Ethics according to the Oxford English dictionary defines it as follows:
- Moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.
- The branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles
Business ethics therefore refers to the standards for morally right and wrong conduct in business. Law partially defines the conduct but “legal” and “ethical” are not necessarily the same.
I had always used my own moral upbringing in my dealings with people and in my organization. The Business ethics course in LBS has taught me that I must be more deliberate in being ethical.
I have also learnt that as human beings we should also be empathic in taking morally right decisions. I have a couple of work decisions where I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing and if I was morally justified in them.
As a management staff in charge of a swamp operation in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. Our operational area was riverine and the company we worked for had strict safety procedures. Our accommodation was a houseboat with a fast covered boat ambulance moored alongside.
Open speed boats were used to carry a staff of 10 including the boatman. The number one rule in our area of operation was always wear your life jacket, noncompliance is instant dismissal.
On a field visit one day, within an hour, I had sacked three staff working without the life jacket provided for them. They had it with them and one was having his bath in the river. As I got to the boat, the boat ambulance driver was inside the boat without his life jacket, my boatman assumed I was going to sack him, I gave him a warning.
The rule is clear, but I do not enjoy sacking people, I felt remorse, most have families to feed, however, noncompliance can lead to a fatality. The ambulance boatman was in a covered boat and relatively safer as well as being moored to the houseboat, his exposure guided my decision.
Knowing the rule, was it ethical of me to sack the others and not the ambulance boatman.
The second incident also happened on another job in the field. Assault is dismissal. The section that handles investigations of incidents is Health, Safety and Environment.
A case of assault was reported, the staff involved a HSE staff, he was experienced and invaluable. HSE investigated the incident and recommended a warning and two weeks suspension in their report. I reviewed it and recommended his sack the staff. The head of section came pleading as we were in a crucial phase of operation. Against my better judgement, I agreed.
Three weeks later, there was a case of fighting, HSE investigated and recommended the appropriate punishment, sack. I could not authorize it. I called the HSE head and told him that because of the precedent we set, any fighting on this job will attract the punishment we had earlier dispensed.
I bent the rules and lived with it.