Are hearts dead?

Reading Time: 17 minutes
Firoz1
By Firoz Abdul Hamid

When good men stood by and watched?

Lampedusa, Syria, Egypt, Central African Republic, Tacloban, Rohingya, Rwanda, Palestine, Bosnia and the list could go on –  if the earth hasn’t already shed its tears to these tragedies, the human hearts has and continues to cry in pain of being abandoned and betrayed by the humanity. One cannot but wonder if human beings have any love left for this planet.

Yet so many of us watch and/or discuss these scenes of abandonment, oppression and betrayals while having dinner flicking through channels searching for the best time filler while we have our TV meals.

Never mind the tragedies itself, but eating while watching human tragedy on screen is taking it to another level. Most of us, including myself, are guilty of this. As much as we honour family meals, every so often we find ourselves watching tragedies on TV and on large screens while eating as if its entertainment for our souls, while our food entertains our bowels.

I stopped doing this when by chance I listened to a talk by a famous speaker from the US, Syakh Hamza Yusuf, who basically said our hearts must be dead if we can still eat while watching tragedies (real life ones he meant).

Are our hearts dead? Is the TV bombarding us with so many images on news and in movies that we no longer twitch when our 2 year old is watching a gruesome violent scene or a sexually explicit scene with us. Isn’t the sensation of the psyche a function of sensitisation of the heart?

Little do we know that businesses today seek advice from psychologists before great campaigns are developed. What music moves a consumer, how should products be arranged in supermarket shelves, the billboards that have subtle effect on our conscience way after we have driven past it. Think about the NFL (National Football League) advertisement campaigns, its focus on media talks during the annual NFL season and one gets an idea.

Most consumers don’t realise that having a certain product assigned to a shelf next to another is no more for their convenience than it is marketing for sales. I came to buy a sweeping brush and I now need the detergent, the whitener, the polisher the all sorts. Think about how subtle this campaign is on a standard consumer. Therein lies how we are being programmed to consume more, to perhaps feel less, and think even less.

Many of us watch tragic events in places like Syria, Rwanda, South Sudan, the UK recently or the storm in the US and think  – well it is out there somewhere and I am somewhere else and it doesn’t affect me and my kid’s homework.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations said, “Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations?”

I recall when I worked with the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia, Excellency Tan Sri Sidek Hassan (now the Chairman of Petronas) wrote something similar in his article titled. “In Golf Lies Our End”. He wrote, “We often go about our lives thinking there are two, but parallel stories, that run in our lives. Our own lives that revolve around work, kids, family, bills, chores, and the hustle and bustle of nonsensical traffic. Yet there is another world that runs parallel called the “other outside world”. We hear of the other world through media and headlines, and from party talks. We spend very little time connecting the dots between “our own realities” and that of the “other world.  What eludes us is that “the other” reality is what shapes our own destiny, what defines our own reality, what moulds our own future, least said our own character. Our own story and the story of our future, and even that of our future generation, is not a different one.” (see here)

I have often argued in many opening columns to all my interviews that every action – subtle or otherwise in its nature – a business for someone. Even humanitarianism I would argue. How many do it for just the conscience? How many for the profile? How many relent to shareholder and investor pressure? In fact many have wondered if humanitarian and civil society institutions are only prioritising those tragedies highlighted only by the main stream media. Can we truly attest to the words of Albert Schweitzer, the German physician, musician, nuclear disarmament advocate and a humanitarian 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who once said, “Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”

Schweitzer’s words begs the following questions – What is the purpose of humanitarian institutions and activities? Why have we “celebrities” committing either part of their wealth and/or time to causes? How do they choose these causes and with whom do they work?

Aristotle was famed to have said, “To give away money is an easy matter in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

These questions led me to think through the fundamentals of ethics in humanitarianism and its institutions. This search led me to Professor Mukesh Kapila’s TEDx Groningen talk.  It was a phenomenal talk and I was overcome by it when I heard the stories.

Professor Kapila served as the former head of United Nations in Sudan and the Undersecretary at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian and development network. In his TEDx talk, he speaks of the pain young women go through in lands and conditions we possibly cannot imagine living in. Aishah traveled miles to Khartoum to meet him to share her story. A story she could not share with her own people.

Professor Kapila’s talk made me question the whole ethics that drives the humanitarian business. Who exactly runs this space – the unnamed unsung heroes on the ground who leave their families behind and sacrifice their lives to make better the lives of others, or the “philanthropists” who sit in boardrooms, and exalted TV stations sharing their reasons as to why they decided to give their resources and self to this path of “charity” – as if choosing to be in charitable and humanitarian causes is not the business of every man and woman who walk this earth.

CartoonA qualified doctor from University of Oxford, Professor Kapila was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II and named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his international service. In 2007, he received the Global Citizenship Award of the Institute for Global Leadership.

Professor Kapila has also written a book on his humanitarian work titled, “Against a Tide of Evil”. In his book, Kapila reveals for the first time the shocking depths of evil plumbed by those who designed and orchestrated ‘the final solution in Darfur’ and why so many good men stood by and did nothing. In reviewing Kapila’s book, Mia Farrow wrote, “During one of the darkest periods in human history, Mukesh Kapila sounded  the clarion call and stood firm in the face of the ultimate crime: genocide.  Read his extraordinary story“

In closing, I ask myself first and foremost – what is the purpose of my journey on this earth. Why were we created? Were we created to be the best CEOs and glamorous personalities for others to worship us or were we created to make better the lives of our fellow human beings at all cost? Must it take an Angelina Jolie, a George Clooney, a Bono, a Madonna for the world to certify a tragedy a tragedy?Will the world only recognise oppression when journalist of mainstream media cover it or do we all have the moral duty to highlight atrocities and oppression no matter how small?  My take is that humanitarianism is a role for all those who call themselves human. Even if it is an entry in a Facebook or a twitter, highlighting oppression is our moral duty.

