Firms reveal they put profits before ethics

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The Independent Online
THE new values of the 'caring 1990s' have largely failed to penetrate the UK boardroom, which still believes firmly in the greed-driven motives of the past, according to the first extensive survey of business ethics to be conducted in Britain.

Researchers found that businessmen showed little desire to serve the community, and although they displayed a high degree of ethical awareness, many would jettison their principles if they affected their company's profitability.

Finance and marketing directors scored low on the league table of ethics. Bank managers and personnel staff were found to be the most ethically 'correct'.

Junior executives and women took the moral high ground, caring more about green issues, staff relations and trade with countries that abused human rights.

Yet 20 per cent of women doubted they could remain truly ethical in business, as opposed to 12 per cent of men.

As the majority of British business is run by people who are old and male, however, the climate was summed up by one respondent: 'In general, business ethics does not come very high in the general scale of human behaviour. Professional standards and levels of caring sometimes leave a lot to be desired.'

The survey was carried out by the University of Westminster for the Co-operative Bank, which last year launched its own ethical programme, detailing the types of countries and investments that it would not touch.

Terry Thomas, the company's managing director, said: 'The business maxim 'win at all costs' is down but not yet out, and it is clear that more British buinesses need to clarify their ethical stance.'

Terry Burke, who led the research team, said: 'Clearly, managers feel the social and political responsibilities of the Nineties are outside their field of influence.

'Perhaps wealth creation and provision of jobs are their own justification, but the survey found only minority support for helping the poor and there are sharp divisions on animal testing.'

The survey found that 7 per cent would back selling weapons to repressive regimes or exporting pesticides banned in the UK, while only 40 per cent would operate sanctions against countries that comitted human rights offences.

Although the returns suggested that managers cared about their staff, only 14 per cent supported positive discrimination to give the disabled work. And 39 per cent said helping the poor was not a matter for their company.

The taxman will be pleased to know, however, that only 7 per cent felt evasion was necessary or legitimate. He will be amused to know that 20 per cent would rather cheat on their domestic partner than the Inland Revenue.

But 23 per cent said a little deviousness was needed to be promoted.

Mr Burke said attitudes to green issues were ambivalent, with respondents' having a high awareness of the issues, but lacking the motivation to take specific action to help.

While 90 per cent said business should pay for causing environmental damage, only 7 per cent would insist on their company having a recycling policy.

Among company directors, 72 per cent saw no reason why they should drive economical cars. Only 32 per cent of those surveyed advocated a ban on products that consume the world's scarce resources.

Of the 645 replies to the survey, 480 came from senior managers and professionals, and the rest from junior managers. The vast majority of respondents - 85 per cent - were male, most aged between 35 and 54.

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