In the face of the changing socio-political and economic climate, conducting businesses on principles of fairness and integrity has become extremely difficult, sometimes near impossible for some corporations (private and public) in Nigeria. With several reports of fraud related crimes as well as the disclaimers often following such crimes absolving companies from the crime by denying or accusing members of staff directly involved in the crime, one begins to wonder, at what point should individual staff be held responsible for such crimes and at what point should organizations be sanctioned and allowed to bear the brunt of such offenses?
Are individuals within a corporate structure allowed to flout the ethics of an organization and go undetected? Are those same individuals aware of such ethical codes in the organization? At the point of hiring, was any such matter communicated? If it was unknown to the staff that certain things were unethical, should they then be punished for them? Who determines what is ethical in a company?
Boards form the highest level of organizational structure. It is the most strategic unit of an organization and is responsible for casting the vision, mission and objectives of the company. Beyond this, boards form and regulate company cultures. This implies that they define the values of the organization and by extension, define the ethics of their organization. Everything starts and stops with boards. Boards create these ethics and communicate same to management who is saddled with the responsibility of institutionalizing such. If this was done, then it stands that individuals found breaking the moral code or ethics of their organization should be penalized.
What happens in the event that such ethics created and fixed at the board level was not communicated to the members of staff? How does such a person exonerate his/ herself? While ethics begin in the boardroom and the concept of right and wrong in the business dealings of corporations is set by the board, individuals working in organizations need to have their own moral compass or character.
Character according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is defined as “the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves: someone’s personality, a set of qualities that are shared by many people in a group, country, etc. Underlying the definition of character are values; what values guide individual action and thoughts? Men and women of impeccable character are unlikely to break ethical codes of their companies. This thought brings me to the conclusion of this write up.
Nigeria is presently in a state where our values have been eroded and people are no longer conscious or aware of the value of having great character! At work, at play, all sorts of vices are committed almost without thought of the consequences and the damages such action can cause both in the present and the future just because people lack the strength of character to do the right things. If Nigeria is to become great again, then everyone at all levels must arise to define their values, build their character and choose to stand by their convictions.
In conclusion, business ethics indeed start from the boardroom because of the roles boards play in businesses; the onus to be ethical however falls on individuals. The definition of right or wrong is determined by the values of individuals and the ability to stick with the right and forget the wrong is dependent on the strength of character of the individuals. It therefore stands to reason that business ethics is both a function of boards and individuals.