What is left to be said about our civilisation when good men just stand by and watch for fear of political or economic reprieve? Indeed how can we stand before our children and say – we have contributed to their better future? How can we claim to our Creator that the world was better with us in it? And perhaps so why it is said – a human being is not the same as being human.

Great civilisations are built on honour and integrity – not by concrete and mortar. Great civilisations are built by men and women who did not stand by and watch when wrong was done. So, if we are to claim to be living in a period of unparallel progress, advancement achievement – we should perhaps measure that by how we treat our fellow human beings and not how we treat currency and economic data. We should perhaps reflect if we are making a business out of human tragedies.

When there is suffering in parts of the world whilst we are still having our meals – it is a wonder if this is progress!

 _____

The role of humanitarianism in instituting universal ethics in humanity

Our world is messed-up because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. At the root lie greed, unfairness and injustice. We may not always succeed in righting all human wrongs, but we are always required to try.

Professor Dr Mukesh Kapila, CBE
Professor Dr Mukesh Kapila, CBE

1. Ethics in businessWhat is your understanding of ethics and its application across politics and business?

For me, theory and practice on ethics are simply summarised: these are about doing the right thing with “rightness” being measured by whether the act is intended to enhance the essential dignities and well-being of another person or group. Human beings are driven towards unethical/evil behaviour because they are programmed through the evolutionary struggle for self-survival i.e. this is the humans’   innate default mode, and the story of human progress is essentially typified by cruelty. (Of course, kindness and courage are also part of the human spirit – but we note this precisely because they are exceptional). It is only by recognising the propensity towards evil that is present in all of us can we rise beyond this base level.  It is also why we need ethical frameworks in society to mitigate the harm we do to each other.

2. Wealth distribution and ethics – Is there a correlation between global wealth inequity, wealth distribution and ethics in business? How has global inequity affected humanity?

While some degrees of inequality are inherent because of our different personal endowments, the historic levels of inequality that characterise our world today is undoubtedly due to greed – and it is unethical conduct that drives this.

Global inequalities are possibly the greatest strategic threat to humanity today – generating what are, for some communities, existentialist crises.  Inequalities corrode society from within which means that our collective resilience to face other serious threats – be it natural or man-made – is compromised. That is why this is a serious threat to society.  

The actions needed are around limiting greed – this needs political leadership and social responses to change mind-sets more than regulatory ones which clever people will always find a way to circumvent.

Mukesh13. World tragedies and ethics – In all your work, what are the primary reasons to the world’s man made tragedies like those in Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan etc?

What I have observed from some 30 years of experience with war and peace in all continents is that each situation is unique. And attempts to draw parallels inevitably leads to “fighting” today’s wars with yesterday’s lessons. And that is why we fail again and again to predict, prevent, and protect.

But we can draw some general conclusions. Underpinning conflicts such as in Rwanda and Sudan that were genocidal in nature were ethnic hatred and intolerance.  Some scholars have tried to complicate this by postulating economic factors and poverty and underdevelopment to explain how the last genocide of the 20th century (Rwanda) and the first genocide of the 21st century (Darfur in Sudan) came about – but these are simply alibis to excuse the evil perpetrators.  Although ethnic intolerance happens in all societies, it takes special evil leadership to orchestrate the mass crimes against humanity that were the hallmark in Rwanda and Darfur. 

Such situations have to be distinguished from the many others such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, Angola, and so on – where the most terrible suffering was also inflicted on ordinary people – but where the underlying factors were grievances of various types, including political exclusions and governance-related, as corollaries to incomplete state formation together with, in some cases, malign or at least ill-judged external interference.

I am not convinced that business and economic factors around “greed” play a more significant role than “grievances” at the strategic levels in the genesis of conflict.  Of course, they may facilitate a conflict and fuel it but, by and large, poor people don’t rise up in revolt because of their poverty as they are far to busy with the struggle for daily survival. If they did rise up – and sometimes I wish they would – we would be living in a very different world today.

Mukesh24.  Humanitarianism, profit and ethicsCan humanitarianism work be free of the demands of business? How does one discharge humanitarian efforts when there is a pressure of business returns?

The humanitarian impulse – the drive to help another in distress – is as old as humanity itself (maybe it emerged as a natural in-built evolutionary counter to the also-innate impulse to be evil that I mentioned above). The core value of humanitarianism is ‘altruism” i.e. doing good to others selflessly and seeking no benefit for oneself in return. And that is why humanitarianism flourished across all continents, cultures, and ages – long before modern humanitarian institutions came along and set themselves up as formalised and competitive businesses, complete with branding logos, professional PR, and so-on. In this way, the humanitarian instinct got boxed-in and institutionalised.

It is the logic of institutions that they need to be operated in a “business-like” manner if they are to flourish, or even survive.   Thus humanitarianism has indeed become a “business” seeking returns – even if they are measured not in dollars and cents but donor-driven by the tyranny of demonstrating results. But along the way to this “professionalisation” of the humanitarian business, the cost paid is through the loss of the value of altruism. This explains why there is increasing public mistrust and cynicism about the international humanitarian enterprise. There is also increasing political mistrust as the humanitarian business is more and more part of a bigger peace and security business. Thus, the irony is that though we live in an age of expanding capacities to do good, the space to do such good is getting more and more restricted.

