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Widening the debate about business ethics

By David McNair | 8 November 2011 

The publication this week of the St Paul’s Institute report ‘Value and Values: Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today’ offers valuable insights into the debate surrounding business practice in today’s world.

This report is an important contribution to the wider debate on the financial system, which in the words of a recent commentator in the religious press seems to have `run loose from moral restraint'.

The report found that 75% of those surveyed from the financial services sector believe that the gap between rich and poor is too great in the UK.

It would seem reasonable to hope the same proportion of city workers overall would be open to Christian Aid’s own argument that ethical values don’t stop at the English Channel - the gap between the haves and have nots is even bigger when we consider the poor in developing countries.

The global finance debate

Christian Aid is no stranger to the debate about the ethics of the global financial system, in which the City of London plays a central role. In the recent World Council of Churches report Justice Not Greed, we drew attention to way in which the world’s poorest suffer most when the global economy hits a crisis. 

It is crucial that any debate about how the financial system might be reorganised in response to the current financial problems, the voices of the poor in the developing world are heard loud and clear. Their concerns, as well as our own, must be addressed.

Two of our reports, Death and Taxes (PDF), and Poverty Over (PDF), offer suggestions as to how the system can be improved for the benefit of all, especially the poor. 

Competition between jurisdictions to minimise regulation was a major cause of the boom in 'shadow banking' that was largely responsible for the present crisis - a phenomenon exacerbated by the financial secrecy that underpins corruption, undermines effective tax collection and exacerbates inequality.

By the time the crisis became apparent, the damage done to government accountability, development and inequality had become imbedded over quarter of a century.

Remedies would include a favouring of long term investment over short-term returns, and reform of the global tax system, including an end to tax haven secrecy. Crucially, the importance of ethics in financial services must be reasserted.

Churches uniting

Both the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Church of Scotland, which early next year publishes a report by its economics commission on the financial crisis, have now adopted Christian Aid’s tax campaign as official public policy.

In July, the Methodist Church added its voice to the campaign for tax justice, calling on the UK government and multinational businesses to end tax avoidance schemes which impoverish the vulnerable.

Join the campaign 

We've also been urging some of the UK's biggest firms - Unilever, Vodafone and TUI Travel - to back our calls for greater financial transparency.

Share your ideas How would you make multinational companies listen? Help shape the next stage of our tax campaign by sharing your ideas

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 About the author

David McNair

David McNair is our senior economic justice adviser