Reevaluating business ethics in our commercial dealings
4Mar

Reevaluating business ethics in our commercial dealings

Omar Ayesh “Morals define the nation that endures.” This age-old adage has been passed down through the generations with parents trying to teach their descendants the important pillars of a just and equitable society. As the world endures financial crisis after pandemic and other challenges, never has there been a more necessary and relevant time to remind ourselves and those we cherish the importance of ensuring our financial and business dealings are done based on the highest of ethical standards if we want our communities to thrive in future. Having spent decades trading, investing and launching projects in both the Arab world and the West, it has become painfully clear that a significant decline in ethics has happened around the world in both financial and business dealings. Yet while some geographies enjoy robust laws to keep such developments in check, the Arab region has yet to significantly raise standards of accountability. This, even though our Islamic and cultural heritage contain within them a moral compass that inspired the world for centuries. Our civilization is replete with intellectual writings, sayings and religious traditions that go back hundreds of years, and which affirm the imperative of adhering to strict codes of ethics not only in social interactions, but in commerce, medicine, and law. In modern times, specific phrases evolved about this topic. Contemporary terms such as business and financial ethics emerged in the early 1980s, while the phrase “ethical trading initiative” was coined in the mid-1990s. The concept of “ethical commerce” that needs re-evaluation involves businesses and authorities making a commitment to the strictest standards of honesty, trustworthiness, fair competition, integrity, and transparency in all financial and commercial dealings. Some advocate the idea that “business is business” to justify immoral, and often illegal, acts; and this is anathema to our culture. In fact, it is alien to our entire history and civilization. The most essential character trait for a businessperson to possess is integrity. Sincerity is the master of morality, and with it one will not only attain the trust and appreciation of others but earn their trust in commerce. Another proverb underscores this fact: “He who is honest with people will share in their wealth.” Even our Islamic principles contain prophetic traditions and Quranic verses that specifically celebrate integrity in traders and investors, with a frequently cited Hadith comparing the trustworthy trader with messengers of God, promising them a heavenly abode with faithful believers and martyrs. Honesty can never be segmented or partial. One is either truthful or a liar. A person cannot be half or two-thirds forthright. Nor, for example, can you be genuine and sincere with one’s spouse and children yet be deceptive with customers, employees and even competitors. This principle paves the way for an important topic: The importance of honest marketing to the customer. In the past, it was common for merchants to mask defects or shortcomings in their offerings and highlight only the most attractive elements. This school of thought proved detrimental in the long term. Conversely, the transparent presentation of a product or service has shown both short- and long-term rewards not only with a customer making a purchase but becoming an ambassador as well. This is relatively self-evident now with customers, but many have expressed incredulity when told they should be truthful with their competitors as well. Understandably, people wonder why one would be transparent with an entity that intends on taking away business that you target. My response to this is that we must promote a new school of thought in the world of business: positive competitiveness. This is an integral part of business ethics that also encourages cooperation and innovation. A competitor is a colleague not an enemy, yet there is some competitive behavior more reminiscent of war than commerce. This negatively impacts the competitive scene and contradicts the principles of business ethics. The bedrock of innovation is that positive competition pushes those involved to excel with integrity and reap the associated profits. Sports offer the best examples. Imagine the football club, Barcelona, would walk onto a field and have no Real Madrid or others to compete against. Without a strong, healthy opponent, the club would neither innovate nor improve and we, the “clients,” the fans, would lose the passion and pleasure of watching the game. So, what I mean is not some naïve notion of avoiding rivalry. Rather, “positive competition” means distancing ourselves from the unethical, often twisted, methods of attempting to undermine or harm a competitor’s business or reputation through industrial espionage to exploit information that they do not wish to expose voluntarily. It is unfortunate that some investors employ unethical means to destroy their competitors; and this both breaches trust and violates a company’s right to privacy. More importantly, a continued focus on trying to discredit competitors reflects on oneself not only demonstrating an unethical pettiness, but even having a “reverse psychology” effect helping the marketing efforts of the competitor rather than hindering them. As for what I mean by the principles of integrity and transparency, these are intrinsic characteristics of honesty – which I have always insisted is the “master of morality.” This translates into making relevant information available to whomever seeks it easily and without malice or deception. This includes providing access in a credible, timely manner. While this approach is uncommon in our communities, it is a critical factor in my view for helping society develop. It is also crucial for combating structural corruption in private and public institutions, a fact numerous studies have reinforced, the latest by Transparency International which confirmed the existence of a relationship between this principle, describing it as “the archenemy” of corruption and an important element in state’s ability to fight dishonesty. In conclusion, the purpose of this message is to emphasize that by reevaluating our ethical commercial principles and introducing honesty as a core element of our approach, it is not only your venture or my company that benefits, but the entirety of the public and private sectors combined – a fact now proven by Transparency International. This small but impactive reframing is a simple recipe for building a strong nation capable of sitting at the table with larger, more powerful, nations. And, herein, we conclude where we began: “Morals define the nation that endures.”

omar ayesh © 2019