May 2007 Archive
May 7, 2007
The Chairman of BP recently resigned voluntarily following the revelation that he lied to the court on an insignificant detailed about his private life.
He was, without a doubt, a superb corporate leader who made BP one of the largest oil company in America. During his 10-year tenure as CEO, the stocks price rose 250 %. The board exonerated Lord Browne of any wrongdoing. By resigning instead of just retiring, he forfeited approximately $30 million that he would have received in the retirement package. His insignificant lie had a very significant financial consequence.
Where is the line between our private and public life? Where is the line between private morality and public ethics?
France and the rest of Continental Europe always made a clear distinction between them. In yesterday’s French Presidential election, the problematic private lives of both Nicholas Sarkozy and Segolène Royal played an insignificant role in voter’s decisions.
Journalists were aware, for a long time, that former French President Francois Mitterand had extra-matrimonial relationship. Yet, for years, they did not make mention of it in the press. They were of the understanding that this was a private affair and not the concern of the public. When, finally the weekly Paris Match made the revelation that President Mitterand had a child from that relationship, he went on National TV and said: “Yes, I have a daughter, so what?“
The Anglo-Saxon world (maybe influenced by Puritanism) sees things differently, on the premise that one cannot behave immorally in his or her private life and morally in public life. As Rabbi Ezra Finkelstein, our outside Ethics Advisor, said in one of our Ethics Committee meeting: “We can not behave in one way at home and in a different way at work. We are not built that way. We have a uniform character and we generally exhibit at work that which we do elsewhere. If one is manifestly immoral in one aspect of his life, there will be reason to suspect his moral judgment.”
David Gebler, the president of Working Values, a business ethics and training company in Massachusetts, believes that the line between private behavior and public conduct is growing increasingly blurry.
A survey by the Society of Human Resource and Management found that 80% of the respondents believed that organizations should take into account personal ethics and off-the job behavior when making hiring and promotion decisions.
As John Adams said:
“Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private virtue and public virtue is the only foundation of republics.”
May 15, 2007
A recent survey on ethics in the military found that less that 50% of the soldiers polled in Iraq would report on a fellow soldier for unethical behavior.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (« SOX ») requires that publicly traded companies provide employees with an anonymous reporting system such as a hotline. Whistleblowers are protected by the law from being fired or from any other disciplinary actions by the employer.
The IRS has a special program that rewards, in monetary form, citizens that report on taxpayers that cheat on their taxes. The reward is calculated on a percentage of the money collected after such denunciation. The IRS collects annually more than $100 million from tips and pays out more than 2 million a year to informants.
After 9/11, MTA launched a public awareness campaign using the slogan, “if you see something, say something.” The MTA director for Security William Morange said: “It is impossible for the police departments to be everywhere and see everything. Our passengers extend our reach and-by sharing their information-make the system safer."
Last week, three men accused of plotting to kill soldiers at Fort Dix were arrested thanks to an FBI informant.
Nobody wants to be a “snitch.” It violates our sense of loyalty and camaraderie.
Fred Alord, author of Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power, says that "To be a whistleblower is to step outside the Great Chain of Being, to join not just another religion, but another world. Sometimes this other world is called the margins of society, but to the whistleblower it feels like outer space."
When should we report on wrongdoing and when should we abstain from doing so?
Here are a few questions that could guide us in making our decision:
Do we have the facts, or at least enough information to reasonably suspect wrongdoing?
What is our true motivation? Are we acting for personal profit or out of revenge? If our decision is to remain silent, is it because we are afraid of getting involved?
What could be the consequence of our action, to ourselves, our families, our company and the community at large? Could we live with these consequences?
Whatever decision we make, it may take courage to be a responsible human being.
The American author and clergyman Edward Everett Hale once said:
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
May 21, 2007
A recent study on road rage placed New York City as the second highest risk just below Miami.
Anger is a very powerful and destructive emotion that can lead to unethical behavior. People do things when they are angry that they would never even consider doing in a normal state of mind.
Anger often results from a perception of injustice or unfairness. Revenge is a legitimate feeling because it is a reaction to perceived injustice. In primitive societies revenge was the only option to discourage and sometimes punish wrongdoers, because of the absence of a justice system. Today we do live in a society of law. Our legal system does not allow citizens to take the law in their own hands. We have courts where each one can make his case before a judge and sometimes before a jury.
Nevertheless, when we feel we are the victims of injustice or unfairness, we may be tempted to get even and, in our mind, to correct the perceived injustice. An employee who feels that he or she has been short-changed by the employer may feel justified in retaliating by taking questionable actions. Most companies have structures in place to address grievances. The HR department sometimes has that function. Speaking to our supervisor or management is also highly recommended.
Even when we feel that we have been treated unfairly, we should remember that we are doing ourselves a favor by not retaliating. Not only we are protecting ourselves from serious consequences, but more importantly, we can have the satisfaction of knowing that we are maintaining our dignity and taking the high road by keeping our own moral standards.
Asher Meir, the Jewish Business Ethicist says that “very often the best way to overcome the temptation to unethical behavior is to free ourselves from slavery to anger, vindictiveness and suspicion and conduct ourselves with generosity and dignity as befits free and noble human beings.”