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i Editor's Letter: Whither morality in business?

 

Listening to Mervyn King yesterday would be enough to have even teetotal Mitt reaching for the vodka. It was the starkness of his message – especially when so many other public speakers dissemble. Although even Mervyn couldn't admit the Treasury was setting monetary policy.

So many business people now neither say what they mean nor mean what they say. You hear it in tax-avoidance defences from Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Vodafone and eBay, or the "what, us, profit out of hiking our prices?" nonsense of SSE and other energy giants. It's there when banks pretend they are doing us a favour by charging a "small" fee for services they used to provide "for free" (it's an Americanism, get over it!). And, there are those old canards that pretend we have a say: "Your M&S" or "Your Santander".

At some point in my lifetime, companies became corporations. No longer are they there to provide services and products to us for a price at which they could make a profit, but instead their executives' primary focus appears to be what they can get away with. How much can they charge us? How few staff can they employ? How little need they pay them? What's the least tax they owe? How blatant should they be that they, to a man (usually), care primarily about the endless pursuit of ever-greater profits that they can pass on to shareholders?

To paraphrase Margaret Hodge at the Public Accounts Committee earlier this week: it's not about the legality of business practices but the morality. Whither morality in business? As they say at school: Discuss.

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