Is there any such thing as a corporate citizen, or is profit the only legitimate motivation for any company operating in Ireland? If people arrange their lives, move into the local area, take out mortgages and commit to a company, does that company have any reciprocal obligation, or are employees just disposable commodities?
TalkTalk obviously attaches no value at all to the people it employed, discarding them like so many empty sweet-wrappers when it found something more attractive to replace them, and I have to say that I find this attitude to human beings more and more despicable. We have already sacrificed the entire Irish economy to the god of Market Forces, a vile ideology that reduces people to the level of replaceable components, and it seems to me that we’re well on the way to replacing employment with slavery.
Isn’t it about time we stopped adhering to this discredited and heartless view of humanity, and started to impose values on the companies that set up in this country? Values and long-term obligations. I think that, in the absence of a desire by businesses to behave morally and ethically, they should have morality and ethics imposed on them by law in defence of the working citizen.
Even then, the law can only specify the lowest acceptable level of behaviour. Properly ethical business management should operate at a level above the bare minimum set down in law, just as individual human beings offer each other generosity and consideration far beyond their legal obligations. But in the absence of goodwill on the part of employers such as TalkTalk, at least we might set a basic level. Would that be such a bad thing? Would it be so dreadful to make a company treat its employees with respect, as living, breathing human beings with homes and families, instead of simply treating them as items of equipment?
Maybe a partial solution might be to insist on a corporate code of ethics for any company seeking grant assistance to set up in Ireland. It’s true that such codes of ethics can often amount to little more than meaningless PR waffle. Many of them are just a rewording of existing legal obligations in high-sounding language, but it doesn’t have to be like that. A company’s code of ethics could be defined in law, requiring them to meet certain basic criteria. It should recognise that the company owes a responsibility to the workers who have committed to it. It should explicitly define the extent of their job security. It should set out what the company believes its place is in the local community. It should define verifiable measures to test how well the company is meeting these obligations.
A company that fails to abide by its commitment should face heavy penalties when it decides at a moment’s notice to relocate for financial expediency and not simply because it has to.
These principles exist in other cultures, and once existed on these islands too. Islam forbids charging interest on some kinds of loans, especially those intended to help others out of difficulty. In Muslim countries, there’s a concept of morality that businesses are expected to meet over and above what the law requires. But of course, this implies the existence of a strong moral sense throughout society, which is something that seems to have eroded badly in Ireland.
In the past, we had businesses such as Guinness and Cadburys, run on paternalistic but relatively benign and progressive principles that saw them providing housing and education for their employees. The companies placed themselves in loco parentis, and in return, the employee committed fully to the job. Of course, both companies also found themselves in a broader moral conflict — Guinness, by its contribution to alcoholism and Cadbury Brothers by the existence of forced labour in Portugal’s African colonies, from where it bought its cocoa. But at least, as far as possible, they recognised an obligation to their local employees that would be inconceivable today, in a climate where profit is everything and the worker is no more than a traded commodity.