Critical review of the manifesto

Dr. Carolyn Woo
Martin J. Gillen Dean and Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor for Entrepreneurial Studies
Mendoza College of Business University of Notre Dame

First of all, I offer a personal note of thanks to Dr. Hans Küng whose work has inspired many people including myself. His efforts to transcend cultural and religious boundaries in developing a code for ethical behavior enables globalization to benefit all rather than a few, to unite rather than divide. Thank you.

Before I offer personal reflections, I wish to highlight the basic tenets, which underlie this “Manifesto”. The first pillar stands on the sanctity not only of human rights but of human life. Because of the sanctity of human life, we are called to care for each other, advance together, make gains for the good of all, to attend to the common good. The third pillar, subsidiarity, advocates for free association and selfdeter-mination so that people at all levels can make decisions that pertain to their lives and affect their livelihood. Finally, the pillar of solidarity is a form of civic friendship, of identification with and support for each other.

By uplifting these fundamental principles, Dr. Küng actually dignified the business enterprise. The Global Economic Ethic reminds us that business enterprises have responsibility. And one cannot place responsibility on any entity unless it is moral actor. Business is not just a game where the winner takes all. It's not a chess match where moves and counter-moves are plotted to vanquish one's opponent. It cannot be reduced to just a series of exchanges where there are no human faces behind the transactions. This Manifesto actually breathes life into business as a seriously moral undertaking, capable of protecting human rights, advancing common good, fostering self-determination and acting in solidarity.

And with that, I would like to offer three reflections. The first is best illustrated by a question that was posed to me by a student. He asked: “Dean Woo, all this talk about ethics and a code of behavior, is this real? Or is this just something that people who have made it cloak wrap themselves in? Where I come into the workplace, I am at the bottom of the pyramid where there is not enough oxygen and only so many people can go up to the top. So is this real? Or is this talk and nothing more?”
That is a profound question because in the end people are wondering, students in particular, “Do people really behave in this way?” Do they really live by a code of ethics?

The code is articulated with eloquence and enjoys a physical presence; there are words on paper, words, which are spoken, words that will enjoy immortality on the Internet. But while the intellect gets it, will the heart follow? Research shows that knowing does not lead to doing. There is breakage between those two. Desire is not action. And so the first caution I raise is that the manifesto is a first step, a challenge, a guide for right action. But by itself, it has no power until someone lives it, puts it in action, and internalizes it. Making a promise is not the same as keeping a promise. What lies ahead is action, courage and commitment, a journey of moral growth and reflection. From code to conduct: the challenge beckons.

The second point pertains to a general attitude in the discussion of business and moral action. Repeatedly, business is vilified as an agent of greed, selfishness and callousness. On television and in literature, there is no portrayal of a business person as the protagonist for positive change and constructive transformation. The general tone casts business as a necessary evil. I think it is very important that we correctly note the contribution and potential of business. Capital and product markets are the mechanisms for communal exchanges with mutual benefits. Business can improve lives and society as it fosters the development of physical, economic, social and political infrastructures. Commerce reduces the occurrence of wars between trading partners. Hence, I hope that the Manifesto will inspire, not condemn; elevate the good to be done and not just focus on the prevention of abuse. Business is a necessary good. A premise less than that will shortchange the incredible contributions that business stands to be made.

Third, failures, while inevitably personal in nature, are often embedded in systems. When we think about the financial crisis, the system included lenders who gave sub-prime loans, bankers who securitized these, credit rating agencies which failed to rate the risk appropriately and government which promoted risky borrowing. As shareholders, through pension funds and personal investments, many among the general public participated in the returns. The point is that while ethics is a personal issue, we must also recognize the system that fosters and enables such behavior. All sectors: government, civil society, shareholders, customers, businesses need to be at the table. We need a multi-stakeholder-approach to address system failure. The Manifesto must engage the support of all sectors in order to bring about the desired outcomes. Institutions such as the UN Global Compact or the Global Ethic Foundation play an important role for convening the different parties.

I am grateful for your work and am encouraged by your dedication and leadership. Thank you very much.
© Global Ethic Foundation Tuebingen / Stiftung Weltethos Tübingen
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