Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread: Putting Ethics to Work in Business
I wish to thank you warmly for the kind invitation to keynote the 2014 Business Ethics Conference for Deans of Catholic Schools of Business.
I am delighted to assist you in addressing the challenges of Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, where he wrote: “The economy needs ethics to function correctly… Efforts are needed…to ensure that the whole economy – the whole of finance – [be] ethical.” What can you as business educators do to bring this about? After explaining what our Council does (2), I want to address a few key principles of Catholic Social Doctrine or Teaching (CST) that apply to the world of business (3). Then we can explore what it means to be a good business (4), leading to what it means to provide good business education (5). I wish to end with the challenges and expectations of the wider world regarding business, finance and the economy (6-7), with Popes Benedict and Francis speaking out forcefully on these matters.
2. ABOUT PCJP
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace began (as a Commission) in 1967 in response to the call of Vatican II for a Church body “to stimulate the Catholic Community to foster progress in needy regions and social justice on the international scene.”1 The scope of the Council’s activities includes justice, peace, human rights, development and the environment. An important mandate of PCJP is to “deepen the social doctrine of the Church and attempt to make it widely known and applied.”2
Over the past few years, the Council has been very active on the subject of ethics in finance and business.
1. One stream of work is at the system-wide, even global level. In 2011, we called for reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems. In January of this year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the unprecedented Message of Pope Francis called for “a new political and business mentality [to] take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane.”3
2. A second, complementary stream addresses the economy at the practical business level. This led to the publication of the handbook Vocation of the Business Leader,4 which was presented at Dayton, also nearly two years ago. Today Vocation is available in a nine languages and other translations are underway.5 Nothing makes us happier than to receive a request from a professor to use the Vocation handbook in a course. “No royalty fee applies!” is always our answer.
3. A third stream brings Catholic Social Teaching to bear on particular industries, like mining6 or agriculture,7 or on an important issues that cut across sectors, such as the topic of decent work.8
Your 2014 Business Ethics Conference is another step in this process of deepening, sharing and applying the Church’s Social Doctrine.
3. ABOUT CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING (CST)
CST grounds the identity and values of Catholics and of Catholic institutions too. That is, it provides the basis of who we are and how we live out our calling or mission. Clearly no one is born into a particular pursuit such as business but into family, community, faith and culture. Faith is to guide our life, and CST would guide the choices that leaders can and need to make in the public or social sphere of human existence, including business. Let me suggest that your graduates develop themselves to be “principled leaders” (not merely market technicians) with their guidance provided by a “faith with works” philosophy.
A. Faith with Works: Faithful Leaders
Jesus looked for more than faith alone. Although on several occasions the Gospels report him telling individuals that their faith has saved or healed them, the Lord seeks more from us than faith by itself: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
What is the more? James states it clearly in his Letter: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jm 2:14-17)
Jesus spoke often about the contradictory gap between what was professed in the synagogue and what actually happened in the villages and countryside of Galilee. Faith is incomplete without a vision of the world and our place within it – our works. It is for the sake of important needs in the world that the Catholic Church has always been a builder of hospices and then hospitals, monasteries and then schools and universities.
So principled leaders are those who appropriate the words of Jesus at the Final Judgment (Mt 25:31-46): whatsoever you do for the least of these, whether it be feeding, clothing, caring, consoling and so on, you do for me. Catholic social principles will help them to see the social implications of faith.
B. Works Guided by Faith: Principled Leaders
CST comprises perennial doctrine that grew over the ages but especially since Pope Leo XIII. His Rerum Novarum (1891) addressed the excesses and cruelties of the industrial revolution. About 10 years ago, our Council compiled these teachings in a compendium.9 The Compendium highlights core principles of CST.10 All are very relevant to finance and business:
* Human Dignity: Made in the image of God (Gn 1:27), every man, woman and child possesses the dignity of personhood. A person is not something, but someone,11 as Pope Francis eloquently expresses with his embrace of those usually spurned: the poor, sick, disfigured and homeless.
