The Morality of Business
The sales signs are going up in 163 BHS shops around the country as the liquidators try to salvage something from the wreckage of this once proud company. When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000, it was making a profit. By the time he sold it in 2015, for £1, to a three-times bankrupt with no retailing experience, it was making a loss and the company pension fund was more than £400m in deficit. Exactly what went wrong at BHS is the subject of no fewer than four separate inquires. What is certain is that it's you and I, the tax payers, who will pick up the bill for the redundancy payments for the 11,000 staff and responsibility for the 20,000 members of the BHS company pension scheme. The head of the Institute of Directors described the affair as deeply damaging to the British business world. It's all a far cry from the days of Quaker philanthropy that inspired so many Victorian entrepreneurs. The study of business ethics is one of the few growth areas of the economy. You might be forgiven for wondering how effective such courses are when we see so many headlines about companies avoiding tax, walking away from pension liabilities, using legal loopholes to make excessive profits, zero hours contracts, falsifying data, mis-selling... The list goes on. Do companies have any moral duty beyond the bottom line? Is the only duty of a company to make money for its shareholders within the law? Where and how do we draw the line between legal duty to shareholders and moral duty to society? The individuals that run companies have moral agency, but is there such a thing as a collective, corporate moral agency? Can we impose a set of moral values, or a social licence, on a company? Or will that create a climate of "What can we get away with?" rather than "What is right?"?
Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Dr Steve Davies, Dawn Foster, Prof Chris Cowton and John Morrison.