Gandhi and ethics in business ?
Where business is concerned, I
feel that the starting point is the recognition that whilst
Gandhi had genuine saintly qualities, he was also a man of
the world, a man who went about with his eyes open and a man
who was aware of what was going on, good and bad, around
Of course also, Gandhi was
a "bania" (member of a trading caste). Trading in one form
or another did seem to be in his blood.
Not only was
Gandhi very aware of the world of business, we know that he
depended on certain industrialists to support a number of
his ventures and, to some extent, himself personally.
Some elements of what one can say about Gandhi and business
ethics would relate equally as well to today as when he
lived – for example, that Gandhi seemed to make little
distinction between ethics in the different spheres of life.
The ethics that applied to an individual also generally
applied to businesses of all sizes and to individuals in
business. He believed a business could and should be
conducted with complete honesty. Indeed, a business that was
run honestly would be more successful than one which was
not. In business as well as personal life he subscribed to
the view : "Honesty is the best policy." A business person
had every right to earn a livelihood from their business,
although if vast income was earned from the business, the
business person should give what he or she did not need to
the community. This ideal was contained in his theory of
Trusteeship. Fundamentally, Gandhi viewed business as a form
of service to the community. This was the spirit in which
the business person should approach their labor.
above aspects of Gandhi’s attitude to business ethics relate
to today as much as to during his lifetime. If we are
seeking a contemporary context, Gandhi’s thoughts need to
undergo interpretation because of the development the
business world has undergone in the last 50 years.
Let me give just three examples. Even while Gandhi lived,
during the age of empire, business was used by countries
(such as Britain) to exploit other countries (such as
India), to effectively transfer wealth from one country to
another. During the last 50 years the multinational
corporation has really come of age. I feel Gandhi would be
deeply suspicious of many practices of many MNCs, and of the
MNC as an entity itself. He would insist on MNCs applying
much the same ethics in their practices as smaller business
and individuals. A second aspect is the environment. This
issue has come into its own during the last half-century.
Gandhi would insist that businesses did not degrade the
environment but acted as a true friend of the earth.
Business which could not but damage the environment should
not be in business. A third subject we could discuss would
be advertising and marketing. This has become immeasurably
more sophisticated since Gandhi’s time. According to
Gandhian ethics businesses should not manipulate and deceive
through their advertising and marketing. Unfortunately they
do, to a very great degree. Gandhi would deplore this. There
are so many aspects of the modern global capitalist economy
that run counter to the Gandhian approach, and just as much
from the point of view of ethics as any other perspective.
(We could also consider the ethics involved in economic
Whatever the era, for Gandhi
business should exist as part of a community in order to
serve that community. Business is a way to foster
neighborliness, to bring members of a community together and
a means by which people can love and serve one another.
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