The common good and the dignity of the human person are two elements that must be at the centre of any business.
These were two of seven points drawn from Catholic Social Teaching (CST) by Archbishop Vincent Nichols in his excellent analysis of what is required to do business better in the future. The others being solidarity, subsidiarity, reciprocity, fraternity and sustainability.
The archbishop was addressing the Church sponsored conference, a Blueprint for Better Business. The conference drew together many major businesses from across the world, including Vodafone, Unilever McKinseys, Barclays, Tesco, Lloyds and BAE Systems.
Ethically, many will have problems with some of these companies but if the Church is to have an impact on the wider world then there has to be constructive engagement, even with those some may not like.
The common good and dignity of the human person were central themes, underlining why the Church has a role to play in guiding the world out of its present economic morass.
None of the participants though seemed to be able to define the common good beyond their own individual or company circumstances.
The CST definition refers to “the set of social conditions which allow people more easily to develop, individually and communally.”
The dignity of the human person was another concept that had many struggling.
There were good contributions from Nicola Smith, head of economic and social affairs at the TUC and Lord Maurice Glassman but more voices from the labour world would have made for a more rounded discussion.
Some representation from British business, which in many ways is more backward than those giving the representations, could also have been helpful.
For it is in the UK that we have seen the representatives of business lobbying government to make the situation of the individual in the workplace that much worse. They have pushed to make it easier to sack people, more difficult to get justice via employment tribunals and for the reduction of health and safety regulations: thereby making it more dangerous in the workplace. All of these moves fly in the face of human dignity and the common good.
Indeed, human dignity and the common good have over the past few years seemed to be the least of concerns when it comes to the operation of business. Job security has been reduced, many people have lost their jobs, especially those working in the public sector. Wage freezes if not reductions exist for those in work. Pensions are under attack.
Let’s also not forget that it was the finance sector of business that created this crisis in the first place.
This is a backward country when it comes to doing business. In Germany, employers and government regularly sit down with trade unions and discuss economic priorities. As Lord Glassman pointed out, in Germany, the trade unions agreed to take a pay cut in the boom years, helping set the country up to be in the relatively prosperous position it is in now, compared to the rest of Europe.
In Scandanavian countries like Sweden, governments talk to trade unions from across Europe, including British ones.
Meantime, in little England, the employers and their representatives in government continue with their own form of Jurassic class warfare seeking to actually get rid of trade unions. Almost every other developed country recognises trade unions as key stakeholders in running business and the economy.The one element Archbishop Nichols could have added was reference to those elements of CST that underline the importance of trade unions to justice in the work place.
Importantly, the impact of climate change was also seen as a priority by Unilever, Vodafone and McKinsey. Again another example of differences between European and North American led business to their British counterparts – many of whom together with government seem to be living in the land of the climate change deniers.
The ethos of companies like Unilever and McKinseys seemed very much toward building long term enterprises where the common good is a major driving force. Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinseys, emphasised the damage done by the short termist attitudes in business. The power of the shareholder looking for instant returns is often not for the common good. Instead the business should build a long term enterprise that is good for the people who work for it and the community it operates in. So it would seem there is some hope moving forward for progressive moral voices in the business world