The journey towards the Ideal
By Umer Raza Bhutta
We inevitably are faced with Ethical and Legal barriers regularly. We have to make a choice if we will navigate through them, surrender to them or do not bother to consider any of them and walk over them. My objective, is not to answer any legal and ethical question or what is legal and ethical, however, i would like to bring this debate on the table and make it a primary focus of our work/office discourse.
Legal and Ethical paradigms somehow and sometime are dependent on many factors. Though there are few universally acceptable ethical and legal considerations, many others are culturally and/or geographically focused.
Here let us see four scenarios that will help us to put things in perspective about the Ethical and Legal Paradigm.
Scenario One: Something that is both Unethical and Illegal or less ethical and less legal.
At the outset it seems that it is unacceptable at any workplace etc., yet we see this happening and either we turn a blind eye or do not know if it is so. You ask any company, office, establishment or even a household you will be given a touch wood answer….”we do everything right” or “at least this much is acceptable” or “our laws are not implementable”. With answers like these, one may easily shift the blame to others but perhaps not the onus.
If you visit, specially the manufacturing facilities all over Pakistan and observe you will find practices that are both Unethical and Illegal (or less ethical and less legal). Just for example it is the right of every worker both ethically and legally to be paid the due for one’s work at the conclusion of the work. Yet in many even registered companies such dues are either delayed, not paid in full (deducted on one or the other pretext), or in some cases not even paid at all. Though it seems a sweeping statement, but to find the truth one has to keenly observe and visit such establishments. This is just one very obvious practice happening, but this is not the only one there are many other practices that we as individuals also doing.
What to do now: As professionals it is the right of our profession, and as a result it is our duty, to understand and put into practice the actions that are ethical and legal. It is your choice to pick from the non exhaustive examples. Such as, if as a consultant, i am taking a cash payment from the company to avoid my taxes i am part of the problem not the solution, as HR Manager if i am not “instituting” a process of timely and legal minimum wage to my workers i am part of the problem not the solution, as a CFO if i am manipulating my financial and accounting books to show a loss and adjusting my company’s profits i am part of the problem not the solution, if as a CEO i am too blinded by the profit margin and creating extra load on consumers i am part of the problem not the solution, if as an employee i am not giving my full productivity and work hours according to my contract of hours and payment i receive, i am part of the problem and not the solution. Doing the reverse of what is said here may not change our unethical and illegal paradigm just at once, but one who is reading, is adult enough to know the change one has to make in one’s daily discourse to walk towards the ideal paradigm.
Scenario Two: Legal but Unethical (less ethical)
This is a tricky scenario. Here we are saved by our being legally covered. Here are few examples where law is silent but question that if it ethical or not is full steam. Law does not bind us not to offer lunch to our prospective clients to win a large project, law does not ask us to avoid luring any relevant government official with positive publicity of being part of opening ceremony of our new factory or restaurant or office, law does not ask us not to post our pictures with our trainees on social media doing some indecent activities to gain more business, law also does not ask us not to share anything and everything on whatsapp groups and of course law does not ask us not to fake it untill we make it. However, ethics ask us to reconsider any of these activities before doing. Apart from some universal ethical practices many others are somehow more regional and based on one’s own circumstances if not on one’s needs. This brings forward indeed, the test of our character to remain ethical when there is no immediate legal ramification of our action.
Scenario three: Ethical but Illegal (less Legal)
This seems simple and there might not be much in this. Apparently some thing that is illegal has less chance of being ethical. Other than some laws that are made out of malafide intention. However, here we can exemplify the cultural aspect of any activity or regional boundaries that separate Illegal and Ethical activity. For example, drinking is illegal in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries, however, if in an office party (in closed doors) if all are drinking the same may (“may”) become ethical “among those” who are drinking.
Scenario Four: Ethical and Legal
This is the most desired state in this paradigm. Though it is desired, yet it is one which is difficult to be Ethically and Legally compliant all the time and every time, when we are working with a number of stakeholders. The purpose, of course is not that from day one you can be compliant, however, your walk towards this is important. You can walk towards this ultimate paradigm of social, communal, national and personal benefit by attempting to gradually reverse the examples stated in scenario one above.
Once we understand and start questioning our activities with the lens of available legalities and known & celebrated ethical fabric we will be able to create the desired change in our working environment.