Business Ethics, an oxymoron?

This article has been published in the CFBP Souvenir on 21st September,2016.


To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.

                                                Martin Luther King Jr.


US $1 trillion dollars (US $1,000 billion). This is a conservative estimate for annual worldwide bribery as estimated by World Bank Institute in 2004. This estimate does not include the extent of embezzlement of public funds (from central and local budgets), or from theft (or misuse) of public assets.

Furthermore, the $1 trillion estimate does not include the full extent of ‘tainted procurement’, but only the bribe fees associated with such procurement.

Thus, looking at the above data, it is not surprising that Business ethics is still considered an oxymoron by many. It is a matter of grave concern that this amount of $1 trillion exceeds the GDP of many countries. Only 15 countries of the world have a GDP above $1 trillion.

Significant losses in investment, private sector development, and economic growth to a country, or to the increases in infant mortality, poverty and inequality, all result from corruption and misgovernance.

However the positive side is that there is lower skepticism now with the concept of ethics in organizations. Large number of studies are being conducted focusing on the benefits of organizations being ethical. In a recent workshop that I conducted for a board of directors for a listed company, the members believed with confidence that Business ethics is not an oxymoron and that it actually pays to be ethical.

Also, my Phd thesis was on ‘Ethical Business Practices and Corporate Financial Performance: An empirical analysis’. It showed a positive correlation between the practice of ethics in organizations and certain financial variables.

In addition what is heartening to see is the recent establishment of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, which provides the needed leadership.

It (“the Act”) introduces a number of measures to combat slavery and human trafficking. In addition to creating new criminal offences, powers of enforcement and measures to protect victims, it introduces requirements intended to eliminate slavery and trafficking in global supply chains. It gives the UK the same wide-reaching ethical remit as regards slavery and trafficking as the Bribery Act 2010 gives it in the field of bribery and corruption.

Thus, though compliance is about adherence, good governance cannot be achieved by compliance alone. However acts such as the one above and the Indian act on CSR gives us a focus, a direction about the intention of countries.

Lynn Sharp Paine in her book ‘Value Shift’ says: The law does not generally seek to inspire human excellence. It is no guide for an exemplary behaviour. Those who define ethics as legal compliance are implicitly endorsing a code of moral mediocrity for their organisation.

Thus we have to be proactive in our approach to ethics and not just compliance based. The development of an economy needs a more ethical approach by organizations. We will grow faster once we stop considering Business Ethics as an oxymoron and make ethics a natural way of operating.

Dr. Anita Shantaram

Trainer, Educator, Ethicist

Ethics Research and Consulting Pvt.Ltd.,

Airlift Your Emotions

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country…”


Clichéd as this phrase from JF Kennedy’s inaugural speech has become, I heard it in Hindi at the end of the movie Airlift, by the lead actor at the end of the play Chanakya and in the many emails and forwards in the past two days. It still resonates with me.


Watching the movie Airlift this pre-Republic day gave me a sense of immense pride.

I am patriotic- proud of being Indian despite knowing some of its limitations. After every trip abroad, I come back to acute frustration at the hygiene levels and the roads, which can give slip disc to the fittest amongst us.

But, there is no place I would rather be in today than in Mumbai, India.


Childhood memories of Assam bring me extreme nostalgia. The wonderful days, open space, forests and trees in the backyard- these have been the bedtime stories for my urban-fitted children who have never climbed a tree or scraped their knee while running in and around forests.

Summer vacations spent in Bihar in the sweltering heat of May. Food was consumed amongst my cousins faster than it was prepared. The heat made me lose my appetite and I could hide my inability to eat amongst them. Food was the last thing on my mind then (unlike nowadays). Going to the fields, nature’s toilet, despite having a pakka house. (Yes, my dad lived in a mud house before he began to work).


Coming back to Airlift- 1,70,000 Indians airlifted from Kuwait, the largest evacuation. The understated tone of the film gave me a feeling of pride. The protagonist was not someone who was too fond of India, yet he felt the urge to do something for his fellow Indians.

