Ethics in the unethical world
There was once a young and talented woman who got a job at a corporate giant. Her dedication and sincerity impressed everyone, and she seemed to have a brilliant start until her employer voiced his expectations. He warned that he expected her to work long hours and do anything to get the job done, even if it meant bending the rules.
Soon it dawned on her that her boss's ethics didn't quite align with hers. With each passing day, the ethical compromises weighed heavier on her until she decided to quit.
Walking out stronger from experience, she decided to start her own company, and within a short time, her business came to be known as one of the most ethical in the industry. Then one day, she came across her former employer, who wanted to know the secret of her success. She replied, "I followed your advice. I worked long hours and did whatever it took to get the job done. The only difference is, I did it ethically." Ethics ensure the long-term sustainability of a nation and an organisation.
Last week, I had a very interesting chat over dinner with some friends, including an old colleague-cum-mentor, sharing experiences on ethics and the malpractices that go around in the corporate world under the veneer of ethics.
Present at the table was a former CEO who shared his fate of getting framed and fired by a compliance team after daring to oppose his Group CEO's views. Another recalled how a company had fired a CEO in the name of ethics only to replace him with someone fired by another company.
These stories are all too familiar to those of us who belong to the corporate world, although they may not surface in open discussions.
While we pride ourselves on our progress in almost every sphere of life, we often overlook how ethical standards around us are fast-depleting. Honest police officers struggle to do their job ethically in fear of receiving calls from higherups, honest customs officers often get posted to a non-important station, migrant travellers are often deprived of fair treatment at the airport, the rich know the art of evading taxes at the cost of the poor, and the list can go on.
From my experience, a government organisation had intentionally or "unintentionally" lost my file with them, so a hefty sum could be collected to regularise it. When I protested against paying, the officer suggested going to court.
Generally, we only complain about the ethical standards of government officials and political leaders etc. Ethical malpractices are also prevalent in sophisticated local and multinational companies to various degrees. The common factor in all these cases is that the more power you have, the more likely you will emerge as the winner, while the losers are commonly those at the bottom of the pyramid of the company or the country.
The question is, where do we turn to when we are victims of injustice or oppression? To courts? Delays in our legal system have often proved that justice delayed is justice denied. Even the geo-political scenario is no different as Bangladesh hesitates to fight for justice with big players like India, China or the US.
Living ethically in an unethical world can be challenging and requires an uncompromising personal commitment to integrity, personal courage and setting an example for others. Those who are looking for success by compromising on ethics must bear in mind that there is something known as karma or natural justice that does not spare anyone. Living ethically is a journey, not a destination.
The author is founder and managing director of BuildCon Consultancies Ltd