What should be done about this? In my view, we need to liberate the humanitarian spirit, and return it to its original home in our hearts and minds. Can humanitarian organisations run efficiently without aping businesses? I don’t think that the major global humanitarian corporations – that are familiar household names – can be reformed. We need new start-ups that challenge the current business models.

5.  Greed, unfairness and injustice – In your work with public and private sectors how have you addressed greed, unfairness and injustices?

Nearly my entire career has been in development and humanitarian institutions, some of the biggest on the planet, and at senior levels in them. But all my life has also been a battle within myself – as I struggled to balance my own personal values with the more earthly requirements of the institutions I served.  I viewed all my different employing bodies as platforms from which to launch what I felt were the rights things to do, while the institutions tried to imprison and mould me to serve their narrow interests. So I tried to improve, reform, and shape the institutions (especially when I was in leadership positions) even as they tried to control me. I generally won my battles against cowardly or self-serving opponents and, thereby, learnt the valuable lesson that it is possible to bring about positive change if one has the courage to stick to one’s convictions. But I also learnt that there is heavy price to be paid – which I have done, time and again.

So that is the answer to your question: I am a natural rebel and my default mode is to side with the voiceless, powerless, and hopeless – and to speak truth to power, regardless of personal consequences. I intend to continue doing this for as long as I am capable of doing so.

6. Healthcare and ethics –What has your work proven in this area?

I have an instinctive distrust to appeals for “loyalty”. My experience – in both health and other sectors – is that when a business or an organisation appeals to loyalty to incentivise its staff, and then there are some real questions to be raised about the product or service or values being promoted by the enterprise. This is not a sustainable way to motivate people.  Instead, you have to make people proud that what they are doing is good and worthwhile, and they will rise to do more of it and in a better manner.  If there is a moral or loyalty appeal to be made, it should be towards the client being served.

7. Corporate governance and morality How does one reconcile profit with ethics? Can character be regulated in an environment of competition and competitiveness?

In theory, there is no inherent conflict between profit and ethics. In practice, it is those who seek to maximise profits while externalising the costs and exploiting human and natural resources without being fair to the former and disregard for the sustainability of the latter that are being unethical.

To tackle this needs more than laws and regulations. Of course we should have them but further to that, we must raise the costs of doing unethical business. And free market-based solutions are not the panacea because of market failures in critical areas especially where poor producers are involved and practice monopolistic behaviour, and there is asymmetry of information. This means that consumers have to take more responsibility for what they demand and what they are willing to pay and change the signals that are sent to the market.  There are good examples of where this is happening but scale-up is needed.

Mukesh48. Ethics versus innovation versus legislation – What should the boundaries and remits of progress and ethics be in your view? What is the role of religion and belief system in this?

By and large, innovation is a good thing and I don’t think one can curb it as it is a product of our curious minds and driven by the need to solve the problems we face as humanity. We need to continue to innovate. Similarly, I don’t think one can artificially limit “progress”. No one has the moral right to limit anyone’s progress. And also to maintain choices in society – including living unhealthily if they wish – but this choice cannot be exercised at the cost of others. So, the ethical dimensions to innovation and progress are that they should not happen by exploiting resources unsustainably or leave one group of people worse-off than before while others rake the benefits. 

Public policy, through legislation or otherwise, should be proactive in ensuring that the fruits of innovation and progress are first offered to the most poor and vulnerable in society so that inequalities do not worsen. All religions and cultural belief systems – except unbridled market capitalism – teach respect for each other and the world around us.  

9. Lobbying cultureIn your recent talk on ethics and politics of humanitarian action you mentioned humanitarianism started with politics. What are the ethical issues that face humanitarianism efforts globally?

Yes, corporate humanitarianism – by this I mean the big humanitarian multinational conglomerates and the so-called international humanitarian system – are quite compromised by being co-opted into the prevailing political order because humanitarian leaders are seduced by affinity with power or by the need to compete for influence to get resources for their own particular group.

The main ethical issue for humanitarianism is that it has forgotten that “humanitarian” contains the word “human”. Some time spent reflecting on what it means to be human will show that is about dignity and respect and not about charity and gratitude.  

Both political and humanitarian models need to evolve to place greater value on investing in prevention and protection, than on reaction and response when crises strike. But, in addition, I don’t think it is necessary that the two models be united.  Humanitarianism must remain independent from any other consideration.

10. Role of media what is the role of media in instituting and upholding ethics to support humanitarianism causes?

Overall, the media have played a positive role in bearing witness to human tragedies and connecting people to share in the grief and to trigger solidarity actions, while asking pertinent questions on the accountability of those who may have failed in their duties. Of course, this has required freedom of the media.

Yes, there is a degree of cultural and even political bias depending on the source and funding of the media organisation. That is why we need media from many sources so that we can make our own judgements based on information and analysis from different sources.

The perverse consequence of an overly mediatised world is that it gives us a selective view of the world. As the media tend to be selective on what they bring to the fore, humanitarianism has become more and more media-driven, as policy makers and donors tend to react to what is covered, and humanitarian agencies prioritise this too because that is where the money is.  So, it seems that we are biased to towards what we see and hear. Thus “selective” media silence or neglect over certain crises kills lives, because if they have not been covered by the media – they “have not happened or they are not so important”.

Hopefully the growth of social media will correct this selectivity in some way – as now we can all be journalists, and act ourselves to alert the world on what is happening in our neighbourhoods.  