They did not make him larger-than-life; there were enough glimpses of him as a common man. He behaved as many of us would behave when faced with challenging situations. How many of us can go beyond our self? Can we go beyond the ordinary? I have asked myself many times about hypothetical situations and found myself not rising to the occasion. Hopefully when the time comes, I do not fail myself.


My husband commented that Akshay has started doing socially relevant films, and I realized that that is true- he has recently done films like Baby, Holiday and SPECIAL 26.

Is it that he has a stronger conscience then the other actors in the fraternity? I would like to believe so. Actors have a choice and the choices reflect the person. A film has a potential to influence masses. And I am sure that everyone coming out from the movie would be feeling at least 1 % more in love with India.

I salute the directors and producers making socially relevant movies and movies that make us better human beings. I am all for some clean entertainment but what if I can get entertained and also get inspired?


Similarly there is V.Shantaram’s film on transformational leadership- ‘Do Ankhen Barah Haath’. The film portrays a young jail warden, who rehabilitates six dangerous prisoners released on parole into persons of virtue. It was the first Indian film to win a Golden Globe award.

Padosi (1941) was about a relationship between two friends, a Muslim and a Hindu. It concentrated on the topical issue of Hindu-Muslim unity making a “strong plea” for it. The film was made against the backdrop of communal tension during the formation of Muslim League. Shantaram attempted a risky theme showing amicable relations between the two of them.

In real life, the Muslim character was a Hindu and the Hindu was a Muslim. Such subtle choices created the underlying message of unity without screaming about it. His movies Dahej, Aadmi and Padosi all conveyed a strong social message.


Filmmakers and the general public criticize the Indian Censor Board for its outdated morality while deleting scenes or cutting a James bond kiss by 60 seconds but I want to question the sensibility of the Board for allowing a movie like Kya Kool Hai Hum 3 to release. My daughter told me in a disgusted tone, “Mom do you know the movie’s tag line is ‘India’s 1st Porn Com’? (Yuck)


God save India, we need more Akshays and need more Airlifts.




I asked my daughters, “What do you see in the words Satyam and Maytas?”

Maytas is Satyam spelled backwards, answered my elder daughter with a look (like- when are you going to ask me more intelligent questions?)

Maytas, the company owned by B. Ramalinga Raju’s sons which the investors rejected to buy. This deal would have helped bridge the gap caused by the financial jugglery initiated by Raju.

Had the investors not rejected this proposal, it would not have compelled B. Ramalinga Raju to the confession in Jan 2007. (Just a week before, my research proposal was accepted for my PHD. As the trial continued so did my Phd, and have submitted my final thesis just as the trial concludes).

A source aware of the investigations shared that the web of deceit and the maze that was created was difficult to unravel in spite of the knowledge that there had been jugglery. If only Raju had used his sharp brains to create wealth for the stakeholders rather than for himself.

The title of an article in a leading newspaper – Icon to Con to Convict expresses the fall of one of the poster boys of the Indian IT industry.

2 questions are likely to be raised in the mind of the readers;

1st It’s just financial jugglery of a company he founded, not murder or rape- can’t we maybe forgive him?

2nd He did so many charitable activities and also won the coveted Golden Peacock award- can we not be a little more lenient to him due to his philanthropy?

What we ought to question is- what must have been the consequence of the downfall of Satyam?

Employees of the failed company must have felt a sense of shame and embarrassment to say that they worked for Satyam even though they had not done wrong. The investors who believed in the financial statements while investing would have lost a lot of money – the stocks dived from Rs.544 in 2008 to Rs.11 in 2009. What if the investor had invested most of his savings in Satyam, what if it was to buy a house, what if it was for his/her children’s education, what if it was to be used for an ailing parent?

Does the consequence not amount to murder of one’s future?

So whether the consequence seems harsh to some or lenient to others, what has brought relief to us is that the guilty have been convicted.

The outcomes of the New Companies Act 2013 may not have happened but for the Satyam scam. The same way as the Sarbanes Oxley act came into being after the Enron scam. Price Water House Cooper will have to also pay a heavy price.

