Morality and the Bottom Line

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When a cleric talks about the moral responsibility of energy companies not to squeeze their customers to maximise their profits there's a temptation to dismiss it as hollow moralising. But when it's an archbishop who's also a former oil company executive and who's also taken on payday lenders to some acclaim then his thoughts are not so easily dismissed. But you do wonder if npower had read Justin Welby comments before they announced they were raising their prices by 10%. The Archbishop of Canterbury says energy companies must be "conscious of their social obligations" and should be obliged to "behave with generosity and not merely to maximise opportunity". Why? Of course it would be nice to have lower energy bills, but do businesses really have a moral obligation beyond the bottom line? We'd like individuals to behave philanthropically, but would we ever threaten them with legislation if they put their own interests, and the interest of their family first? Why should businesses and the free market be any different? Those campaigning for a reformed, more morally driven business environment talk of companies having a social licence to operate but If they act legally and pay their taxes isn't that enough? And does that concept hold any water when only two of the big six energy suppliers in the UK are British owned and we have to get funding from the French and Chinese. Is talk of corporate morality a category error? Individuals have moral agency, so is any attempt to embody that in to a business ethic at best a sloganizing and at worst a kind of "morality PR" aimed at increasing profits? Morality and the bottom line - the Moral Maze. Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. Panellists: Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips, Matthew Taylor and Sunder Katwala. Witnesses: Philip Booth, Editorial and Programme Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs; Loughlin Hickey, Archbishop Vincent Nichols's representative on a Unilever- backed project to promote ethical business; Peter Fleming, Professor of Business and Society, Cass Business School, London; John Drummond, Chairman of the consultancy firm "Corporate Culture".

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43 minutes

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Wed 23 Oct 2013 20:00