Baroness Frances D’Souza is Lord Speaker of the House of Lords
- What is the most important ethical lesson you have learned (either personally or professionally)?
That basic individual rights are not and should not be culturally relative but universal.
- What is the most shocking corporate ethics matter you have seen in the news recently? Non-profit sector? Why?
It’s not so much corporate (although the entire banking sector it seems to me requires a radical change in culture) but more about the way in which Government responds to the corporate sector. Thus compromise of fundamental rights for commercial gain, the unwillingness to face widely held perceptions about the duplicitous behaviour of individual politicians, the backtracking on commitments (e.g. the Liberal Democrats on top up fees). I continue to have concerns about the impact of aid, development or otherwise. Despite the numerous studies that now point out the ineffectiveness of much of the billion dollar aid industry radical shifts in approaches are not immediately obvious.
- What do you see as the opportunities for the corporate sector and non-profit sector to collaborate in raising the bar in ethical matters?
The non-profit sector would do well to professionalise its approaches and work on understanding commercial imperatives and the corporate sector MUST work on acknowledging that ethical business is ultimately the more secure financially. I feel strongly that if aid agencies were prepared to work together, in the field at least, then grossly unethical government actions could be confronted. I well remember in 1984 that MSF (Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières) was alone among the agencies crowded into Ethiopia during the famine crisis who confronted the government with its murderous actions of transporting cholera victims from the highlands to the south thereby creating a nation wide epidemic. The UN in particular kept silent for fear of being thrown out – MSF was very temporarily thrown out but returned. Had all the agencies had this kind of courage maybe the government’s actions could have been halted and many thousands of lives saved.
- What are the most effective strategies for mitigating risk of unethical behaviour in your organization?
Transparency is the key strategy. In the organisation I currently work in we have worked hard to develop standards (with sanctions for any transgressions), published them and also set up a register of interests.
- What are your strategies for ensuring ethical policies and standards flow down through all levels of the organizing and to all stakeholders?
Consultation, transparency, reviews and overt leadership in all matters to do with standards. The leaders of any organisation set the tone and the standards of behaviour.
- Are there areas you think regulation should be more extensive in regulating corporate ethics? Non-profit sector ethics?
Bonuses and salary levels for top management and the gap between low and high earners within any one corporation. In the non-profit sector how about agreeing a nationwide and acceptable division between administration and actual programme costs.
- 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?
The danger here is that cultural relativity will creep in; for example, it is within the culture of a given business that small bribes in the form of hospitality and/or actual cash is essential for the smooth flow of business. Larger companies that can afford to should lead the way and there should of course be adequate legislations AND monitoring.
- Do you think globally applicable ethics principles and practices are possible? Desirable?
Yes, slowly and with difficulty – culture change is a gradual process.
- What is the biggest mistake people make in making decisions around ethical issues?
Fear and weak leadership or perhaps ineffective leadership. Pragmatism is a wonderful thing but it is possible to compromise on issues apart from ethical ones which should not ever be compromised. Many companies may not as yet be aware of or alive to ethical issues, thinking these only concern environmental organisations and the like. So there is a large public education job to do demonstrating what ethical issues might affect all corporations.