Miss Management: Occupy Main Street, 87 years and counting
October 19, 2011 | Galynn Nordstrom
Next year, IFAI will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and I’m already trying to decide which champagne I should bring with me to IFAI Expo Americas 2012 in Boston. (I either bring less than three ounces of it or find a way to pack it safely in my checked luggage, I suppose, which ultimately means bringing fewer rhinestones to the show. Editorial work has always involved the hard choices.) Specialty Fabrics Review will be 97 in 2012, and as I combed through our archives to find pivotal events in specialty fabrics history, I read through the June 1924 issue of The National Canvas Goods Manufacturers Review (the oldest bound issue in our library) and came across an article by a gentleman named F. E. Kohler from Outwest Tent & Awning Company:
Ethics in Business
One of the outstanding standards of ethics set out is that well-known and much talked about statement “Do unto others as ye would that men should do unto you,” termed in these modern times “the golden rule in business.”
But why so much discussion of this subject? There must be a reason. Either our business ideals are much higher than they were in years past or we have so lost sight of this “golden rule” idea that men dealing with each other have occupied their time and energy in efforts to accumulate wealth without regard to their human duty. I am inclined to the belief that the latter statement more nearly portrays the truth. Were this not true, the note of warning and the tremendous emphasis now being heralded from one end of the nation to the other by business men themselves, that, unless we reinstate high ethical standards in business and put them into practice, our whole social and economic structure will disintegrate and fall.
No business has a right to exist that is not a contributing factor to the advancement of the community from which it draws its support. The business organization which reaches out its hand to grasp the commerce of its territory with no thought of how, or by what methods, practices, conniving, using either fraud or deception or both, in order to gain a few or many more dollars, and gives no thought to the human element in this territory, is nothing more than a sucker on our economic structure and has no right to exist.
The “Golden Rule” does not infer that there shall be no profit in business. Every business which is performing a service to the community is entitled to the cost of its products, labor, supervision, overhead, a reserve for “rainy day” slumps and a fair interest on the investment. This is the least that can be expected for without this there can be no continuity of business, and, unless there be a profit in addition there will be no constructive building which will permit of still larger service.
Today’s attempt to establish for precept and practice, a high ethical code, based on the Golden Rule, in every line of business is a worthy effort and also an acknowledgement of failure in a large measure of the present system of business dealings and relations.
By all means let us have a code of correct practices for the canvas goods manufacturers and converters. –F.E. Kohler
With so many “Occupy Wall Street” protesters thronging so many city halls around the world, bringing up the moral and ethical failings of unfettered capitalism, this 87-year-old article made me start pondering, once again, the “Three Laws of Business” (adapting Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”) that I proposed last year in a blog about corporate social responsibility:
First Law: A business may not injure a society, or, through inaction, allow a society to come to harm.
Second Law: A business must obey all the laws of a society, except where such laws would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law: A business must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
There’s room for lots of corollaries there, but certainly, things like “I will not foul the local drinking water” and “I will not set up a shell offshore so I can make billions and not pay any taxes” would be covered. If smaller businesses could adopt, and promote, and help to enforce, the Three Laws in their own protest movement, we might make a start on healing some of these economic fractures. Many, many specialty fabrics companies are leading by example in having mission statements that include social and environmental goals and guidelines. But keep in mind what they say about gravity: “It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.”
If we start now, maybe we can have even more to celebrate next year in Boston. I’ll bring the champagne.