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Business Ethics and Catholic Social Teaching Chris Mullen

What is Business Ethics?

Business Ethics is the rules and morals of running a business. They set the practices for running a business, such as corporate governance, corporate social responsibilities, and discrimination. Many businesses have their own set of business ethics that they follow, either to gain a good reputation or because of the high moral standards of leadership. On the other hand, some companies only follow the business ethics that are found in the law. Business ethics exists to ensure a healthy relationship between its leadership, customers, suppliers, and employees. Basically business ethics is there to ensure that a company is ethically right and is not trying to gain advantages in any unethical way.

The video above can be used as an example of how companies have been implementing business ethics.

What is Catholic Social Teaching?

According to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, there are seven themes of Catholic Social teaching: Life and dignity of the human person, call to family and community, Rights and responsibilities, Option for the poor and vulnerable, Dignity of work and the rights of workers, Solidarity, and Care for God’s creation. In class, we read Laudato Si, which is Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, which focuses mainly on care for God’s creation, life and dignity of the human person, and rights and responsibilities. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls for a “swift and unified global action” against what he describes as a new “throwaway society.” Pope Francis describes how humans and multinational corporations have been selfish and have not been following Catholic Social Teachings, which has been leading to pollution and climate change and can have detrimental effects on our plant. Catholic Social teachings relate to almost all human problems and should be followed by everyone, as they can help battle against many of society’s problems. These problems are also evident in the business world, which is why strict business ethics programs were implemented into businesses in the 1960s and 1970s. These ethics closely follow the same basic principles found in Catholic social teaching.

How Do Business Ethics and Catholic Social Teachings Relate?

Business ethics, as previously stated, focuses on the rules and morals of running a business, including corporate social responsibilities, discrimination, and other problems that can be encountered while running a business. Catholic Social Teaching focuses on common problems in society and gives seven basic themes on how you can avoid them. The principles of Catholic Social Teaching that can be easily applied to business ethics are rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of work and the rights of workers, and care for God’s creation. Rights and responsibilities applied to business ethics can be seen as the rights and responsibilities of either the company or employee and are there to simply protect the rights of the people on either side of the relationship. Option for the poor and vulnerable is another principle that can also be crucial to proper business ethics. Is the company working to eliminate a wealth gap? Are they donating to the poor and hopeless in their community? Often times, business people are so wrapped up in their own little world that they forget that they could really help people in need. Dignity of work and the rights of workers is also easily applied to business ethics. Are corporate leaders treating their employees with the respect they deserve? Are all employees given the same fair and equal treatment? Are all employees given the same opportunity for growth? These are all crucial necessities needed to internally run any company that wants to implement business ethics. Lastly, a very important part of business ethics is the care for God’s creation. Companies need to respect the planet we live on because we need it for further generations. Examples of ethics that companies have implanted to protect the planet include proper handling of waste materials and chemicals, creating and implementing methods to limit damage to the environment, and making large donations to organizations that strive to help the environment. Clearly, business ethics and Catholic social teaching fit together well because they share the same goal of promoting common good.

Bad Business Ethics

Unfortunately, some businesses do not follow business ethics and therefore go against Catholic social teaching. Two examples that come to mind when bad business ethics are discussed are the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals from the early 2000’s. Basically, both companies were making complex income statements and misrepresenting balance sheets in order to make their companies appear to be performing better than they actually were. Because the companies appeared to be better than they actually were doing, people were investing into the companies without realizing they were not doing as well as they were reporting. Unfortunately, what they were doing was not illegal at the time, as they were taking advantage of unclear guidelines given by FASB (financial accounting standards board) and taking advantage of technicalities in GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles). Although these actions were not illegal at the time, Enron and WorldCom showed unethical actions and completely ignored Catholic social teaching. Both Enron and WorldCom were ignoring rights and responsibilities, as they were not fulfilling their responsibilities to be fair. Also, they showed complete disregard for the life and dignity of the human person as they were taking complete advantage of their investors by misleading them. Fortunately, congress thought that the extremely poor ethical decisions of Enron and WorldCom should be illegal, so they passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which tightened up the regulations set by GAAP and called for separate financial auditors with strict guidelines.

Unfortunately, many Wall Street businesses have a long history of accusations of sexual harassment. Many women who have worked on Wall Street complain the they were the subject of jokes, unfair treatment, inappropriate touching, wage gaps, and quid pro quo harassment. According to various sources, office climates in the 1980s were particularly hard on women, as this was the first time women other than secretaries were working on Wall Street. As a consequence, many males did not treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserved. Since then, conditions for women have improved, however, companies such as Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, Ford and many others still face many complaints from female employees about sexual harassment. Fortunately, many companies are realizing the problem of sexual harassment and how it degrades the human dignity of their employees and have been implementing methods to deal with it. These methods include sensitivity training, harassment workshops, and human resources reforms to ensure all protocol is being properly enforced.

One more example of a company practicing bad business ethics can be Walmart. According to USA TODAY, they were ordered to pay over $110 million in damages in 2004 after it was reported that they had been mishandling chemicals at their stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Kansas City. Walmart was accused of illegally dumping returned pesticides, improper transportation of pesticides, and violating the Clean Water Act. Not only were their actions illegal, but they also went against the Catholic social teaching of care for God’s creation. Walmart’s selfish actions showed that they are not trying to protect our planet for future generations and are disregarding the health of their neighbors.

Laudato Si Connections

It might be hard to see connections between business ethics and Laudato Si, a book about climate change, but they share one common theme, Catholic social teaching. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis says “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” What Pope Francis is trying to say is that problems in society (for example, problems in business ethics) are not separate from environmental issues, but they are connected through issues in humanity. The solution to these problems is Catholic social teaching, as it is concerned with solving the basic problems in humanity. The seven principles of Catholic social teaching can be applied just as easily to business ethics as they can be applied to environmental issues, as seen in Laudato Si.

Conclusion

It is clear to see that both business ethics and Catholic social teaching are focused on fixing common problems in society by focusing on creating the common good. If more people followed Catholic social teaching, environmental issues would be dealt with better and businesses would follow business ethics better. The world would certainty benefit from more and more people doing what is right, and that is exactly what Pope Francis made clear in Laudato Si when he called for swift changes in society. Also, the dignity and respect of people would be better, the world would be united, the poor would be helped, the rights of workers would be protected, and society would be better.

Works Cited

Fuhrmans, Vanessa. “What #MeToo Has to Do With the Workplace Gender Gap.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 23 Oct. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/what-metoo-has-to-do-with-the-workplace-gender-gap-1540267680.

McLean, Bethany. “Inside Wall Street's Complex, Shameful, and Often Confidential Battle with #MeToo.” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 27 Feb. 2018, www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/02/inside-wall-street-complex-shameful-and-often-confidential-battle-with-metoo.

Iacurci, Greg. “MeToo: Even in the Financial Advice Industry, Sexual Harassment Is a Serious Problem.” InvestmentNews, www.investmentnews.com/article/20190209/FREE/190209955/metoo-even-in-the-financial-advice-industry-sexual-harassment-is-a.

O'Donnell, Jayne. “Wal-Mart Pleads Guilty to Dumping Hazardous Waste.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 29 May 2013, www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/05/28/wal-mart-waste/2366999/.

Twin, Alexandra. “Business Ethics: Fair Business Policies Within Controversial Subjects.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 10 May 2019, www.investopedia.com/terms/b/business-ethics.asp.

Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' of the Holy Father Francis, On Care for Our Common Home. Ante-Matiere, 2016.

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