* Common Good: This principle asserts that our plans and efforts must take into account the effect on everyone now and future generations too, so groups and individuals can “reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.”12 Are not the lost coin, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, all case-studies in the common good? (Lk 15).
* Solidarity: Here are three illustrations of solidarity.13 In the Book of Ruth, Ruth ignores social conventions to stay in solidarity with her mother-in-law Naomi. In the Gospel of Luke, the Good Samaritan ranks his neighbour’s welfare as equal in importance to his own (Lk 10:29-37). In his visit to Lampedusa, Pope Francis challenges everyone to welcome migrants as enjoying the full range of human rights.
* Subsidiarity: Subsidiarity calls for respect (and for support when needed) by larger and more distant entities, for the initiative, freedom and responsibility of the smaller, more local entities. It applies to respect for individuals and families by the state; for local and regional units by headquarters; for workers by bosses. In the Church, like Blessed John XXIII before him, Pope Francis is working to lessen the centralization in the Roman Curia and strengthen the role of the local Church.
* Stewardship: Men and women are the cultivators and custodians of the goods of creation (Gen 1:26-27). Business leaders should see themselves as co-creators with God and as His grateful, humble and respectful stewards in nurturing and distributing His gifts to all people.
I encourage you as leaders of Catholic business schools and as teachers of ethics to become very familiar with the Church’s Social Teaching. I suggest you go first to Vocation of the Business Leader, and keep the Compendium handy as a reference work to go deeper into any topic.
4. ABOUT BUSINESS
In his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI called on every Christian … to practice charity in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis.”14 The way to practice charity is to apply the fundamental principles in one’s choices and decisions.
Here is another way to put it: business leaders need to develop good habits of discernment, a process of discovering the good in the concrete here and now, by employing these great principles of human dignity, the common good, and so on as beacons to shed light on this reality, and as lenses to focus on it properly. Within the complex reality of the business, these same beacons or lenses will help them to make sound judgments and act accordingly. I want to touch briefly on three objectives that connect discernment with outcomes.
1) So, the first objective is to produce Good Goods. Businesses must attend to people’s needs by producing goods that are truly good and services that truly serve. Businesses have an opportunity to provide what everyone needs in the way of food, shelter, and so on. But are they truly good? The answer does not reduce to price or to legalities. Rather it should be asked: How do these products and services contribute directly or indirectly to human well-being? Customers are not just objects or consumers, but persons. Further, businesses are asked to make solidarity with the poor a facet of their service to the common good by being alert for opportunities to serve deprived and underserved populations and people in significant need.
2) Second, businesses should provide Good Work. By organizing good and productive work, businesses make a contribution to the community by fostering the special dignity of human work. Businesses are communities, not mere commodities! Further, applying the principle of subsidiarity contributes to the full human development of employees, by providing them with opportunities to exercise appropriate authority as they contribute to the mission of the organisation.
3) The third objective is Good Wealth. By being good stewards of the resources given to them, businesses create sustainable wealth through efficient and productive processes producing healthy profits. But generating wealth in a business is insufficient without the wider context of stewardship for the natural and cultural environment, and just distribution to all stakeholders who have made the wealth possible: employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and the larger community.
These three objectives show that businesses are multidimensional realities. They are not to be reduced to a single objective such as maximizing profit or enhancing shareholder wealth – just as marriage should not be reduced to sentiment between partners, or education to credentials for a career. Rather, the multidimensional business enterprise contributes to the larger common good by fulfilling its threefold purpose of good goods, good work and good wealth.
This is the framework – these are the beacons, the lenses – that the Vocation handbook encourages business leaders to use when they see, judge and act:15 when they discover the needs in the environment and the challenges they face; when they distinguish between courses of action and decide what is right instead of what is ethically inadequate and sometimes even perverse; and when they act in order to implement their ethical decisions. I hope that this same enlightened seeing, judging and acting will be at the core of what you teach business students.
