Friday, 16 September 2011

Business ethics?

I was shocked when one of our suppliers started bringing in ethics! They suggested it would be unethical for us to jump the queue to get digging work done to fix a line.

I have not really tried to work out what business ethics means, beyond the odd Dilbert comic on the matter. It is almost a contradiction in that a director is legally required to act in the best interests of the shareholders, so that almost rules out ethics!

In my case I am shareholder and director, so I can try to do things right and not have the issue of whether that is in the best interests of the shareholder as it is me that I am trying to please here. The concept of suing myself for such things is rather strange and would only make sense if there was an insurance policy involved, I expect.

But one has to wonder on business ethics. Queue jumping is an odd one. I have customers that pay extra for premium services, and we make no bones about the fact that in specific cases they get specific priority compared to customers that do not pay for premium service. It would be unethical to charge them for a premium service if they did not, I think. And one could well see a case where queue jumping was part of what was paid for.

The key thing for us as a company is to be open and honest. Whatever we are doing, we don't lie. And if we screw up we explain what happened, why, and importantly what we are going to do to make things better in the future.

Of course this particular supplier has dug themself in to a hole (pun intended) with this as they are the ones that said digging had started a few days ago. Now if we were at the head of the queue a few days ago, and it is unethical to jump the queue then clearly nobody can be ahead of us in the queue now. Of course, if we were not head of the head of the queue then, it was unethical to start digging and they were happy to say they had. I am pretty sure lying to us is unethical!

We have asked how this is possible and yet still ethical. I am sure we will not get an answer. They still can't stop referring to themselves as a third party. I am sure if they were a natural person not a corporate then we could have them sectioned for that.

In my book, not only do people paying for some specific priority get it, but any case where we have screwed up becomes high priority and may well jump queues as we have already screwed up. I think that is doing the right thing myself. Maybe I do not understand business ethics.

I am sure I do not understand what some large telcos consider to be business ethics though. What can I say?

And seriously, if I have the concept wrong, tell me. I am happy to learn. I think I have doing the right thing right, but I know I can be wrong. Understanding that, in itself, is doing the right thing, in my opinion.


  1. It's perfectly ethical to expect them to be true to their word... if they both told you that (a) you were at the front of the queue, and (b) digging had already started, then there's no issue of ethics on your part.

    If, as seems likely, they lied on both counts, make a huge stink about *their* ethics.

  2. I wonder if it's simply meant as a trigger phrase, in the way that "prevent the abuse of children" is a political trigger phrase?

    Translated, is "it's a matter of business ethics" supposed to mean "you are not permitted to argue with me on this topic; any further argument with me is evidence that you believe that dishonesty is acceptable", in the same way that "this initiative is intended to help prevent child abuse" is a political phrase meaning "you may not argue with me without providing evidence that you support child abuse"?