I recently completed a 6-week course, The Changing Face of Leadership, as part of a formal educational program. The course centered primarily on the topic of global leadership and several associated subtopics including global mindset, global leadership competencies and global leader development. While we also covered the topic of global ethics, surprisingly the primary topic and subtopics scarcely included mention of global ethics. In addition, the journal articles I read specifically on the topic of global ethics emphasized a cultural ethic (respect and appreciation for cultural diversity). I agree that respect of and appreciation for cultural diversity is an important element of a global business ethic. However, a genuine global business ethic must also consider the impact of operations on people, place, and the planet (Shutkin, 2011).
Corporations obviously play an essential role in the economy and society overall by providing employment and producing goods and services. Thus, the purpose of this essay is not to demonize corporations or globalization. However, it is an urgent appeal for global leaders to become more responsible for the impact their operations have on people or public health and social justice, place or community health and diversity, and planet or environmental health and sustainability. In regards to people, as highlighted by Domhoff (2012), the ratio of CEO pay to line worker pay climbed from 42:1 in 1960 to 531:1 in 2000, at the height of the stock market bubble, to 411:1 in 2005 and 344:1 in 2007 (for comparison, the same ratio is about 25:1 in Europe). This type of extreme inequity fosters discontent and violence while threatening social and political stability in the United States (This is one of the core messages of the Occupy Movement). In addition, the growing inequality worldwide between rich and poor countries threatens security and peace while fueling global terrorism.
Regarding place, a genuine global ethics honors the health, culture, diversity, sacred spaces, and relationships of community. The majority of the global leadership literature I have read thus far emphasized awareness and appreciation of place and culture. Therefore, it appears progress may be occurring here as it relates to its centrality to a genuine global ethic. Regarding our planet, the state of our planetary ecosystems is the foundation in which human civilizations are built, and economies emerge (Brown, 2006). Healthy economies emerge from stable and sound societies. Societies form under livable environmental conditions. While all legs of the sustainable development stool are vitally important, the most fundamental and foundational is the health of our natural environment. Given the severity of our environmental challenges, the emphasis must be on the environment, particularly CO2 emission reduction, because no society, and thus no economy, can exist without a healthy planet. Nature can exist without humans; however, humans cannot exist without nature.
A genuine global ethic demands responsibility to people, place, and planet such that all forms of an economic system are held to the standard of providing a “good quality of life for all Americans in an ecologically sustainable way which includes an element of employment security, security in material well-being, a reasonable family and community life, and environmental sustainability” (Schor, 1998). Therefore, organizational leaders across the sectors have are called to engage in the work of transforming themselves and their organizations to reduce harm caused by operations, and ideally, provide solutions to the numerous social and environmental challenges that threaten humanity’s quality of life for current and future generations.
“In today’s business world, ethics is not simply a peripheral concern of executive boards or a set of supposed constraints on free enterprise. Ethics stands at the very core of our working lives and of society as a whole, defining the public image of the business community and the ways in which individual companies and people behave” (Ciulla, Martin & Solomon, 2007).