‘Silence sullies the reputation of good and bad alike’May 2011
In April 2005, Sir Geoffrey Chandler wrote a guest column for Ethical Performance entitled ‘Why business has to end its vow of silence’. Here is an edited version of that article, still relevant more than six years later
Trust in business has rarely been lower. This is bad for business and bad for society. Financial scandals and corporate greed aggravate the situation, but distrust fundamentally arises from the absence of any criticism from within business of actions that bring it into disrepute.
In any other walk of life – medicine, law, even sport – anyone who brought the core activity into disrepute would face condemnation from within.
Not so with business. It is therefore seen as an activity incapable of self-regulation, with a moral vacuum at its collective heart.
There is, of course, principled leadership within good companies, but it stops at the company gate. There is little willingness to break out of the defensive posture which unthinkingly fights regulation that might improve overall behaviour.
Redress for the victims of Bhopal in India (perhaps the worst corporate crime of the post-war period) or of asbestosis in South Africa finds no champions in the business community and the companies responsible hide behind a corporate veil.
This is a self-inflicted wound, the responsibility lying squarely on the shoulders of the corporate world, and if it is to be remedied it is up to the corporate world to act.
Individual business leaders, aware of their own human fallibility, may be hesitant to put their heads above the parapet. We therefore need national and international business organizations that act as promoters of principle, not just servers of interest reflecting a lowest common denominator of behaviour.
Silence sullies the reputation of good and bad alike. It is time to speak out for principle if trust is to be regained.
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