11. Ethics and CSR –What is your understanding of CSR and its role in ethics in business?

My understanding of CSR is from a somewhat sceptical angle because of the huge rhetoric – implementation gap between its theory and practice. It appears that for many companies CSR is about sharing a few crumbs off the table with a few poor people in the neighbourhood of where the corporate profits are generated. The impact is marginal.

A more promising approach is to strength ethical business practices – that would help humanity more than charitable CSR crumbs.

12. Fair Trade – Organisations like Fair Trade and Best Shoppers Guide are pushing for ethical means of business production, safeguarding farmers and producers. Are there initiatives by Humanitarian groups to extend these efforts to other big businesses?

There are good endeavours being made by the humanitarian business to raise professional and service standards, improve accountability to beneficiaries, and tackle abuses that occur from time to time, as well as to promote compliance with humanitarian principles. But I have not heard of humanitarian agencies extending their work to the sectors you mention in any significant manner. Of course, many counterpart development and human rights organisations are active in those areas.

13. Watchdog bodies How can the role of watchdog bodies be made apolitical especially in cases which could cause cover ups of tragedies?

Watchdog bodies must be independent – and be funded and report to a different part of the government or at a more central level – than the sector they are supposed to watch over. Otherwise they are not credible.

 14. Universal ethicsIs it realistic to expect a code of universal ethics accepted and ratified by all countries and global institutions?

Yes, why not? The ethics we are talking about spring from universal values and though there is great diversity in the way we conduct our societies and lives, by and large, all would agree on what is right and wrong.

15. Religion and Business- Does one have to be religious and spiritually guided to be ethical?

One does not have to be religious-minded but spiritual guidance does help to “think and feel right”. What drives us to be ethical are the values that we imbibe early on in life – at home or in our schools and local communities. By the time you leave home, you are basically formed – good or bad.

Leaders are very prone to be seduced by the siren call of power. As someone has said: “all power corrupts…and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Therefore, to sustain leaders to remain ethical – there need to be checks and balances in society, and accountability for actions taken by a leader, as well as the facility to remove leaders and get new ones if needed. Of course, this is what we call “democracy” – though it may be practiced in different ways in different contexts.

16. Teaching ethics – Can ethics be taught?

Most certainly, ethics can be taught and must be taught because we are not all born as automatically ethical.  Imbibing ethical values starts from earliest life – that means that parents and schools have main responsibility to teach.  Later on, only remedial re-programming is possible, and for many it may be too late anyway. 

Note: All images were obtained from the Internet.

  _____

Mukesh_bioMukesh Kapila, CBE is Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester. He is also Special Representative of the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity, and Chair of Minority Rights Group International.

Professor Kapila has extensive experience in the policy and practice of international development, humanitarian affairs, human rights and diplomacy, with particular expertise in tackling crimes against humanity, disaster and conflict management, and in global public health. His memoir “Against a Tide of Evil”, published in 2013, was nominated for the Best Nonfiction Book of that year.

Previously he was Under Secretary General at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian and development network. Earlier, he served the United Nations in different roles as Special Adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and then Special Adviser at the UN Mission in Afghanistan. Subsequently, he led the UN’s largest country mission at the time as the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan, and then became a Director at the World Health Organization.

He has also been Chief Executive of the PHG Foundation, a senior policy adviser to the World Bank, worked as part of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination system, and advised the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, International Labour Organization, UNAIDS, and many other agencies.

Prior to the UN, Professor Kapila was at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Overseas Development Administration (subsequently Department for International Development), initially as senior health and population adviser and latterly as the first head of a new Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department that he set up.

His earliest career was in clinical medicine, primary health care, and public health in the British National Health Service in Oxford, Cambridge, and London, where he helped set up the UK’s first national HIV and AIDS programme at the Health Education Authority, becoming its deputy director.

He has initiated several NGOs, and served on the Boards of many bodies including the UN Institute for Training and Research, and the International Peace Academy in New York. He is also a Senior Member of Hughes Hall College at Cambridge University.

Professor Kapila was born in India and is a citizen of the United Kingdom. He has qualifications in medicine, public health, and development from the Universities of Oxford and London. In 2003, he was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II and named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his international service. In 2007, he received the Global Citizenship Award of the Institute for Global Leadership. In 2013, he received the “I Witness” award for his work on human rights.

www.mukeshkapila.org
Twitter @mukeshkapila

_____

See other posts on Ethics in Business:

Ethics in Business: Perception of sleepwalking

Ethics in Business: Facing medical ethics head on in Malaysia

Ethics in Business: A take on business ethics in the US

Ethics in Business: Moving Islamic finance from conference rooms to humanity

Ethics in Business: Walking the ethical track in Malaysia a perspective

Ethics in Business: Soul of ethics in the new Dubai

Ethics in Business: A conversation with Professor Tariq Ramadan

Ethics in Business: Where is the education for narcissistic leaders

Ethics in Business. With whom does the heartbeat of a nation lie, Part 1

Ethics in Business: With whom does the heartbeat of a nation lie, Part 2

Ethics in Business: Are we aware of the Iagos in our midst?

Ethics in Business: Fair trade or fair game, who benefits really

Ethics in business: What moves the conscience when mortality is at stake

Panel discussion: Medical ethics (plus video)

Please – CSR is not Ethics in Business

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Inside Investor contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

 

 

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[caption id="attachment_8222" align="alignleft" width="163"] By Firoz Abdul Hamid[/caption] When good men stood by and watched? Lampedusa, Syria, Egypt, Central African Republic, Tacloban, Rohingya, Rwanda, Palestine, Bosnia and the list could go on -  if the earth hasn’t already shed its tears to these tragedies, the human hearts has and continues to cry in pain of being abandoned and betrayed by the humanity. One cannot but wonder if human beings have any love left for this planet. Yet so many of us watch and/or discuss these scenes of abandonment, oppression and betrayals while having dinner flicking through channels searching for the...

