By José Juan Bautista, Ph.D., Xavier University of Louisiana
In recent months the business world has been rocked with a money-laundering case that will result in one of the world’s largest banks headquartered in the European Union having to pay $1.5 billion in fines; a $4.2 billion fraud case involving a sovereign wealth fund in Southeast Asia; a price-collusion case in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry where a 539% price increase was revealed for a popular antifungal skin cream; and a case where the world’s social media titan was found to have leaked private information of subscribers to a political consultancy agency.
As startling as these four cases seem, they are just a handful of several corporate business scandals that have surfaced during the past year and a half, both domestically and to the far ends of the globe.
When scandals such as these become increasingly frequent, incur the financial embezzlement of billions of dollars and infringe on the privacy of innocent individuals, one of the many obvious questions is: “Has there been any attempt to recover the world’s business community’s lost moral compass?”
The answer to this simple question can be found in the content of the myriad of articles, books and other publications written on the topic of business ethics.
Secular legislative attempts to thwart corporate corruption in the U.S. and abroad include passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act in 1970; passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977, which was amended by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act in 1988; and, in this century, passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002.
In Europe, the Council of Europe formed the Group of States Against Corruption to comply with Article 29 of Title VI of the 1999 Treaty of the European Union.
A needed Catholic view
In its historic leadership capacity, the Catholic Church has decisively taken the pro-active route of imploring business leaders in this century to view their roles not exclusively as an occupation for financial gain but as a vocation that serves others.
After several meetings in 2010 and 2011, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (now the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development) developed and authored the document, “Vocation of the Business Leader,” in collaboration with the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, the Ecophilos Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies of Los Angeles and UNIAPAC (Union Internationale des Associations Patronales Catholiques/International Union of Christian Business Executives).
This document, inspired by the Encyclical of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, “Caritas in Veritate,” prescribes the goal of serving the common good as paramount for any business entity. To achieve this goal, “Vocation of the Business Leader” advocated a three-stage implementation process of:
1. Seeing that the challenges and opportunities in the world of business are complicated by factors of both good and evil;
2. Judging good business dimensions that respect human dignity and serve the common good;
3. Acting to avoid a divided life in which the practice of the business leader’s faith is treated as mutually exclusive to the practice of conducting the daily operations of his or her business.
Subsidiarity and solidarity
In 2015, Jeanne Buckeye, Kenneth Goodpaster, T. Dean Maines and Michael Naughton co-authored “Respect in Action, Applying Subsidiarity in Business.” This book focused on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity as complementary factors for enterprises of all types to operate with the full acceptance of the human dignity of each worker and toward achieving the common good.
In subsidiarity, the fundamental component of delegating responsibilities to employees is to instill a mindset of imago Dei – the fact that all people possess their own personal dignity since they are made in the image and likeness of God. Hence, responsibilities should be given in a manner that recognizes employees’ talents and their ability to render creative decisions that better the organizational unit.
Solidarity is a reminder that the business unit and its members belong to a larger aggregate social unit, where integral human development should be fostered to avoid the ill-advised tendencies for centralization and privatism or even worse, disengagement and disassociation. In essence, a Gospel-inspired, faith-based implementation of subsidiarity and solidarity – working as complements – fulfills the crucial second facet of “judging” in the vocation document.
During the 2016 UNIAPAC Conference at the Vatican, Pope Benedict addressed the more than 400 conference delegates with the theme, “Money Is to Serve, Not Govern.” Pope Benedict warned of the three challenges that persistently confront the business leader: using money so that it does not exploit others and hurt the poor, hence becoming “the dung of the devil”; avoiding society’s worst social plague, corruption, since it contributes to a love of money and not a love of God; and conducting business so that gratitude and respect between managers and workers permeate the business environment.
Given the conference’s theme of economic inclusion, the Pope Benedict’s words were timely. In their book, “Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy,” authors Daniel Hausman, Michael McPherson and Debra Satz said corporate CEOs in 2017 earned incomes 250 times as much as the average workers in their companies, compared to 25 times as much as the average worker in the 1960s.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, expressed the importance of disseminating the message of “Vocation of the Business Leader” at the beginning of the 2018 UNIAPAC Congress. In an optimistic tone, Cardinal Turkson urged all Christian business leaders to restore trust and inspire hope, since “Christian faith is not only the light that burns in the heart of believers but also the propulsive force of human history.”
Perhaps it is time for the Greater New Orleans Catholic business community to become a part of this world-wide dialogue and become a catalyst for the growth of the vocation of business leaders.
Jose Juan Bautista, Ph.D., is a J.P. Morgan Chase Professor of Economics, Division of Business, Xavier University of Louisiana.