Philip J. Jennings has been General Secretary of UNI Global Union since its creation. From 1997, Philip worked to create a new global union spanning skills and services. The result was the creation of UNI Global Union on 1 January 2000. [Information quoted from UNI Global Union web site. For further biographical information about Philip J. Jennings kindly consult: http://www.uniglobalunion.org/Apps/uni.nsf/pages/aboutusEn]
UNI Global Union is the voice of 20 million service sector workers around the world. Through 900 affiliated unions, UNI represents workers in 150 countries and in every region of the world. UNI represents workers in the Cleaning & Security; Commerce; Finance; Gaming; Graphical & Packaging; Hair & Beauty; ICTS; Media, Entertainment & Arts; Post & Logistics; Social Insurance; Sport; Temp & Agency Workers and Tourism industries. UNI Global Union’s mission is to grow and strengthen affiliated unions and UNI Global Union to improve the working conditions and lives of workers in the services and allied sectors. [Information quoted from UNI Global Union web site. For further information on UNI Global Union and its philosophy kindly consult: http://www.uniglobalunion.org/Apps/uni.nsf/pages/aboutusEn]
- What is the most important ethical lesson you have learned (either personally or professionally)?
My worst ethical moment was when I had to console a family of an assassinated Citibank union leader in Bogota who had been murdered at age 37 by a terrorist group. There was a complete collapse of any sense of ethical values – taking the life of an innocent person trying to improve the life of Columbian people. I had to try to answer the question “why”? I learned that this was a society where any kind of ethical sense was lost. A journalist told me, “that’s just what it’s like here.” It was part of the culture. My lesson: I had to try to change the culture.
- What is the most shocking corporate ethics matter you have seen in the news recently? Non-profit sector? Why?
The most shocking corporate sector example is that fact that the financial sector was thrown into the top of the league in unethical behavior. It is systemic in nature. Employees at the bottom or lower levels of the pyramid on the “shop floor” were instructed and given performance targets to sell certain products to consumers when they knew the consumer couldn’t meet the commitment (predatory selling). When they tried to bring the information back to supervisors they weren’t listened too. When organizations are willing to be so unethical that they sell unethically to simple consumers where is the limit? LIBOR is another example showing that this unethical behavior starts and resides at the top.
- What do you see as the opportunities for the corporate sector and non-profit sector to collaborate in raising the bar in ethical matters?
There is an important role for NGOs and the labor movement to play. Organizations like Transparency International are important, as are mechanisms like whistle blowers. NGOSs must keep their independence though – their own robust decision-making methods – in order to contribute meaningfully.
- What are the most effective strategies for mitigating risk of unethical behavior in your organization?
In the labor area, the issue is as fundamental as reorienting the business model. The board of directors must be clear that they are no longer prepared to tolerate the fact that the world doesn’t like the company anymore. They must make a commitment to engage with civil society and the labor movement. But this all must start at the top.
- What are your strategies for ensuring ethical policies and standards flow down through all levels of the organizing and to all stakeholders?
- Are there areas you think regulation should be more extensive in regulating corporate ethics? Non-profit sector ethics?
A legal framework is critical. We cannot leave unethical behavior to voluntary initiatives. This includes an independent judiciary that cannot be bought and, critically, a political process that reflects the will of the people. We must de-corporatize the lobbying that is corrupting public officials. We must fundamentally change the way business does business. We did a survey of workers around the world that revealed that only 30% of the respondents have faith in the quality of the decisions of their leaders.
- Should culture be an important contextual element in ethics analysis? What is unique about the ethical culture and environment in your country that should be taken into consideration?
Culture is extremely important as demonstrated in the Columbia example I explained. Unethical behavior in our area of labor is not an incident. It is part of life – just generally expected – that NGOs or union bosses are fair game. There were 2900 assassinated in recent years with only 20 brought to account. In Columbia we were able to generate progress with a specific example. We met with high-level government officials who felt that the multi-nationals were exploiting. We convened business (and explained that they needed to take responsibility), academics, government officials, and labor for a few days of social dialogue. This at least showed it could be done. Carrefour now has 4000 union workers of an average age of 25, with a potential of 8000. We went out in the field and visited Carrefour stores all over the country.
We have members in 150 countries and tackle this problem of culture country by country.
- Do you think globally applicable ethics principles and practices are possible? Desirable?
Global standards exist to some extent and are very important. Everyone is on a mission to improve behavior of business. It all comes down to behavior.
- What is the biggest mistake people make in making decisions around ethical issues?
Improvement in these areas takes time. The biggest mistake: giving up and not following through. The opponents of ethical progress are waiting for this. We don’t lose the passion, energy, and commitment.
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