Making History

Rev'd Jack Mahoney, SJ was approached a couple of years ago by the publishers of the best-selling Harry Potter books, the Bloomsbury Group, with an intriguing proposal. They had recently taken over the titles of the Athlone Press and were planning to republish some of them, including a book of his that had been published over twenty years previously, Teaching Business Ethics in the UK, Europe and the USA. A Comparative Study. When he objected that its statistics were now out of date, and offered to prepare a revised edition, no, they said, they wanted it as it is, for its historical significance. They viewed his book as one of fourteen key "seminal studies" which they planned to reprint from the Athlone archives as representing "the most interesting and classic titles from their list".

When it first appeared, this pioneering study on how to teach the ethical requirements of business behaviour aroused some interest, and it received a full-page review in the Economist as unscrupulous businesses were catching the headlines. Looking at it now, in the new edition which its author has just received, he feels its moral message has weathered pretty well. His model of an ethical business still prevents the subject from being hijacked into ticking boxes on fashionable causes. It stresses the values of honesty, fairness and respect as applying throughout every business company in four expanding circles of moral concern: starting from internal governance and employee relationships; moving out to product quality, marketing and consumer interests; proceeding further out to the firm's intercorporate relations with competitors and suppliers; and finally respecting the interests of its surrounding communities, from the local to the global.

Moreover, the behaviour of much business today only confirms Rev'd Mahoney's earlier conviction that in any business company the ethical buck, or the ultimate moral responsibility for its policies and practices, does not stop at the CEO or the board, but at its owners, the shareholders.