5. ABOUT CATHOLIC BUSINESS EDUCATION
These thoughts on business education are based on my observations and on what businesspeople, scholars and teachers have told me. Even the survey done in preparation for this Conference exposed several weaknesses in business ethics courses; for instance, cases studies focus on the CEO level whereas most people work at other levels.16
A. Education and Formation
As Catholic Business Educators, your mandate includes to educate students on the foundations for moral business decisions, and to form them to lead an integrated life; not a life where one’s faith is kept separate. Clearly, a mission of both education and formation is much larger than the objectives of a few ethics courses. Thus my message is to the entire institution and vocation of business education, not just to the business ethics specialist.
I gather that prevailing conditions greatly challenge your schools. For one thing, students may come unprepared for reflection on ethical principles. As a businessman told us, even if students do come with some ethical grounding, they will hear that “Ethics is costly while cutting corners is profitable.” They begin to fear that putting ethics first might reduce their performance in a business environment. Instead, with your help, example and guidance, they have an opportunity to learn that respecting everyone, whether employee, shareholder, supplier, client or other stakeholder, provides the foundations for long-term success.17
Unfortunately, among business researchers and teachers, the dominant orientation is to focus on one thing only: the market. The market-only mind-set presupposes that the marketplace and business decisions are morally neutral or non-normative. The consequences can be ruinous. In the words of the same business leader, “As long as the alleged opposition between ethical ideals and the realities of business performance is not addressed, I doubt that Catholic business curricula will effectively nourish the ability of these students to live their faith and ethics in their future business responsibilities.”
B. Lived Faith
How can your schools help students avoid the divided life? I doubt that a workshop or course on “Leading an Integrated Life” will do the trick. This must be something that is modelled and articulated in countless ways, constantly, so that finally what is imprinted is an attitude.
The undivided life where faith and work connect needs to be modelled and encouraged throughout the student’s experience. Less than that might be education, but not formation.
Students need to learn the foundations of ethical business decisions. These are the tenets of Catholic social doctrine, and what underlies them: Christian anthropology which has the particular characteristic of asserting and justifying the unconditional value of the human person and the meaning of human growth,18 of integral human development. Moreover, the relationship between God and man is reflected in the relational and social dimension of human nature. Man, in fact, is not a solitary being, but “a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential.”19
In addition, to equip your students for their future world of work, they need to learn an anticipatory model of the moral puzzles that they are likely to meet. The case-studies should not be the rare or spectacular ones, with headlines about Bernie Madoff and Enron. Business students should not get the impression that, to be ethical, action has to be unusually courageous, or that ethical business-leaders are exceptional heroes whom they cannot hope to emulate. The case-studies for ethical formation must relate solidly to everyday situations and the capabilities of all upstanding people.20
But more is needed, because students will have to act, not just see and judge. Many students will find themselves in businesses that are far less than ideal. What to do when confronted with decisions that are immoral? It is not enough to equip students to discern shortcomings. They also need to learn how to bring about change. They will need the skills and the courage to speak out based on their values, whether to point out shortcomings or to propose alternatives, whatever the consequences of speaking out. Here again, education provides some of the tools, but more than that, students need formation as persons who can speak up courageously and act as needed.
Moreover, it is not enough to make one particular enterprise flourish. Future business leaders need to learn the skills for working together on an industry-wide basis as well as inter-sectorally: i.e., with civil society, with NGOs, with government at every level, with the media … and, yes, even with the Church!
Accordingly, their formation cannot be left to ethics specialists alone. Ethics in business education – just as ethics in business itself – must not be treated as a technical feature. There is no facet of business to which ethics does not apply. This holds for business education too. While specific business ethics courses are important, if ethics is not a topic throughout the curriculum, it has not truly been taught. Would any business school accept mathematical sloppiness in any of its courses, leaving number skills only to accounting or business statistics? Of course not. Whatever the specific topic, any professor who disdains mathematical precision is not doing his or her job. Let me put it to you that any professor, no matter what the specialty, who ignores ethics is not doing his or her job.
