Each coming year, new business opportunities are identified; but, these opportunities also bring new challenges, especially in our fast-paced, technologically-driven societies where trust is eroding and regulatory authorities are weak.
By Muhammad Talib Uz Zaman
“In the end you should always do the right thing even if it’s hard.” – Nicholas Sparks
In November, Carlos Ghosn, the 64-year-old CEO of Nissan Motor Company, was accused of misusing company funds and underreporting his income at Nissan. This was one of many cases of corporate corruption that dogged global business in 2018. It is becoming harder and harder to run a business ethically, it seems.
Each coming year, new business opportunities are identified; but, these opportunities also bring new challenges, especially in our fast-paced, technologically-driven societies where trust is eroding and regulatory authorities are weak. Transparency International’s report, Exporting Corruption, cited foreign bribery, which eventually translates into reduced GDP numbers and greater inequality, as a key issue in over half of global trade . The year 2018 also witnessed data breaches, money laundering, and cyber theft. For example, Facebook, the most popular social media platform with 2.27 billion active users monthly , was found guilty of a huge data breach and admits it gave tech companies access to users’ personal messages . Vulnerability also prevails in the financial sector, as is evident when a €200 billion money laundering case was exposed at Danske Bank`s Estonian branch, which The Guardian quoted as the largest money laundering case in history.
How can we assess the resilience of businesses and check their preparedness to avoid these challenges in the years to come has become a key question. The 2018 Global White Collar Crime Survey  revealed that perceptions around the benefits of bribery is still a prevalent issue. 48% of respondents felt that people who pay bribes on behalf of their company are rewarded internally, and/or able to enjoy substantial personal benefit. Of those who indicated this is the case, 64% felt that the employee concerned would be awarded ‘special status’ and 60% indicated they felt promotion would likely follow for helping to meet company targets. It is evident that with increased awareness, customers prefer companies with good ethics and that take stern action in regard to unethical behavior. This customer preference is tied to purchasing power and could be funneled towards spending money on products that are produced ethically, as defined by international labour rights in regard to working hours, health and safety, freedom of association, and wages.
These changes are critically important, according to global anti-corruption expert and Founder of the Accountability Lab, Blair Glencorse; but, he also stresses the needs for shifts in ethics and cultures, not just rules and institutions:
“Many of the largest corporate corruption scandals in history have taken place within businesses that had compliance programs and in countries where there are strong laws against corruption. The key is building cultures of integrity and pushing meaningfully, from the CEO-down and the ground-level-upwards, for a deep, shared understanding of why being a transparent, ethical company is both good for the bottom-line and good for the societies in which we live.”
To understand these ethical and governance challenges, the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business (CERB) – an outreach initiative of The Pakistan Business Council – is developing a year-long strategy to conduct research, build programs and report on the gaps that exist within businesses when it comes to integrity. The aim of these activities is to develop an understanding of the knowledge and frameworks that exist within the private sector around ethics and governance and then to host a discussion around how to close these gaps. CERB will engage with the private sector by identifying the baseline for current levels of understanding and implementation, which will be followed by practitioner workshops and case studies on companies that have shown to have developed best practices that others can follow.
Talib currently works as Ethics Lead and Research Associate at Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business (CERB), an outreach initiative of The Pakistan Business Council. Previously, he was leading the anti-corruption, compliance, and ethics program at the Centre for International Private Enterprise of the US Chamber of Commerce. He is Founding Director of the School of Ethics and Leadership and amongst the first fellows of Accountability Lab Pakistan. He is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, USA and graduate of Transparency International School on Integrity, Lithuania. He regularly writes for local and international forums and can be contacted via email at [email protected] and can be followed on twitter @TalibUzZaman.