We have an obligation not to be dicks.
This phrase is touted by CEO's all over the world as their own personal dharma. The answer to every moral query is to repeat this phrase.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase it states that the people who run a a company have an obligation to do whatever is legal too make money for their shareholders without regard for morals. This concept was one of the deciding factors in the Supreme Court case of Dodge v. Ford. While the in's and outs of the legal status of this concept are quite complicated it is enough to know that this is not a legal requirement. Yet to quote the Harvard business Journal quoting the Journal of Business Ethics (I'm to lazy to find the original source)
“And yet, in an important 2007 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, 31 of 34 directors surveyed (each of whom served on an average of six Fortune 200 boards) said they’d cut down a mature forest or release a dangerous, unregulated toxin into the environment in order to increase profits. Whatever they could legally do to maximize shareholder wealth, they believed it was their duty to do.”
There have been a lot of articles written about the complex business ethics and law involved with this concept but I want to take a different route.
Hey assholes stop being dicks!
Seriously. The legal ramifications aside everyone is human and needs to act accordingly. I will concede that corporations exist only to make a profit. But these corporations are ran by people who need to step in and stop the profit machine when it's about to do something horrible. If I hit someone with my car and drove off I couldn't tell the cops “hey cars exist to get me where I want to go not to stop when someone is hurt”. Cars and corporations don't have a soul that's why we have people.
Life is hard. All around the world things fall on a spectrum somewhere between shitstorm and total disaster. The least we can ask of anyone is to not actively make life worse for the rest of us. I don't begrudge a man who earns his money. A man who works hard and creates something that his fellow man can use has earned his wage. However when that man decides to cheat, lie to, abuse and extort his fellow man for a couple of bucks then I take exception.
In Buddhism the path to enlightenment has 8 steps and the 5 step is “Right Livelihood”. The concept is simple. One must earn their living in a way that doesn't harm others. This concept is over a thousand years old but seems out of place in boardrooms across America. What I'm proposing is nothing new, I've just updated it
Don't be a dick, life is tough enough already.