India did not need its own Enron. This may not have happened if B. Ramalinga Raju had operated from a state of ‘Mindfulness’

Graduate to Sex (?)


, ,

Sitting on our dinner table I say “Hey did you all read the article that Harvard officially bans sex between undergraduate students and teachers?”

My girls begin to giggle, looking at each other and say “Just like Aria and Ezra.” “Who are they?” I ask.

“Oh,” they say, “from the show ‘Pretty little Liars’. In it, Aria is a student and she is involved with her teacher, Ezra. If the teacher looks like Ezra,” they continue, “who wouldn’t?”

I still remember the crush we all had on the Research and Methodology professor during our post graduate days. If rumours were true, he did eventually marry a former student. Many a hearts were broken. For most of us the crush is just a fantasy. But in today’s world of permissiveness is it more common to act on it?

Harvard followed in the footsteps of colleges like Yale (which banned student-faculty relationship in 2010), but other institutions say just to hold off until after graduation.

The faculty of Arizona State University themselves voted to prohibit them from dating whom they might reasonably be expected to have academic authority over, in January.

Self-regulation; is it possible or do we need official banning?

As Devdutt Patnaik in his column said ‘Banning anything is not right or wrong. It is the price we have to pay for civilization, because not everyone has the maturity to voluntary regulate themselves.’

A relationship with a student is often an abuse of power and an abuse of the position. Teaching has been considered a noble profession and the GURU in the Indian context is a respected person, who holds a position of influence and who enlightens the mind of the disciple. Thus the role is to enlighten not to corrupt, which is likely to happen if the relation between teacher and student is one of sex.

Is it only because faculty can influence grades or share feedback or help beyond the classroom that we ought to ban? Isn’t it just ‘not right’?

Is it initiated usually by the teacher, or is it the student who initiates it?

I think the more we ban, more likely it is that our internal compass stops working and the more we rely on outside regulation.  As is said, ‘Ethics begins where law ends.’

So let the crush on the handsome maths teacher continue to remain just a fantasy. Don’t take the next step.

Copyright- Right to Copy?


, ,

No, you cannot download the song
No, you cannot download the movie
No, you cannot download the serial
So what if it is on LimeWire?
So what if it is on Torrent , Mobshare or Napster?
You cannot buy the book at the traffic signal
MOM! You just love to say no.

Now, with the click of a button the kids buy a song or album from their account on iTunes. They have a large collection of CDs and blue-ray films.
Mom, even on YouTube the movies are available, though in parts. Is that legal?
As many instructions as I give, I am asked equal number of questions.
Mom, we are not downloading we are just streaming it
As pioneers to bringing the famous Grid seminars – a copyright programme-to India, my father, Dr.P.N.Singh used to say, “In India copyright means the ‘right to copy’” It was a task to convince organisations as many would say ‘Why not just photocopy?’
That was in the late 80’s and 90’s. Now, the scenario is different. There is greater awareness of copyright violations but however there is also greater ease in copyright violations.
With all my years of studying business ethics, I am still not sure what format is legal what format is illegal, which sites are legal and which illegal. Is it the one who uploads wrong, as we would not be able to download if there were no uploads.
For example, The Recording Industry of America (RIAA), on behalf of its member companies and copyright owners, has sued more than 30,000 people for unlawful downloading.
And no, I am not yet convinced that all knowledge is for free sharing. KOPIMISM, a religion in Sweden, believes that copying information is a sacred virtue. On January 5, 2012, Kopimism was accepted by Sweden as a legitimate religion.
Again a question- Should the parent be responsible for a child downloading a movie through the family’s IP address? What about a landlord who supplied Internet to a tenant?
At home, as I go to retire to bed I see the Wi-Fi flickering fast, while crunchy wafers are being eaten as their midnight snack, is it that the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy is being watched?
Oh! I despair, with all the ethics training I am imparting to my children, do they still download? My heart twists in anguish.
Then my heart says, maybe it is just Snapchat and Instagram and not a download. I discover I am right…