Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do we not care anymore about ethics in business?

            Someone asked recently if anyone cares, anymore, when a company blunders, or even commits a crime with the intent to profit from it.
            In fact I’ve been asked that question recently by a couple of news service business reporters. One was doing a story about Goldman Sachs and the other was following up on the latest JP Morgan Chase Bank $2-billion trading loss.
            And more recently, Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Kwittken Company wrote an article on in which he raised the question, can companies like Walmart and Apple recover from really negative media coverage of their sweat shops in foreign factories and paying bribes in Mexico.
            There was a time when behavior like those would cause serious business damage, if not force the company out of business.  Today, there seems to be almost no consequences to the Apple and Walmart news.
            Mr. Kwittken concluded in his article that Walmart’s average customer is “less concerned with the allegations of the retailer’s shady international business practices than the steep discounts on toothpaste, DVDs, French fires and the like.”
            Sadly, I have to agree, but I think his assessment doesn’t go far enough.
            The public reacts the same to retailers as it does to local, state and federal governments and the politicians that populate those offices.  We talk about greedy retailers and politicians, but many of us never bother to go to the polls. We complain about the banks and investment houses, but if we have a mortgage and no one is threatening to throw us out of OUR home, we don’t worry about the couple across town who may be about to lose theirs.
            I’m old enough to remember when customers and constituents, who saw something wrong, not only complained about it, they did something.  They took action.  They took their business down the street to a competitor, or they got out and campaigned for a candidate they had more confidence in – and they didn’t fail to vote.
            I don’t have a clue how to overcome our nation's self-centered lives, but I do still feel strongly that businesses (and politicians, too) who get into trouble still need to take responsibility for it, identify what went wrong and publicly commit to fix it and take action to prevent it from happening again.
            Chase and Walmart have done that, to a degree, and that may have something to do with why they seem to be weathering their latest storms without any major loss, yet.


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