To relegate ethics to a course and have the rest of the courses be “non-ethical” is to foster the divided life—deformation rather than formation. Value-neutral business education risks being about techniques for better management and therefore better profit margins. It can promote instrumental rationality and a form of utilitarianism, which tends to be the dominant form of ethical thinking in business. I implore you to guard against these narrow and perverse outcomes; instead, work to form students with the backbone to resist or overcome evil and choose the good.
What kinds of research are faculty from your schools doing? Are they addressing the serious problems of the world, especially the growing problems of material and spiritual poverty? And what about challenging the prevailing paradigms, such as the reduction of business morality to profits and shareholder value?
I encourage you to pursue scholarly projects that restore the proper connections between ethics and economics. Your students, the business community and the wider world need you to dismantle “the alleged opposition between ethical ideals and the realities of business performance.”
E. Shared Mission
When specialists work in silos, they may ignore common themes and cross-cut issues. But organizational and intellectual fragmentation cannot lead to integral human development. Do your schools have integrated missions and visions that declare your Catholic identity squarely as your gift to your students and to the world?
Let us go beyond the mission and vision as words. Do your schools practice what they teach? What role do you play in the wider university? Does the business school comment on the institution’s investments policies? On its handling of human resources? In other words, does it practice its vocation as a business leader effectively within the university, and uphold human dignity, common good, subsidiarity, solidarity and stewardship?
F. Marks of a Catholic Business School
In June 2012, I had the pleasure of launching the English edition of Vocation of a Business Leader at a conference in Dayton, Ohio in June 2012.21 Let me repeat the list of topics that I presented there. They propose six spheres of aligned practice which should mark any Catholic business school:
1. Mission statement. This should be boldly, explicitly and faithfully Catholic.
2. Selection of faculty.
3. Operational policies and practices.22
4. Curriculum priorities.
5. Course content, materials and teaching methods. (Connecting with real-life Catholic business leaders via case studies, internships and mentoring would help in this regard.)
6. Engagement with the wider community.
6. THE GLOBAL SCENE
The global financial crisis unleashed in 2008 is still reverberating and has caused immense ‘collateral damage.’ The indifference of business elites has been colossal – a brief shrug, demand for public assistance to prevent further disaster, then resumption of the former behaviour with even higher salaries and bonuses. No wonder that “Occupy Wall Street” rose up and spread so widely! The people of the world do not want to be ‘collateral damage.’ If a system causes so much harm, it is a bad system, not only technically but also ethically.
“The economy needs ethics to function correctly,” observed Pope Benedict. “Efforts are needed … to ensure that the whole economy – the whole of finance – is ethical.”23 In the Council’s booklet on reforming the global financial system, we asserted that the crisis has exposed behaviours such as selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a mammoth scale.24 An interesting voice was added early this year: a former Wall Street hedge fund trader who had resigned from a job that paid him several million dollars a year wrote about the “addiction to wealth” rampant in investment firms.25
We cannot expect a solution to arise from drift. We need a solid direction grounded in fundamental truth about our human nature and destiny. Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis spoke of the risks linked to that selfish relativism which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. “There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.”26
Let me bring this back to business and your vocation to shape business through research and by forming future business leaders. When the people pray Give us this day our daily bread, I hope that the businesses and leaders you influence will understand that their vocation includes the need to satisfy hunger and to overcome poverty. And can they go further? How can they help to overcome the exclusion and inequality of which the Holy Father regularly speaks? To what extent can and should the private sector take up his challenge directly?
Yes, the Our Father and the Holy Father set the agenda for your schools. “You are the salt of the earth … the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-16). What are the true salt and the unhidden light of Catholic Business Schools? Of course, you aspire to meet the same standards of excellence as other business schools, but in this pursuit I hope you do not lose sight of your distinctness, your Catholic identity.
