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Interview

 

 
Georges Enderle*

 

Site - Could you tell us about your long experience in the field of business ethics?

George Enderle -Twenty years ago I was in charge of setting up a Center for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and therefore made a trip to the USA in order to explore the emerging field of business ethics on the other side of the Atlantic. I learned a great deal and brought back many new ideas and stimulating experiences: that it makes sense to talk about ethics in business; that companies involved in scandals are compelled by public pressure to open their books and improve their conduct; that managers with strong ethical convictions struggle with difficult ethical issues; that universities offer courses in business ethics; that textbooks and journals in business ethics exist and many other things. I was impressed by the direct and straightforward way many Americans tackle ethical problems in business – something the Europeans should definitively learn from them. At the same time, I felt that we Europeans have our own way of thinking and should develop our own approach to business ethics, particularly with regard to the economic system and foundational issues. For instance, in the USA a hot topic has been employee rights while in Germany co-determination, i.e., the representation of labor at the top management level of corporations, was established by law in the 1950s. In the last ten years the business ethics movement has become much more international and a host of initiatives, conferences, publications, and other activities have developed so that it is very hard to keep oneself informed and have a reasonable overview of what’s going on, not the least because many discussions are conducted not in English, but in other languages such as Portuguese, Chinese, and Hindi. (See ISBEE website at www.isbee.org with links to many sister organizations.)

Site - In a few words, is it possible to give a world perspective of business ethics?

George Enderle - In my view, the fundamental task of business ethics is to enhance the ethical quality of decision making and acting at all levels of business, from the individual level of a sales representative or consumer up to the global level. ISBEE, the International Society of Business, Economics, and Ethics is currently preparing its next World Congress to be held on July 15-19, 2004 in Melbourne, Australia. For this purpose we set up several committees and task forces and tried to structure the topic areas with the help of the following matrix:

 
Producing and sharing global prosperity
-
Companies
Poor nations (governments)
Wealthy nations (governments)
International organizations
NGOS
Corporate
governance
- - - - -
Contempory technology - - - - -
Finance and investment - - - - -
Global ethics: universality and diversity - - - - -

We believe that the world perspective of business ethics is about producing and sharing global prosperity, which includes different groups of actors with their respective responsibilities, first of all companies, but also poor and wealthy nations, international organizations, and NGOs. We then relate this overarching goal and the multiple actors to four main areas, namely corporate governance, contemporary technology (information technology and biotechnology), international financial markets and investment, and the question of global ethics in its universality and diversity. Obviously, this offers immensely rich perspectives that will keep us busy far beyond the World Congress 2004.

Site - Here in Brazil we are just at the beginning of dealing explicitly with business ethics. What would you suggest to teachers and professionals who want to work in this field?

George Enderle -
I think it is important to deepen one’s knowledge and competencies with regard to both ethics and business (and economics). Having said this, it is helpful to study carefully one good book in business ethics, to relate the different topics of the book to real-life experiences and discuss them with people involved in them. Also, to write an interesting case study on an ethical issue in business and to share the case with colleagues and students can be an eye-opener and an exciting experience. If one wants to go further, one might conduct an interdisciplinary research project on a timely topic, put together a reader of “essential” texts in business ethics, consult more systematically the journals of business ethics or study monographs and use encyclopedias. A particularly interesting field is professional ethics, be it for accountants, marketers, managers, lawyers, or others. Professional ethics needs a firm foundation and has to deal with many practical issues as well.

Site - It is an honor to have a Brazilian citizen, Cecilia Arruda, as the Vice President of ISBEE. Could you explain to us what ISBEE is and the role of Brazil in this organization?

George Enderle - ISBEE is the first world-wide professional association to focus exclusively on the study of business, economics, and ethics. Individual membership consists of academicians, managers of business firms and not-for-profit organizations, and others who have an interest in business ethics. It is strongly international in character with members from around the world. As mentioned before, we are currently preparing the next World Congress 2004 in Melbourne under the leadership of Professora Cecilia Arruda who chairs the international organizing committee. She has a wealth of experiences since she has been working in the field of business ethics for over ten years and organized several conferences in Latin America and the past ISBEE World Congress 2000 in Sao Paulo. Brazil is a country with the reputation of innovation and generosity. We need Brazil’s collaboration in ISBEE and I am sure that many Brazilians will join our efforts to “globalize business ethics.”

*Georges Enderle
University of Notre Dame
President  of ISBEE- International
Society of Business Ethics and Economics

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18/11/2002


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