Reading Time: 17 minutes

Firoz1
By Firoz Abdul Hamid

When good men stood by and watched?

Lampedusa, Syria, Egypt, Central African Republic, Tacloban, Rohingya, Rwanda, Palestine, Bosnia and the list could go on –  if the earth hasn’t already shed its tears to these tragedies, the human hearts has and continues to cry in pain of being abandoned and betrayed by the humanity. One cannot but wonder if human beings have any love left for this planet.

Yet so many of us watch and/or discuss these scenes of abandonment, oppression and betrayals while having dinner flicking through channels searching for the best time filler while we have our TV meals.

Never mind the tragedies itself, but eating while watching human tragedy on screen is taking it to another level. Most of us, including myself, are guilty of this. As much as we honour family meals, every so often we find ourselves watching tragedies on TV and on large screens while eating as if its entertainment for our souls, while our food entertains our bowels.

I stopped doing this when by chance I listened to a talk by a famous speaker from the US, Syakh Hamza Yusuf, who basically said our hearts must be dead if we can still eat while watching tragedies (real life ones he meant).

Are our hearts dead? Is the TV bombarding us with so many images on news and in movies that we no longer twitch when our 2 year old is watching a gruesome violent scene or a sexually explicit scene with us. Isn’t the sensation of the psyche a function of sensitisation of the heart?

Little do we know that businesses today seek advice from psychologists before great campaigns are developed. What music moves a consumer, how should products be arranged in supermarket shelves, the billboards that have subtle effect on our conscience way after we have driven past it. Think about the NFL (National Football League) advertisement campaigns, its focus on media talks during the annual NFL season and one gets an idea.

Most consumers don’t realise that having a certain product assigned to a shelf next to another is no more for their convenience than it is marketing for sales. I came to buy a sweeping brush and I now need the detergent, the whitener, the polisher the all sorts. Think about how subtle this campaign is on a standard consumer. Therein lies how we are being programmed to consume more, to perhaps feel less, and think even less.

Many of us watch tragic events in places like Syria, Rwanda, South Sudan, the UK recently or the storm in the US and think  – well it is out there somewhere and I am somewhere else and it doesn’t affect me and my kid’s homework.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations said, “Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations?”

I recall when I worked with the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia, Excellency Tan Sri Sidek Hassan (now the Chairman of Petronas) wrote something similar in his article titled. “In Golf Lies Our End”. He wrote, “We often go about our lives thinking there are two, but parallel stories, that run in our lives. Our own lives that revolve around work, kids, family, bills, chores, and the hustle and bustle of nonsensical traffic. Yet there is another world that runs parallel called the “other outside world”. We hear of the other world through media and headlines, and from party talks. We spend very little time connecting the dots between “our own realities” and that of the “other world.  What eludes us is that “the other” reality is what shapes our own destiny, what defines our own reality, what moulds our own future, least said our own character. Our own story and the story of our future, and even that of our future generation, is not a different one.” (see here)

I have often argued in many opening columns to all my interviews that every action – subtle or otherwise in its nature – a business for someone. Even humanitarianism I would argue. How many do it for just the conscience? How many for the profile? How many relent to shareholder and investor pressure? In fact many have wondered if humanitarian and civil society institutions are only prioritising those tragedies highlighted only by the main stream media. Can we truly attest to the words of Albert Schweitzer, the German physician, musician, nuclear disarmament advocate and a humanitarian 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who once said, “Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”

Schweitzer’s words begs the following questions – What is the purpose of humanitarian institutions and activities? Why have we “celebrities” committing either part of their wealth and/or time to causes? How do they choose these causes and with whom do they work?

Aristotle was famed to have said, “To give away money is an easy matter in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

These questions led me to think through the fundamentals of ethics in humanitarianism and its institutions. This search led me to Professor Mukesh Kapila’s TEDx Groningen talk.  It was a phenomenal talk and I was overcome by it when I heard the stories.

Professor Kapila served as the former head of United Nations in Sudan and the Undersecretary at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian and development network. In his TEDx talk, he speaks of the pain young women go through in lands and conditions we possibly cannot imagine living in. Aishah traveled miles to Khartoum to meet him to share her story. A story she could not share with her own people.

Professor Kapila’s talk made me question the whole ethics that drives the humanitarian business. Who exactly runs this space – the unnamed unsung heroes on the ground who leave their families behind and sacrifice their lives to make better the lives of others, or the “philanthropists” who sit in boardrooms, and exalted TV stations sharing their reasons as to why they decided to give their resources and self to this path of “charity” – as if choosing to be in charitable and humanitarian causes is not the business of every man and woman who walk this earth.

CartoonA qualified doctor from University of Oxford, Professor Kapila was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II and named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his international service. In 2007, he received the Global Citizenship Award of the Institute for Global Leadership.