Your mission as Deans and Professors is to give life to your students’ faith, help them to integrate it into their work, and offer them the guidance of Catholic Social Teaching to flesh out their practical faith.
Surely we can all do as well as a widow three millennia ago who defied the conventions of her society in order to remain with her elderly mother-in-law. For Ruth, there was no question of ‘my daily bread’ alone; there must be daily bread for Naomi too. Naomi must not be excluded; she must not suffer poverty. Ruth’s solidarity had effects that she could see and courageously hold dear. What she could not see was that her course of action would make her one of the forbearers of Jesus. Jesus in his worldly flesh carried her DNA. So as we pray Give us this day our daily bread, let our prayer never mean bread for us without also being bread for all.
1 Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 90.
2 John Paul II, Pastor Bonus, 1988, art. 143.
3 Pope Francis, Message to the World Economic Forum, Annual Meeting at Davos-Klosters, 17 Jan 2014.
4 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vocation of the Business Leader, 3rd ed., 2012.
5 Published: English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Spanish, Ukrainian. Underway: Chinese, Hungarian, Indonesian, Korean, Russian, Slovakian, Thai.
6 Day of Reflection with Mining Executives, Rome, 7 Sept 2013.
7 World Food Prize, Des Moines, U.S.A., 16-17 Oct 2013.
8 International seminar on “Decent work, social justice, and global poverty eradication” co-sponsored with the International Labour Organization, 29-30 Apr 2014.
9 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004.
10 Compendium, 160 “These are principles of a general and fundamental character, since they concern the reality of society in its entirety: from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations. Because of their permanence in time and their universality of meaning, the Church presents them as the primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena, which is the necessary source for working out the criteria for the discernment and orientation of social interactions in every area.” Compendium, 161.
11 Cfr. Pope John Paul II, Catechism of the Catholic Church n.357, 1992.
12 Compendium, §164.
13 “Solidarity highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights and the common path of individuals and peoples towards an ever more committed unity.” Compendium 192.
14 Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, n. 7.
15 The see-judge-act methodology was developed by the Belgian priest and Cardinal Joseph Leo Cardijn (1882-1967), founder of the Young Christian Workers movement.
16 The principal findings: 1. Most courses cover a range of related topics in a survey manner rather than pursuing the identification and solution of key business ethics issues in depth.
2. Philosophical surveys are highly theoretical, often decline to “take a view” and provide new employees with little practical guidance when they confront ethical dilemma that could damage careers.
3. Courses focus on individual formation, reinforcing ethical sensitivity, but spend little time on how employees are then influenced by their firm’s culture over the course of careers.
4. While courses use cases to varying extents, practical case work is limited, with almost all cases focused on CEOs or senior management.
5. While some classes provide realistic settings for ethics problems, there is little discussion of how to execute the “ethical choice” via strategies and tactical plans, or of the choices/protections available to whistleblowers.
17 Personal communication: Pierre Lecocq, UNIAPAC President (International Union of Christian Business Executives Associations); President and CEO of INERGY Automotive Systems, Paris, France.
18 Caritas in Veritate, 18.
19 Cfr. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 12. Emphasis added.
20 Pierre Lecocq (personal communication).
21 "Business Education at Catholic Universities: Exploring the Role of Mission-Driven Business Schools," University of Dayton, 18-20 June 2012. Speech available at http://jche.journals.villanova.edu/article/view/1575
22 These should be consistent with Catholic Social Doctrine and the Vocation handbook; for instance, with regard to fair wages and work-life balance for staff.
23 Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 45.
24 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Towards reforming the international financial and monetary systems in the context of global public authority, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011.
25 Sam Polk, “For the Love of Money”, New York Times, 19 January 2014, p. SR1.
26 Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, 22 March 2013.
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