Christoph Stückelberger, professor of ethics at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and founder and executive director of Globethics, an international network of ethics experts and enthusiasts, was in India last week to present the results of the first global survey on business ethics teaching, training and research. The survey placed India on top of the heap in South Asia, but did not have a global comparison.
Globethics has 5,000 members, including academicians, company officials, politicians, religious leaders and students from 180 countries. The network, which is largely online, has an extensive digital library with around half-a-million case studies and publications on ethics—covering everything from bioethics to media ethics, business ethics to sport ethics. The Geneva-based organization, which has S.D. Shibulal, chief operating officer of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India’s second largest software exporter by revenue, on its board, aims to set up an India chapter by September.
After running a day-long ethics workshop for Infosys’ top brass, Stückelberger told Mint that India needs to step up work on the business ethics front to keep pace with China. He says business schools should mandate courses on business ethics for shareholders to work towards building ethical companies and bemoans the recent Indian Premier League (IPL) scandal. Edited excerpts:
Walking the talk: Stückelberger says India needs to step up work on the business ethics front to stay ahead of China. Gireesh GV / Mint
What do you plan to achieve with the India chapter of Globethics?
We have a good number of participants from India…400 participants. One goal is to increase access to ethics documents and information. We also want to network and do research.
What does the survey indicate about India?
The survey was done for South Asia, but it’s obvious that India has the lead in business ethics and corporate social responsibility in this region.
How do you rate business ethics practised in India vis-à-vis other countries?
I think there is still a gap, but in every country there is a gap. But the gap is also very clear in India between the talk and the walk. It means the good codes of conduct and so on are there…but the implementation is still not sufficient. We need more binding mechanisms, we need more sanction mechanisms, we need more protection of whistle-blowers, and we need stronger implementation of regulations where they already exist. There are so many efforts already going on but they have to be improved. Take corruption, India is still at the 84th rank in the Transparency International ranking, which is not sufficient for a country which wants to be leading in the world economy.
China is fast moving in business ethics. India has to speed up…
The education system needs to recognize business ethics as a mandatory part and not just in the end of the course… Business ethics is not just nice to have like cream on the cake… Sensitize the shareholders and open this debate in the general assembly of a company. I can take the example of European companies where we now have more and more open discussion in the general assembly.
In cases where the leadership itself operates under questionable ethics, as in the case of the Satyam (Computers Services Ltd) fraud or the IPL scandal, what can the employees do? Often they don’t have the courage to take on the management.
It’s not easy to act as an employee in a company because you are dependent. I think whistle-blower protection and a culture of trust where the management encourages the employees to implement the core values of the company (can help). If that is not the case, employees are also citizens and they can work in NGOs, unions, (as part of an) electorate, which can help to enforce laws. Shareholders have to take their responsibility, not only to get maximum profit for their shares but also to run an ethical, responsible company. That is also in their interest because in a scandal, the share prices drop down. There must be a manifold effort from the employees, but even stronger from the shareholders.
Do you think the IPL controversy has shaken the audience’s confidence in the game and in the big money which is funding the game?
Such scandals are terrible because sport is such a noble and important part of life and it can unite people in a country and within countries... Sport is not primarily a financial playing ground for investors as it became more and more in the last two decades. (A) similar scandal was there in football in Germany, in Switzerland, bribing players (so) that they lose a game and they get some money. The international football association, Fifa, we know how corrupt this association is in certain ways… We need restrictions around financial activities around the sports industry in favour of the player, in favour of society so that sport becomes what it is, relaxing and community building.