27 January 2009

The current hot topic occupying much of the newsprint and airwaves is the revelation that certain members of the House of Lords (allegedly) were prepared to take money to make changes to the law. If this is shown to be true then to me it is much worse than the “cash for questions” affair as it involves changing the law of the land to benefit particular companies.

This raises the question of ethics in business and how/if they are applied. In my business life I have had dealings with companies as diverse as sole traders to multi nationals and in the overwhelming majority of cases I have witnessed the business conducted to the highest standard of business practice. I do understand the desire for a business to outshine its competition via any legal way possible, but to me equally culpable in the House of Lords case as the hapless peers, are the companies that sought to change the law of the state to their corporate advantage. To me this shows a complete lack of moral fibre, any semblance of business ethics and a total disregard for the welfare of the British public.

It is vital that busines is conducted to high ethical standards. This does not prevent successful companies from outsellimg poorer competitors or a constant evolution in the means of doing business e.g. internet trading. No business should be able to buy influence or changes to the law. This is quite frankly wrong in my opinion and debases the concept of enterprise in the minds of the general public. In recent years the thought of starting an enterprise has become more accepted as we have shaken off the “Del Boy” and “Arthur Daley” image of business people but this episode sets us back to the beginning.

We are told that there is no sanction for misbehaving peers other than a mild scolding and I am sure that the laws (if any) that were shown to have been changed will not be revisited. Again we are informed that reform to the House of Lords is too complicated but quite frankly these are excuses for inaction. How difficult is it to implement rules which absolutely preclude any such incentives for influence and have the sanction of a loss of title for peers and fines for companies? Common sense really but there will be an army of people looking at why it cannot be done rather than why it should be done.

Business ethics are vital to retain trust and confidence which are in short supply. Lets sort this matter out now – suspend any peer suspected of complicity and name and shame those businesses seeking unfair advantage banning them from both Houses and ensuring that any gains made are repaid into an industry fund for the benefit of all. I am tired of excuses for unethical practice – make the punishments sufficient to deter all but the crinimally insane.

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