Professor Kapila has also written a book on his humanitarian work titled, “Against a Tide of Evil”. In his book, Kapila reveals for the first time the shocking depths of evil plumbed by those who designed and orchestrated ‘the final solution in Darfur’ and why so many good men stood by and did nothing. In reviewing Kapila’s book, Mia Farrow wrote, “During one of the darkest periods in human history, Mukesh Kapila sounded  the clarion call and stood firm in the face of the ultimate crime: genocide.  Read his extraordinary story“

In closing, I ask myself first and foremost – what is the purpose of my journey on this earth. Why were we created? Were we created to be the best CEOs and glamorous personalities for others to worship us or were we created to make better the lives of our fellow human beings at all cost? Must it take an Angelina Jolie, a George Clooney, a Bono, a Madonna for the world to certify a tragedy a tragedy?Will the world only recognise oppression when journalist of mainstream media cover it or do we all have the moral duty to highlight atrocities and oppression no matter how small?  My take is that humanitarianism is a role for all those who call themselves human. Even if it is an entry in a Facebook or a twitter, highlighting oppression is our moral duty.

What is left to be said about our civilisation when good men just stand by and watch for fear of political or economic reprieve? Indeed how can we stand before our children and say – we have contributed to their better future? How can we claim to our Creator that the world was better with us in it? And perhaps so why it is said – a human being is not the same as being human.

Great civilisations are built on honour and integrity – not by concrete and mortar. Great civilisations are built by men and women who did not stand by and watch when wrong was done. So, if we are to claim to be living in a period of unparallel progress, advancement achievement – we should perhaps measure that by how we treat our fellow human beings and not how we treat currency and economic data. We should perhaps reflect if we are making a business out of human tragedies.

When there is suffering in parts of the world whilst we are still having our meals – it is a wonder if this is progress!

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The role of humanitarianism in instituting universal ethics in humanity

Our world is messed-up because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. At the root lie greed, unfairness and injustice. We may not always succeed in righting all human wrongs, but we are always required to try.

Professor Dr Mukesh Kapila, CBE
Professor Dr Mukesh Kapila, CBE

1. Ethics in businessWhat is your understanding of ethics and its application across politics and business?

For me, theory and practice on ethics are simply summarised: these are about doing the right thing with “rightness” being measured by whether the act is intended to enhance the essential dignities and well-being of another person or group. Human beings are driven towards unethical/evil behaviour because they are programmed through the evolutionary struggle for self-survival i.e. this is the humans’   innate default mode, and the story of human progress is essentially typified by cruelty. (Of course, kindness and courage are also part of the human spirit – but we note this precisely because they are exceptional). It is only by recognising the propensity towards evil that is present in all of us can we rise beyond this base level.  It is also why we need ethical frameworks in society to mitigate the harm we do to each other.

2. Wealth distribution and ethics – Is there a correlation between global wealth inequity, wealth distribution and ethics in business? How has global inequity affected humanity?

While some degrees of inequality are inherent because of our different personal endowments, the historic levels of inequality that characterise our world today is undoubtedly due to greed – and it is unethical conduct that drives this.

Global inequalities are possibly the greatest strategic threat to humanity today – generating what are, for some communities, existentialist crises.  Inequalities corrode society from within which means that our collective resilience to face other serious threats – be it natural or man-made – is compromised. That is why this is a serious threat to society.  

The actions needed are around limiting greed – this needs political leadership and social responses to change mind-sets more than regulatory ones which clever people will always find a way to circumvent.

Mukesh13. World tragedies and ethics – In all your work, what are the primary reasons to the world’s man made tragedies like those in Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan etc?

What I have observed from some 30 years of experience with war and peace in all continents is that each situation is unique. And attempts to draw parallels inevitably leads to “fighting” today’s wars with yesterday’s lessons. And that is why we fail again and again to predict, prevent, and protect.

But we can draw some general conclusions. Underpinning conflicts such as in Rwanda and Sudan that were genocidal in nature were ethnic hatred and intolerance.  Some scholars have tried to complicate this by postulating economic factors and poverty and underdevelopment to explain how the last genocide of the 20th century (Rwanda) and the first genocide of the 21st century (Darfur in Sudan) came about – but these are simply alibis to excuse the evil perpetrators.  Although ethnic intolerance happens in all societies, it takes special evil leadership to orchestrate the mass crimes against humanity that were the hallmark in Rwanda and Darfur. 

Such situations have to be distinguished from the many others such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, Angola, and so on – where the most terrible suffering was also inflicted on ordinary people – but where the underlying factors were grievances of various types, including political exclusions and governance-related, as corollaries to incomplete state formation together with, in some cases, malign or at least ill-judged external interference.

I am not convinced that business and economic factors around “greed” play a more significant role than “grievances” at the strategic levels in the genesis of conflict.  Of course, they may facilitate a conflict and fuel it but, by and large, poor people don’t rise up in revolt because of their poverty as they are far to busy with the struggle for daily survival. If they did rise up – and sometimes I wish they would – we would be living in a very different world today.

Mukesh24.  Humanitarianism, profit and ethicsCan humanitarianism work be free of the demands of business? How does one discharge humanitarian efforts when there is a pressure of business returns?

The humanitarian impulse – the drive to help another in distress – is as old as humanity itself (maybe it emerged as a natural in-built evolutionary counter to the also-innate impulse to be evil that I mentioned above). The core value of humanitarianism is ‘altruism” i.e. doing good to others selflessly and seeking no benefit for oneself in return. And that is why humanitarianism flourished across all continents, cultures, and ages – long before modern humanitarian institutions came along and set themselves up as formalised and competitive businesses, complete with branding logos, professional PR, and so-on. In this way, the humanitarian instinct got boxed-in and institutionalised.

