, some so-called "ethical" businesses are not only not operating ethically, they are playing on the entire "ethical/social/free trade" branding, using it for personal profit-making and benefit while empowering no one but themselves. It is abusive and it must be exposed as such.

This means that the betrayal is even more horrific when it comes, unexpected, from a place which claims to be "ethical," doing good, working with a supposed moral compass. Yet people will argue, "Business is business." But there are indeed those who are operating differently, making ethics part of the everyday financial activities, using transparency as a premise, and treating members of their "team" with respect. When the atmosphere in the office is one of a true team, where what each member of the team brings is supported, and there is no ego-bound hierarchy which stifles incentives, and people can benefit in true profit-sharing, great things can be accomplished. You kill this and you kill the end result. The best businesses are run in such a way that everyone benefits. And we should be able to take for granted that at work, one should not have to suffer from sexist attitudes, criticism of religious and personal choices. Unfortunately, even in so-called "ethical" businesses, this is not the case.

The behind the scenes day to day operations of a company should match their so-called "ethical" brand. Controlling, micromanaging, and even sexist bosses can destroy a company. When the activities become even more serious (undermining an employee who has been specifically targeted), the risks can be catastrophic. Co-workers who claim credit for others' work, then attempt to hide it, are numerous -- but how do they live with themselves? Add to that iffy financial practices and there is a disaster looming. All in the name of doing "good."

Recently, in France, France Telecom (which does not claim to be an especially ethical business) has suffered a series of suicides. One of the recently reported reasons for these suicides is that are the company tries to save money and remain competitive, they are not only firing people, (or trying to pressure them to quit) but moving employees around, and, in order to get rid of them, accusing them of not meeting expectations, not being productive enough, even blaming executive faults on those who have been doing their best within a highly dysfunctional business climate within the office. Didier Lombard, head of France Telecom, is still in place, yet France Telecom has been losing market share to smaller more interesting providers for most of his reign. CNN recently covered this story:

A spate of suicides at France Telecom has put the spotlight on workplace stress and the devastating impact it can have on employees.

There have been 24 suicides and 13 attempted suicides among France Telecom's 100,000 employees since the beginning of 2008.

Labor unions blame restructuring and poor working conditions for creating a climate of stress.
Last week a 51-year old father of two jumped to his death from a bridge. He was reported to have left a letter blaming his death on the "atmosphere" at work, according to media reports.
The deputy chief executive of France Telecom Monday resigned in the wake of the staff suicides.

Now the number is up to 26 suicides as of last week. Bosses beware. There is no company if you destroy those who have worked hard. You may in fact find yourselves out in the cold, like Dick Fuld of Lehmann Brothers, having to sell your art collection while your wife screams at people because she will never be Queen of the Hill. Or you may find yourselves protected by the system, links to power which keep unethical businesses in place because of the profits and handshakes and political connections they nourish...anyone listening Goldman Sachs? This is the result of what I discussed in my post of "The Narcissistic Ego and Vampire Economy."

Ethical businesses which TRULY operate ethically have a lot to teach businesses in general. But these ethical businesses must be true role models, not just whitewashing themselves, proclaiming outwardly to be doing good, empowering women, helping the poor, when behind the scenes, women are not only not being empowered, they are subject to abusive work conditions, and when they speak up, are forced out. But as someone recently told me, and I believe she is right, "It all comes out in the wash." In other words, unethical activities are eventually exposed for what they are. Bad business practices do a great deal of harm as we are seeing in this financial crisis. So do your research when you invest in and hear about "ethical" businesses. They may not be that ethical at all, and are only hypocritically pretending to be doing good.