Drawing a line on business ethics

In our quest to transform the leadership landscape of New Zealand, we often reflect on the kind of clients we work with and the extent to which in assisting them we are advancing our vision and being true to ourselves.

There are some very obvious no-go companies for us. We have decided not to work for the tobacco industry for example, beyond that there are many shades of grey.

For us as a business, we want to be true to ourselves and a decision that we might make internally rather than be pious and self-righteous about any choices we make. Any such choices merely a judgement at a point in time.

Gambling is a social ill, yet some organisations involved in gambling whilst undeniably depriving many of our poorest citizens of their much needed money, do put an enormous amount of money back into community facilities and causes.

The food industry globally is under increased scrutiny for the potential harm that many of our more industrialised foods cause to human health. Does that mean that we shouldn’t work for a sugary drinks provider who might well be on a journey to making their beverages healthier?

The world of high finance seems far away from our small nation. Some of the world’s biggest brands in investment banking and indeed strategy consulting have been involved in insider trading, bribery and corruption. What line do we take on their New Zealand-based subsidiary companies?

The questions of multinationals and taxation comes up. A recent candidate for a Managing Director search for an organisation that we were conducting was found by one of the leading candidates to have paid less corporate tax than this individual paid in personal tax in the previous year. This didn’t preclude his interest; however, it was certainly something that he took into account when assessing the opportunity against his own values set. In his words, it is all very well the organisation sponsoring a local community fun run for a few thousand dollars but far better they pay NZ government tens of millions of tax revenue!

For us as a business the area of ethics is simply a subset of the conversations we have around how we can prosecute our vision. What we have learnt over the years is that the answers are not clear although with a set of values aligned people around the table we can arrive at a consensus.

Red brickwork