Ethics in Business: Soul of ethics in the new Dubai

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Firoz1
By Firoz Abdul Hamid

When Dubai spiraled into a crisis in 2009-2010, many a commentary was written. Many started criticising Dubai’s business and investment model. Many deserted the place in lock, stock and barrel. Many wise men had something to say about “what went wrong”.

An article published in The Independent in 2009, wrote,

“In the years of the boom, Dubai set about building with an ambition that would have made even Ozymandias blush. Artificial islands full of luxury villas, the world’s tallest tower, an underwater hotel, even a stone-by-stone recreation of the French city of Lyon – no project was too extravagant, some would say vulgar, for the construction magnates of the emirate. But this was a project built on the shifting sands of credit. Foreign capital poured into Dubai as its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, set about turning his nation into the financial, tourist and sporting hub of the Gulf. In less than a decade, Dubai managed to accumulate foreign liabilities of $80 billion. Some estimates put it still higher… Dubai’s boom was one of the gaudy symbols of the era of excess. The torments of the emirate’s creditors in the bust seem likely to determine how traumatic it will be for all of us as we retreat into a more modest age.”

 Two years on we see the world converging back to Dubai.

The question that remains – Is Dubai today operating the same business model as it did pre-2010? What has changed today? Could it go back to the dark days of the crisis? Is Dubai attracting a new breed of investors in a new kind of environment? How is it creating a changed environment? Has ethics a place in investment decisions in Dubai, or indeed anywhere in the world of business? Can one institute ethics in a world that seeks instant gratification, quick successes and highs? Has ethics in business a role in a global civilisation that is so focused on status and money as its currency to achievement and true human accomplishment?

The well known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S Lewis said, “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny”. Is Dubai onto an extraordinary destiny? Dr. Belaid Rettab of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry shares the chamber’s initiatives in creating a new Dubai that is based on soul and ethics.

 

Belaid RettabDr. Belaid Rettab, Senior Director,  Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development Sector, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry

1. The new Dubai and ethics – The crisis which Dubai faced in 2010 brought to the fore many issues, as covered by the media. There was much praise in how Dubai addressed the media in the face of the crisis.  How did the crisis realign Dubai’s commercial vision and where is ethics in business placed in the new business landscape of Dubai?

It is fair to state that globally, the financial crisis took the spotlight off corporate social responsibility (CSR) and interest in sustainability as businesses and industries were forced to adjust expectations and resort to lower cost of production and less risky business ventures.

In Dubai, things have also changed, and consistent restructuring and recovery started to result in growing performance. Sustainability and CSR have been fundamental parts of doing business in Dubai. For companies who applied the practice in this region, they have done very well and the crisis didn’t impact very much the way they continued doing business. CSR and sustainability is not an add-on that sits on the periphery of business activities, but an integral part of business strategies.

The financial crisis did not change Dubai Chamber’s approach to CSR, it rather underlined its importance. Companies need to adopt sustainable practices for the benefit of their bottom line, economic stability and societal wellbeing. Throughout the downturn, Dubai Chamber continued to dedicate time and resources  through the work of the Dubai Chamber Centre for Responsible Business (CRB). While there were plenty of hurdles, CRB launched a number of tools and services such as ENGAGE Dubai, the Dubai Chamber CSR Label and the Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network to keep momentum going and raise the bar for responsible practices in the UAE and the region.

But at the same time our research shows that while the intention is there, implementing and integrating CSR and sustainability amongst businesses is still a huge challenge. The survey, carried out by the CRB in 2012, shows that only 44 per cent of companies believe that CSR is important to the company, but not central to the business strategy, while only 9 per cent of companies have a CSR policy and strategy in place. These figures show that we have made in-roads an increasing awareness, but that there is still a long way to go before CSR and sustainability are fully incorporated by the entire business community.

2. Instituting ethics – Ethics in business has taken a momentous traction globally since the global financial crisis in 2008. Much has been spoken of bankers and their work culture towards governance and their compensation and incentive packages. This – you will agree – is not only specific to the financial industry. It cuts across industries and sectors, countries and continents. What drives ethics in any business? What is the role of leadership in instituting ethics? Can it be instituted?

