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Introduction to the series by Christina Koutsoukos
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Dr Simon Longstaff

Business + Ethics = Improved Bottom Line
“Corporations only flourish in flourishing communities. Businesses no longer ask if they should be responsible, only about how best to do so.”

There was a time when the words business and ethics were thought by many to be incompatible; particularly following some of the corporate excesses and failures of the 1980s. It’s still a belief that’s easily supported any time a major corporation is found to be wanting in the honesty department. Yet some businesses have embraced the concept of their corporate social accountabilities and are not only developing strong ethical cultures, they’re expressing their commitment fluently through their organisational structure. Christina Koutsoukos chats with Dr Simon Longstaff, the executive director of St James Ethical Centre in Sydney, Australia, about how organisations can move with the times in terms of their ethical responsibilities to society. (Running time: 23 mins 26 secs Download: 21.4 MB)

Conversation focus 

  • Ethics in business can reap big rewards in many areas including compliance, risk management and regulation. But simply paying lip service to the concept does nothing for the bottom line. Sophisticated companies consider the fundamentals of how they’re going to live within an ethical structure.
  • Paradox. Today, in such a compliant, ethical society, we’re so busy ticking the boxes that we’ve lost the capacity to make responsible, ethical choices. Setting proper ethical foundations will create a far stronger response to actually reducing risk and building the capacity of an organisation to make good decisions in the longer term.
  • Don’t take on ethics unless you’re going to do something practical with them and commit to living them from the top down. Once you raise expectations, you must live up to them. Hypocrisy can have long term consequences.
  • Creating an ethical structure is more than just a matter of luxury or cost. The really tough decisions are those that have to be made between right v right, or good v good – between values and ethics that are held in equal conviction.
  • Often appropriate long-term outcomes require taking some short term risks or investments that don’t produce great results. Always take a balanced approach.
  • The history behind the development, philosophies and purpose of the Corporate Social Index in the UK and the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney, Australia.
  • The social capital – or social innovation – that comes from our community lies at the heart of getting the most out of all of ethical structures.
  • There are six risk management practises businesses can incorporate into their structure to develop a sound ethical culture – it has to be more than a rhetorical flourish on the wall, or in the bottom drawer.

About Dr Simon Longstaff

Dr Simon Longstaff is the Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney, Australia, and has been since July 1991. He read for the degrees of Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy at Cambridge and centred his research on related questions arising in the areas of political philosophy, ethics and the philosophy of education.

St James Ethics Centre is an independent, not-for-profit organisation based in Sydney, Australia. It provides a non-judgemental forum for the promotion and exploration of ethics. Its mission is to encourage and assist individuals and organisations to include the ethical dimension in their daily lives, and thereby help to create a better world. It promotes business and professional ethics both in Australia and overseas.

Dr Longstaff was also the inaugural president of the Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics, is a fellow of the World Economic Forum and serves on a number of business ethics committees.

Useful resources

Hard Cases, Tough Choices – Exploring the ethical landscape of business; written by Dr Simon Longstaff 

More about the St James Ethics Centre 

Simon Longstaff newspaper article

Original artwork by Nicola Hensel
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