It is the logic of institutions that they need to be operated in a “business-like” manner if they are to flourish, or even survive.   Thus humanitarianism has indeed become a “business” seeking returns – even if they are measured not in dollars and cents but donor-driven by the tyranny of demonstrating results. But along the way to this “professionalisation” of the humanitarian business, the cost paid is through the loss of the value of altruism. This explains why there is increasing public mistrust and cynicism about the international humanitarian enterprise. There is also increasing political mistrust as the humanitarian business is more and more part of a bigger peace and security business. Thus, the irony is that though we live in an age of expanding capacities to do good, the space to do such good is getting more and more restricted.

What should be done about this? In my view, we need to liberate the humanitarian spirit, and return it to its original home in our hearts and minds. Can humanitarian organisations run efficiently without aping businesses? I don’t think that the major global humanitarian corporations – that are familiar household names – can be reformed. We need new start-ups that challenge the current business models.

5.  Greed, unfairness and injustice – In your work with public and private sectors how have you addressed greed, unfairness and injustices?

Nearly my entire career has been in development and humanitarian institutions, some of the biggest on the planet, and at senior levels in them. But all my life has also been a battle within myself – as I struggled to balance my own personal values with the more earthly requirements of the institutions I served.  I viewed all my different employing bodies as platforms from which to launch what I felt were the rights things to do, while the institutions tried to imprison and mould me to serve their narrow interests. So I tried to improve, reform, and shape the institutions (especially when I was in leadership positions) even as they tried to control me. I generally won my battles against cowardly or self-serving opponents and, thereby, learnt the valuable lesson that it is possible to bring about positive change if one has the courage to stick to one’s convictions. But I also learnt that there is heavy price to be paid – which I have done, time and again.

So that is the answer to your question: I am a natural rebel and my default mode is to side with the voiceless, powerless, and hopeless – and to speak truth to power, regardless of personal consequences. I intend to continue doing this for as long as I am capable of doing so.

6. Healthcare and ethics –What has your work proven in this area?

I have an instinctive distrust to appeals for “loyalty”. My experience – in both health and other sectors – is that when a business or an organisation appeals to loyalty to incentivise its staff, and then there are some real questions to be raised about the product or service or values being promoted by the enterprise. This is not a sustainable way to motivate people.  Instead, you have to make people proud that what they are doing is good and worthwhile, and they will rise to do more of it and in a better manner.  If there is a moral or loyalty appeal to be made, it should be towards the client being served.

7. Corporate governance and morality How does one reconcile profit with ethics? Can character be regulated in an environment of competition and competitiveness?

In theory, there is no inherent conflict between profit and ethics. In practice, it is those who seek to maximise profits while externalising the costs and exploiting human and natural resources without being fair to the former and disregard for the sustainability of the latter that are being unethical.

To tackle this needs more than laws and regulations. Of course we should have them but further to that, we must raise the costs of doing unethical business. And free market-based solutions are not the panacea because of market failures in critical areas especially where poor producers are involved and practice monopolistic behaviour, and there is asymmetry of information. This means that consumers have to take more responsibility for what they demand and what they are willing to pay and change the signals that are sent to the market.  There are good examples of where this is happening but scale-up is needed.

Mukesh48. Ethics versus innovation versus legislation – What should the boundaries and remits of progress and ethics be in your view? What is the role of religion and belief system in this?

By and large, innovation is a good thing and I don’t think one can curb it as it is a product of our curious minds and driven by the need to solve the problems we face as humanity. We need to continue to innovate. Similarly, I don’t think one can artificially limit “progress”. No one has the moral right to limit anyone’s progress. And also to maintain choices in society – including living unhealthily if they wish – but this choice cannot be exercised at the cost of others. So, the ethical dimensions to innovation and progress are that they should not happen by exploiting resources unsustainably or leave one group of people worse-off than before while others rake the benefits. 

Public policy, through legislation or otherwise, should be proactive in ensuring that the fruits of innovation and progress are first offered to the most poor and vulnerable in society so that inequalities do not worsen. All religions and cultural belief systems – except unbridled market capitalism – teach respect for each other and the world around us.  

9. Lobbying cultureIn your recent talk on ethics and politics of humanitarian action you mentioned humanitarianism started with politics. What are the ethical issues that face humanitarianism efforts globally?

Yes, corporate humanitarianism – by this I mean the big humanitarian multinational conglomerates and the so-called international humanitarian system – are quite compromised by being co-opted into the prevailing political order because humanitarian leaders are seduced by affinity with power or by the need to compete for influence to get resources for their own particular group.

The main ethical issue for humanitarianism is that it has forgotten that “humanitarian” contains the word “human”. Some time spent reflecting on what it means to be human will show that is about dignity and respect and not about charity and gratitude.  

Both political and humanitarian models need to evolve to place greater value on investing in prevention and protection, than on reaction and response when crises strike. But, in addition, I don’t think it is necessary that the two models be united.  Humanitarianism must remain independent from any other consideration.

10. Role of media what is the role of media in instituting and upholding ethics to support humanitarianism causes?

Overall, the media have played a positive role in bearing witness to human tragedies and connecting people to share in the grief and to trigger solidarity actions, while asking pertinent questions on the accountability of those who may have failed in their duties. Of course, this has required freedom of the media.

Yes, there is a degree of cultural and even political bias depending on the source and funding of the media organisation. That is why we need media from many sources so that we can make our own judgements based on information and analysis from different sources.

The perverse consequence of an overly mediatised world is that it gives us a selective view of the world. As the media tend to be selective on what they bring to the fore, humanitarianism has become more and more media-driven, as policy makers and donors tend to react to what is covered, and humanitarian agencies prioritise this too because that is where the money is.  So, it seems that we are biased to towards what we see and hear. Thus “selective” media silence or neglect over certain crises kills lives, because if they have not been covered by the media – they “have not happened or they are not so important”.

