A conference this past week in
The substance of our discussions in
In prior workshops on business ethics in
Something like the assertion of exterritorial legal jurisdiction in
In startling contrast, in this past week’s conference and panel discussions, the Chinese asserted conceptual ownership of the subject and fully engaged their minds as well as their emotions.
It appears that, for them, the discussion of “culture” is not a trivial matter.
Which fact, I suppose, should not have come as a surprise to me. After all, Chairman Mao’s great effort to shape
In ways that were quite exciting and revealing, speakers and commentators asked basic questions as a starting point on the way to defining appropriate levels of business conduct.
They asked what is human nature? Are people basically sinful and greedy? Do people have a capacity for moral behavior? Can they acknowledge the claims of society on their freedom and autonomy? Don’t we have to choose between “profit” on one side and ethical conduct on the other as Mencius argued so many years ago?
I felt as I listened that the objective of the conversation was to find a formula for “market freedoms with Chinese characteristics.”
The need to find such a formula is palpable as the Chinese Communist Party is moving more and more beyond Deng Xiao Ping’s formula of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” that justified the program of reform and opening up that began some 30 years ago.
The unstated question in everyone’s mind in the conference seemed to be “what kind of company behaviors will maximize market efficiencies and so create wealth but at the same time not be destructive of social harmony and non-financial values?
“Corporate culture” seemed to be assumed to be the meeting point of profit and social responsibility. One participant described the role of culture in a market setting as the brakes to off set too much pressure on the gas pedal. Excessive acceleration – a metaphor for excessive individualism or self-seeking – is tempered by putting on the brakes and keeping the car under the speed limit or safely hugging the road as it twists and turns.
This assumption is not a bad one in my opinion. Culture is a restraint on individualism. Culture is the action of the moral sense within us; culture arises within communities and sustains communities with commonalities of values, behaviors, practices, understandings.
Our discussions in
But the approach to implementation starts with culture – the psychology of the human, the needs and motivations of people - not with debates over moral theory or a list of stakeholder interests.
At the same time, a discussion of “culture” provided a way to reclaim
I very pleasantly felt that the Caux Round Table had a constructive role to play in this conversation as we have in a number of cultures been successful in mapping global standards of ethics and corporate social responsibility to core values within national settings. I was very pleased that our colleagues Dr. Roger Conant, Hiroshi Ishida, Andy Whitford from Westpac Bank, and Brinton Scott from the Fredrickson & Byron law firm office in