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Encoded Ethics

In the second decade of the new millennium, ethics is fast metamorphosing from being a slogan for aggrieved human rights activists to the mainstay of ‘responsible business’. This metamorphosis is a result of years of activism that gained momentum with the adoption of ‘Protect-Respect-Remedy’ framework proposed by John Ruggie, former Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on Business and Human Rights. In a major departure from conventional thought, Ruggie professed that corporations cannot absolve themselves from their commitment to human rights and that human rights was a joint responsibility of the State and Businesses. Since then, revisions in international norms and guidelines have been pushing State- and business-conduct for upholding human rights protection. Despite having a poor track record of human development and being on the receiving end of corporate abetted disasters like the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, India has been slow in joining the bandwagon, and there is no apparent urgency in imbibing ethical conduct. The apparent reluctance stems from the crossroads of development that India finds herself in. The roots of reluctance lie in innate conflict between business and

societal well-being, which dates back to the early era of global trade. India harbors a desire to emerge as a global economic superpower by adopting pro-business policies. Ethics is essentially a counterweight

that seeks to alleviate the human and environmental exploitation that has accompanied business proliferation. Thus, a fundamental question that needs to be asked is: “Can exploitations be justified as a ‘rational cost’ of development?” This is explored in the book Encoded Ethics authored by Debasis Bhattacharya and Shounak Roy Chowdhury. The authors’ position is an emphatic–‘No!’. They argue that ethics should be encoded in corporate conduct. This position raises a larger question - “what needs to be done?”

 

The book answers these primary questions. The first section, titled ‘Contemporary Ethical Frontiers’ builds a case on why ethics should be proactively encoded in business conduct. The authors cite examples from contemporary business. The second section, titled ‘Rules of Engagement’, outlines the proposed framework for implementing ethics. In this section, in addition to examples, arguments are drawn from a set of ten compiled cases. In the analysis, the authors refrain from providing a panacea to embedding ethics in corporate behavior, as the focus is not on devising an academic solution. Rather, given the realities, the authors lend insights on the difficulty in formulating a pragmatic solution. However, the authors also highlight that difficulty cannot be a justification for inaction; the action needs to begin with a

dialogue. The book is an attempt to create a platform to facilitate such a conversation that would eventually lead to encoding ethics in corporate conduct.