Hopefully the growth of social media will correct this selectivity in some way – as now we can all be journalists, and act ourselves to alert the world on what is happening in our neighbourhoods.  

11. Ethics and CSR –What is your understanding of CSR and its role in ethics in business?

My understanding of CSR is from a somewhat sceptical angle because of the huge rhetoric – implementation gap between its theory and practice. It appears that for many companies CSR is about sharing a few crumbs off the table with a few poor people in the neighbourhood of where the corporate profits are generated. The impact is marginal.

A more promising approach is to strength ethical business practices – that would help humanity more than charitable CSR crumbs.

12. Fair Trade – Organisations like Fair Trade and Best Shoppers Guide are pushing for ethical means of business production, safeguarding farmers and producers. Are there initiatives by Humanitarian groups to extend these efforts to other big businesses?

There are good endeavours being made by the humanitarian business to raise professional and service standards, improve accountability to beneficiaries, and tackle abuses that occur from time to time, as well as to promote compliance with humanitarian principles. But I have not heard of humanitarian agencies extending their work to the sectors you mention in any significant manner. Of course, many counterpart development and human rights organisations are active in those areas.

13. Watchdog bodies How can the role of watchdog bodies be made apolitical especially in cases which could cause cover ups of tragedies?

Watchdog bodies must be independent – and be funded and report to a different part of the government or at a more central level – than the sector they are supposed to watch over. Otherwise they are not credible.

 14. Universal ethicsIs it realistic to expect a code of universal ethics accepted and ratified by all countries and global institutions?

Yes, why not? The ethics we are talking about spring from universal values and though there is great diversity in the way we conduct our societies and lives, by and large, all would agree on what is right and wrong.

15. Religion and Business- Does one have to be religious and spiritually guided to be ethical?

One does not have to be religious-minded but spiritual guidance does help to “think and feel right”. What drives us to be ethical are the values that we imbibe early on in life – at home or in our schools and local communities. By the time you leave home, you are basically formed – good or bad.

Leaders are very prone to be seduced by the siren call of power. As someone has said: “all power corrupts…and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Therefore, to sustain leaders to remain ethical – there need to be checks and balances in society, and accountability for actions taken by a leader, as well as the facility to remove leaders and get new ones if needed. Of course, this is what we call “democracy” – though it may be practiced in different ways in different contexts.

16. Teaching ethics – Can ethics be taught?

Most certainly, ethics can be taught and must be taught because we are not all born as automatically ethical.  Imbibing ethical values starts from earliest life – that means that parents and schools have main responsibility to teach.  Later on, only remedial re-programming is possible, and for many it may be too late anyway. 

Note: All images were obtained from the Internet.

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Mukesh_bioMukesh Kapila, CBE is Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester. He is also Special Representative of the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity, and Chair of Minority Rights Group International.

Professor Kapila has extensive experience in the policy and practice of international development, humanitarian affairs, human rights and diplomacy, with particular expertise in tackling crimes against humanity, disaster and conflict management, and in global public health. His memoir “Against a Tide of Evil”, published in 2013, was nominated for the Best Nonfiction Book of that year.

Previously he was Under Secretary General at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian and development network. Earlier, he served the United Nations in different roles as Special Adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and then Special Adviser at the UN Mission in Afghanistan. Subsequently, he led the UN’s largest country mission at the time as the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan, and then became a Director at the World Health Organization.

He has also been Chief Executive of the PHG Foundation, a senior policy adviser to the World Bank, worked as part of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination system, and advised the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, International Labour Organization, UNAIDS, and many other agencies.

Prior to the UN, Professor Kapila was at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Overseas Development Administration (subsequently Department for International Development), initially as senior health and population adviser and latterly as the first head of a new Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department that he set up.

His earliest career was in clinical medicine, primary health care, and public health in the British National Health Service in Oxford, Cambridge, and London, where he helped set up the UK’s first national HIV and AIDS programme at the Health Education Authority, becoming its deputy director.

He has initiated several NGOs, and served on the Boards of many bodies including the UN Institute for Training and Research, and the International Peace Academy in New York. He is also a Senior Member of Hughes Hall College at Cambridge University.

Professor Kapila was born in India and is a citizen of the United Kingdom. He has qualifications in medicine, public health, and development from the Universities of Oxford and London. In 2003, he was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II and named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his international service. In 2007, he received the Global Citizenship Award of the Institute for Global Leadership. In 2013, he received the “I Witness” award for his work on human rights.

www.mukeshkapila.org
Twitter @mukeshkapila

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See other posts on Ethics in Business:

Ethics in Business: Perception of sleepwalking

Ethics in Business: Facing medical ethics head on in Malaysia

Ethics in Business: A take on business ethics in the US

Ethics in Business: Moving Islamic finance from conference rooms to humanity

Ethics in Business: Walking the ethical track in Malaysia a perspective

Ethics in Business: Soul of ethics in the new Dubai

Ethics in Business: A conversation with Professor Tariq Ramadan

Ethics in Business: Where is the education for narcissistic leaders

Ethics in Business. With whom does the heartbeat of a nation lie, Part 1

Ethics in Business: With whom does the heartbeat of a nation lie, Part 2

Ethics in Business: Are we aware of the Iagos in our midst?

Ethics in Business: Fair trade or fair game, who benefits really

Ethics in business: What moves the conscience when mortality is at stake

Panel discussion: Medical ethics (plus video)

Please – CSR is not Ethics in Business

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Inside Investor contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

 

 

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