Ethics and morality needed in business

  • March 30, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Bringing ethics and morals back into business is what’s needed during this time of economic turmoil, say some religious experts.

“Greed came before the fall,” Fr. Bill Ryan, S.J., told a crowd of about 40 people at the  “Global Economic Meltdown: A Secular and Religious Response” conference at the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre March 19. It was sponsored by the university’s Amhadiyya Muslim Students Association and drew a mix of students and business professionals.

“One thing I am greatly concerned about is thinking (that) the problem is a technical problem. It has technical aspects, but this is a human problem,” Ryan said.

“Unrestrained greed was justified and encouraged by free market logic.” 

Ryan said there needs to be a “preference for the poor” in all private and political decisions. As for the role of religion, he said religious believers “can help people (who are) suffering to gain the spiritual freedom required to change one’s paradigm or world vision.”

Amassing wealth at the expense of others or without a concern for others’ well-being is a flawed business practice, said Rabbi Jonathan Crane of the Hillel of Greater Toronto. Jewish teachings also counsel the need for society to be concerned about its most vulnerable groups, he said.

“The Judaic version of a just economy integrates duties and rights, privileges and responsibilities. Each is obliged to do (what he or she can) to sustain one’s self and contribute to the community and help those worse off,” Crane said.

A just economy includes honesty and integrity in business, said Crane.

“A just economy is one in which our grandchildren reap the benefits of our hard work. They are not tasked to clean up the messes we are too lazy to clean up ourselves,” he said.

From a Muslim perspective, lawyer Nadeem Siddiq said “until such a time as income disparity is addressed, the road to economic stability and sustainability cannot begin.” The Islamic economic system “ensures that the basic needs of society are looked after.”

New business values should include honouring the rights of the poor, avoiding extravagance and hoarding, said Siddiq, who practises in derivatives and banking law.

On the bailouts, he said bankruptcy would hurt employees and creditors most, not necessarily the people running the failed company.

What’s essential in a government bailout is stringent supervision, Siddiq said, adding that the ongoing problem today is the “attitude” of some senior bank executives who still believe in the free market thinking of the past.

Meanwhile, Greg Oliver, vice-president of the Canadian Secular Alliance, said he remains unconvinced of religion’s role in resolving the crisis.

“To my knowledge, there is no passage in the New Testament that has led (U.S. Treasury Secretary) Timothy Geithner to spend trillions on failing companies,” he said.

“To me, the solution is more of a technical solution than a spiritual solution,” said the commodities trader.

But Oliver said values do play a role and that an economic system based upon wealth for only a select few hasn’t been a good business model.

“Morality is the centre of decision, however you get to that decision, faith-based or not.”

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