I posted an online comment of Vanessa, a student, on my Facebook feed.
“‘Seasonal’ changes in apparel shouldn’t be based on trends; they should be based on necessity with regard to the weather conditions. When we take the concept of fast fashion and people’s ‘want’ into perspective, we have to understand that fashion is a want, while clothes are a need… If we look at clothing as a need, we shop 4-8 times a year, which is once or twice in a season, out of necessity. On the other hand, as a want, we could shop for more than 10 times a year . . . and this requires 10 times more production.”
The feed was shared Juancho, a former student. Juancho graduated a year ago. He founded a venture that manufactures clothing on-demand. His customers are mostly online vendors. So I commented, “So, would you want to take up the challenge?”
His response: “We can relate to this because the products of our store owners appeal to the wants of their shoppers . . . e.g. xxxxx loves watching Game of Thrones. Now store owners can create two different stores for people like him: a xxxxx-themed store and a Game of Thrones-themed store . . . ”
I replied, “How many shirts does one NEED?”
Used to be on the “tacit periphery” of business education, ethics in business has been gaining prominence in recent years. This is primarily attributed to the increased incidences of “unethical” business activities in the past two decades. And as institutions that are primarily responsible for the education of many unscrupulous managers and businessmen, business schools are the most natural culprits.
Students aspiring to be managers are taught to achieve balance among the interests of all stakeholders. These are the shareholders, customers, suppliers, community, and employees. However, there is suspicion that this is largely irrelevant to managers.
Richard DeGeorge, a leading business ethicist, says in Business Ethics: The State of the Art, a volume of essays: “If in some instance it turns out what is ethical leads to a company’s demise . . . so be it.”
In a symposium on ethics, it was argued, “if ethical actions mean that a company’s profits are reduced, then ‘it must be accepted as a trade-off without regret.’”
Managers on the field will most probably take these statements as sarcasms or attempts at irony. Almost all the
time, business ethics is positioned as a philosophical abstraction that is not “user-friendly”. Its prescriptions, while morally respectable, run contrary to managerial roles and functions.
Managers are compared to practitioners in the medical and legal professions. However, moral thinkers of these professions are practitioners who worked “within the basic premises and norms of their professions.” Thus, the precepts drawn are of practical value.
Perhaps realizing their folly, and being too proud to face ridicule, business ethicists had resorted to encourage the practice of ethics by convincing practitioners that “ethics pays.” But this did not catch on, since compelled behavior cannot be seen as truly ethical. Anecdotal accounts of the practice of ethics in business are misleading. It is not ludicrous that these accounts are a form of atonement.
There has been no reply yet from Juancho. He will continue to produce more shirts. His hands are full. It would be cruel to add to his burden. And Vanessa, she told me she has consciously reduced the items in her wardrobe. She will be out there in a year or two. I’ll see how she keeps her sensibilities.
We can only hope.
Real Carpio So lectures on strategy and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archives can be accessed at realwalksonwater.wordpress.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.
REAL CARPIO SO