Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The History of EBBF: Twenty-Five Years of Contributing to the Discourse of Ethics in Business

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The History of EBBF: Twenty-Five Years of Contributing to the Discourse of Ethics in Business

Article excerpt

Business and capitalism have proven to be exceptional agents of wealth creation and innovation. Yet, if unrestrained in the drive to ever increase shareholder value, business can adopt behaviors that challenge our moral compass. The 2001 Enron scandal2 and the egregious practices by big banks and mortgage brokers that brought the global economy to its knees beginning in 2008 remind us of the ethical bankruptcy that often plagues organizations. Interestingly, the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith assert that "[e]very business company should be established on divine principles. Its foundations should be trustworthiness, piety and truthfulness in order to protect the rights of the people" ('Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Compilation #2062). Even weightier is the following passage by Bahá'u'lláh about one central virtue so essential to successful business practices:

If a man were to perform every good work, yet fail in the least scruple to be entirely trustworthy and honest, his good works would become as dry tinder and his failure as a soul-consuming fire. If, on the other hand, he should fall short in all his affairs, yet act with trustworthiness and honesty, all his defects would ultimately be righted, all injuries remedied, and all infirmities healed. Our meaning is that, in the sight of God, trustworthiness is the bedrock of His Faith and the foundation of all virtues and perfections. A man deprived of this quality is destitute of everything. (quoted in Compilation #2058)


The concept of engaging in the prevalent discourses of society is not new to the Bahá'í Faith. In one of His most compelling messages, Bahá'u'lláh exhorts humanity to focus thoughts on the needs of the world: "Do not busy yourselves in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men" (Tablets 86). Likewise, in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, first published in 1938, Shoghi Effendi, alluding to the "society-building power" of the Bahá'í Faith, announces its inherent potentialities: "Though the society which incarnates its ideals be small, and its direct and tangible benefits as yet inconsiderable, yet the potentialities with which it has been endowed, and through which it is destined to regenerate the individual and rebuild a broken world, are incalculable" (196).

In spite of these early calls for action, it was only in 1983 that the Universal House of Justice-the supreme, international legislative authority of the Bahá'í Faith-declared that it was now time for the Bahá'í community to start focusing some of its energies on the "progress of the world" and the "development of nations" (Messages para. 379.2-3). This announcement led to a series of initiatives in the realm of social and economic development. Most prominent, perhaps, was the creation, in 1999, of the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (ISGP) at the Bahá'í International Community (BIC). Focused on learning about participation in social discourse, ISGP has been given an increasingly important role to play in the successive five-year plans by the Universal House of Justice to build community life throughout the world.3

In 2009, addressing the Bahá'ís of Australia, the Universal House of Justice elaborated on the ways in which Bahá'ís could engage in the discourses of society:

Such participation can occur at all levels of society, from the local to the international, through various types of interactions-from informal discussions on Internet forums and attendance at seminars, to the dissemination of statements and contact with government officials. What is important is for Bahá'ís to be present in the many social spaces in which thinking and policies evolve on any one of a number of issues- on governance, the environment, climate change, the equality of men and women, human rights, to mention a few-so that they can, as occasions permit, offer generously, unconditionally and with utmost humility the teachings of the Faith and their experience in applying them as a contribution to the betterment of society. …

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