Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Firms Say Good Ethics Make Business Sense

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Firms Say Good Ethics Make Business Sense

Article excerpt

COMPANIES have become key teachers of ethics. "The workplace is now the most important arena for moral development in the United States," says Ronald Berenbeim, a senior research associate at The Conference Board in New York.

A relatively large percentage of Americans go to church, synagogue, or mosque each weekend compared with other industrial nations. But, in Mr. Berenbeim's view, many religious adherents "don't organize their life around the church as they did 40 years ago. They go, listen to the sermon, and they leave. I don't see the same kind of adhesion to these institutions. There is not the same opportunity for moral growth or decline."

Some families also fail to provide adequate ethical training.

Corporate executives, seeing ethical weaknesses, have moved to fill the gap. "They feel uncomfortable with this," notes Berenbeim. "Companies are not organized to do the same thing as churches and synagogues." But most men and women now work in business institutions that "create moral dilemmas." Employees must make decisions involving ethics that their bosses hope will not get them or their companies into trouble.

Berenbeim sees several bits of evidence of growing corporate interest in maintaining high ethical standards.

1. Business ethics issues, once delegated to the human-resources department, have moved to the executive office.

The Conference Board, a business membership organization that does research and conducts conferences and seminars, has held an annual meeting on business ethics since 1990. Attendance has grown each year, reaching 225 last year. Where those attending used to be personnel officials, a rising percentage are chief executives, general counsels, auditors, or finance officers.

"Senior executives now recognize that expertise in ethics is necessary in most areas of business," Berenbeim notes.

2. Almost all the Fortune 1000 large companies have drawn up and distributed codes of ethics for their employees and maintain hot lines for whistle-blowers and others facing ethical quandaries. Ombudsmen to deal with employee complaints are fewer.

3. More executives are becoming interested in game-theory analysis that shows a company can get an advantage in the marketplace by setting high standards of ethical performance. …

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