Letter: Ethics, profits and plain business sense

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article "There may be no profit in human rights" hits several nails on their respective heads. Shell's ever-rising share price clearly indicates that the Brent Spar public relations disaster had no real impact on the behaviour of investors. Ethical behaviour, more often than not, costs money. Businesses are working for profits. Consumer boycotts last only for so long. A smart strategist would be able to put a price tag on public relations disasters and make a decision on ethical behaviour based exclusively on cost-benefit considerations.

The hope for self-regulation in industries is naive. If Shell suddenly behaved ethically, its competitors wouldn't. Shell's prices might go up as a consequence; their competitors would win the market share.

Public and legislator pressure must be put on whole industries to agree on minimum ethical standards monitored by an independent watch-body operating at national and international level. Pharmaceutical companies have set up community advisory boards, which may not function ideally, but they are a start in the right direction.


Lecturer in Applied Ethics

University of Central Lancashire