Doing the right thing

An atmosphere encouraging exemplary behavior is probably even more important than rules, necessary though these are. […] Contemplating any business act, an employee should ask himself whether he would be willing to see it immediately described by an informed and critical reporter on the front page of his local paper, there to be read by his spouse, children and friends.

Warren Buffett

There have been several stories in the media over the last week about the tax affairs of various high profile individuals, revealing how they have used (completely legal) avoidance schemes to reduce their tax liabilities. This comes in the wake of similar stories about some of our largest companies, which have likewise structured their activities so as to (again, perfectly legally) reduce the amount of tax that they have to pay.

These stories, together with others such as the recent MPs’ expenses scandal, highlight how just ‘staying within the rules’ is no longer enough if individuals and organisations are to avoid falling foul of their customers, suppliers, partners and the public at large. Just because something is allowed, this does not mean that it is acceptable… or right.

In these straitened economic times, organisations across the public and not-for-profit sectors are having to make difficult decisions. Funding is being cut, services are being abolished and people are losing their jobs. Such actions are increasingly being justified on the grounds that savings need to be made in order to meet government targets.

This is not, however, a sufficient defence. Now, more than ever, we must think beyond what we can or cannot do, to what we should do. We need more exemplary behaviour. We need to think more carefully about the impact of our actions on those whom we serve. And even when it may not be the easiest thing or the cheapest thing, we need to have the courage to do what is right.

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