It is frustrating that we need to qualify a certain business or investment as being ‘socially responsible’. This qualification implies that most of the other business is socially irresponsible. Indeed, anyone following the financial media will conclude that there is much irresponsibility in the way business is conducted.
Scandals in Malta and Europe with a web of connections between politicians and businessmen give enterprise a bad name. But a lot of business conducted in an ethical manner, directed towards a good purpose, never gets to the press. Enterprise is an essential contributor to social and economic progress but this role is usually understated.
Comments by Pope Francis on money and wealth have been misinterpreted in certain business quarters as being against capitalism and the free market. But the Pope recently clarified that it is not money that is bad – in fact, they are neutral – but the way wealth is abused or misused, when money becomes an end in itself rather than a tool with which communities can flourish.
Human endeavour and enterprise reflect the inventive side of man ‘in reflection of his Creator’. However, when materialistic goals are pursued with complete disregard of moral values the results are disastrous, with consequences such as poverty, criminality, environmental decay and worse.
Enterprise can seek to be more transparent with stakeholders; it can respect human rights and thrive on human dignity. It has a responsibility to empower employees or those dependent upon it by creating a platform for involvement and participation in decision making and problem solving. It provides work to people, which in turn gives dignity.
Business is the cradle of research, creativity and innovation, and the design and development of new products and services can enhance human experience. An improved quality of life brings people out of misery and poverty. Research has the side effect of improving efficiency, allocating resources better and eliminating waste.
Globalisation is a positive movement that gets people together to understand different cultures and it has raised living conditions in many countries. It has also been abused, particularly through the dehumanisation process where workers are considered as commodities that can be traded and exploited.
Enterprise is a process that can only be guided by ethical considerations that prioritise humility and openness
Industry’s use of science and technology is another by which business improves processes and products. But technology must not be transformed into a technocracy whereby it impersonally dictates the fate and destiny of human beings. Technology has to be under the control of the person and directed by a purpose that is ethically correct and contributes to society.
Decisions in business need to always take the long-term into consideration. The impact of production and the provision of a service is not only immediate, satisfying today’s needs, but also influences human thinking, attitudes and behaviour in the future. Enterprise also has to be sensitised to the effect of its decisions on future generations. Human development – and by this we understand physiological, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of the person – is a process of experience, dialogue and reflection but also of doubt, anxiety, anguish, tension and struggle. There is a common line based on ethical decisions that integrates enterprise, economy and wealth with justice and peace in society.
In the Pope’s call in Evangelii Gaudium for Christians to return to the raw, authentic tenets of Christ’s words in the Gospel, he did not mince his words to make this sound simple and superficial. He refers to what can be described as a bipolar tension between different forces – time is greater than space, unity prevails over conflict, realities are more important than ideas, the whole is greater than the part. He is referring here to a continuum of tension between looking at the big picture and the detail, between struggle and peace, between the fate of real people and ideologies and between globalisation and localisation.
Not all these can be reconciled in a neat fashion to make them comprehensible. Enterprise, which depends on decision-making by various stakeholders – shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, local authorities and communities – is a restless process that can only be guided by ethical considerations that prioritise the values of humility and openness. There is a stage when we will not need to qualify business as a socially responsible, because it will already be so.