Bernardo M. Villegas
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published: Sep 27, 2019






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Ethics for the Digital Age (Part 2)

          All stakeholders in the economy, if they are to contribute to the common good, must be keenly aware of the fact that the nature of work is rapidly changing. This change is affecting levels of participation in remunerated employment.  It also leads to the need to cultivate different skills and the adoption of different contractual arrangements.  Contractualization and part-time jobs may be made necessary by the change in the nature of work.  Many new jobs are being created while others disappear, making the transition oftentimes disruptive and difficult.  With the improvement in the productivity of workers brought about by automation and digitalization, more time will inevitably be available for personal and collective leisure, favoring members of the worker’s family who can spend more time with one another.   The downside is that the disappearance of some category of work will make some workers suffer greater job precariousness while the upside is that others may actually benefit from greater flexibility in their work schedule.  The State and employers must give continuous support to workers of all ages, talents and vocations so that they can manage these changes with the minimum of disruption to their personal and family lives.

         The digital age will make the role of the entrepreneur even more essential to the promotion of the common good.  The entrepreneur is the one who can introduce innovations and assume risks while at the same time making sufficient profit in the enterprise that he establishes to make it sustainable, both in providing consumers desirable goods or services and employing individual workers.  The making of profit, however, should always be made compatible with promoting the welfare of all the stakeholders of the company.  Each business enterprise must reflect on how its production and marketing activities and its products or services contribute to society, locally, nationally and internationally.  It is obvious that the common good has local, national and international dimensions.

         It must be pointed out that the share of labor has been steadily dwindling for the last three decades in most rich countries while the increased precariousness of job makes the weaker part in society shoulder the larger share of risk.  Business ethics in the digital age must give a lot of importance to the equitable distribution of proceeds and fair risk sharing. The new work context demands that we return to simple, basic question about distribution of benefits:  Are working hours paid fairly?  How can workers’ rights be protected in such a changing context?  What about dwindling rich populations and the expectation of migrant workers?  It is notable, for example, that in Asia, Japanese society is reconsidering its long-time aversion to migrant workers and is now more open to accepting nurses, care givers, teachers and other service personnel to cater to their burgeoning population of senior citizens.  Even China in the near future will have to import migrant workers because of the great imbalance between the ageing population and the younger workers that resulted from the one-child policy that was implemented for several decades.  Dialogue among employers’ associations and workers’ unions, with guidance from the State, is urgent to navigate these unchartered waters in a cooperative effort.

         Given the rapid changes in technology in the digital age, codes of business ethics are proving to be insufficient.  Identification of problem areas is sometimes obsolete, promulgation in the organizations ineffective and their application lacks good example and courage from the top.  A healthy review of these developments is under way in many business schools and business organizations (such as the Financial Executives of the Philippines).  We must draw lessons from the mistakes of the past and work towards institutionalizing accountability.  For example, the real cost of environmental damage should be calculated and reflected transparently in the price of industrial or service products.  This would prevent unjust socialization or the transfer of hidden cost to the next generations.  Business, politicians and public opinion should support a new consensus on a more realistic accounting and financial reporting system that reflect what are known as external diseconomies of business operations.

         Then there is the serious problem of the use of the internet for criminal ends, especially in human trafficking and sexual abuse of children.  It is the responsibility of all stakeholders in the digital age to be informed and to apply the necessary measure to stop such abhorrent activities.  There should also be a keen awareness of the social cost of the “throwaway culture” denounced by Pope Francis.  It is the responsibility of all to reduce the loss and waste of around thirty per cent of food that is produced and distributed worldwide.  This includes promoting joint ventures in developing countries to improve the quality and productivity in food production, on the one hand, and a fight against waste on the other. There must be enough creativity to discover alternative measures to distribute excess food to people in need. Already there are business people and professionals who are organizing effective means of channeling soon-to-expire food products from manufacturers and restaurants to the needy such as orphans, undernourished pupils in the public schools, under-financed jails and households in the depressed areas of urban centers. 

         The 2019 Statement concludes with the following exhortation:  “Each of us needs to rediscover creativity.  Against the prevailing culture characterized by superficiality, vulgarity, egoism, envy and greed, Christians and others have the task to promote creativity and responsibility as the bases on which to build a global culture of justice and inclusion in the digital age.  Human memory (as opposed to machine repositories); time, culture and discernment to distinguish emotions from rational thinking; and spirituality are three bases on which we can contribute to new development patterns.”  This appeal is especially addressed to economists and other social scientists who are most involved in the formulation of development plans for both advanced and emerging markets of the world today.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.