Leadership is central to ethics in business; it can change an organisation’s culture for better or worse. It is very difficult for change to occur within an organisation unless the management is completely on board. Culture change requires setting the tone at the top and then creating alignment throughout the organisation with the values you espouse to live.  Keeping true to the CSR values compass is a critical guidepost to change management and team alignment.  Additionally, the move to incorporate a CSR ethic throughout the firm necessitates a change management approach.

Obviously, large international companies have encouraged this shift towards CSR with strategies being devised in their head offices, but now more and more national companies are leading the way. Dubai Chamber has been playing an integral part in encouraging and assisting companies to act more responsibly and sustainably for over a decade. During this time CSR and sustainability have made much progress due to a growing global awareness about environmental and social issues and business ethics. CSR has become an important concept for businesses today as it contributes to the greater goal of sustainable development and improving the wellbeing of society. In order to ensure continued prosperity, enhance our urban environment, and retain and increase Dubai’s appeal to talent and investors, CSR and sustainability have become a necessity.

Dubai fog3. Investing in Dubai – As a chamber of commerce, how important is ethics in your selection process to invest in Dubai? What are the steps you take to ensure not only businesses but also the people who work there uphold ethics?

Dubai has been quite mindful of the need to incorporate sustainability into its economic and social policies for long-term development. We are constantly striving to create a business environment that is conducive to investments and jobs, and enhances the environment for the people. Dubai has clear laws and regulations regarding how companies can operate. These are constantly being updated and enhanced to ensure that businesses are upholding the law. However, in terms of going beyond the legal requirements, it is only possible to encourage businesses to do so. Dubai Chamber guides companies to becoming more ethically responsible and conscious through the work of the Centre For Responsible Business. We recognise the importance for businesses to operate ethically and responsibly early on. In CRB we believe that CSR is an appropriate form of corporate self-regulation integrated into the business model. As such, matured corporations in Dubai are encouraged to integrate the concept of CSR in their existing strategies expanding to corporate governance, risk management, core competence and value creation, to promote Dubai as an international business hub which offers global businesses an environment of transparency and accountability.

4. Islamic economy – His Highness the Ruler of Dubai recently announced that Dubai aims to become an Islamic economic hub – the focus is on Islamic finance and the halal industry. There have been much commentaries of late on these areas of businesses that they are run more for profit than for the essence of what it stands for in the faith of Islam. What drives this Islamic economic industry – ethics and justice or product development for profit making? Has the industry lost sight in the very essence of commerce and trade as stipulated in the Quran and Sunnah to the more pressing issues of bottom line?

In principle, all economic activities (with the exception of very few activities) are permissible in Islam provided that they follow the spirit of the tenets of Islam. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Islamic ethics and justice and profit making. Our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself was a trader and so were most of his prominent companions.

Commerce and finance are some of those economic activities where Dubai excels relative to its peers in the region. What Dubai is doing is just responding to the growing needs of Muslim customers (who are vast and growing fast) for economic products that satisfy their needs, both materially and spiritually.

Since all economic products are provided within a context of public regulations, like in any place in the world, Dubai strives to put together the necessary framework that govern those economic products. This framework will be complying with the spirit of the tenets of Islam and satisfy the modern needs of the Muslim population.

The basic and necessary ingredients of this Islamic economy are present in Dubai, they just need to be put in a holistic framework that render it practical, implementable and consistent and have the faith and the trust of the Muslim customers.

At this stage, we want to be the capital of the Islamic economy, and the next stage is to convince the people with this claim through our deeds, not words, as we have always done in Dubai in our major projects. Because we keep our word, people trust us and this project is not an exception.

Dubai chamber5. Leadership – How do you train leaders to be ethical?

The CRB offers a variety of educational and professional training courses and consulting services which are designed to build a company’s capacity to implement broad CSR programmes. These include business ethics, sustainability reporting and corporate governance. CRB is a member of the Global Partners Network, convened by Business in the Community, and is an organisational stakeholder of the Global Reporting Initiative. Dubai Chamber also tries to invest in the leaders of tomorrow through several initiatives including the University of Dubai, which provides CSR in the annual curriculum, Dubai Chamber’s CSR awareness and qualification programmes for business leaders and the Excellence Award Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Performance Programme which embraces CSR and corporate governance as major pillars.

In addition, Tejar Dubai was launched in 2012 to encourage the next generation of Emirati entrepreneurs. The initiative, under the patronage and support of His Highness Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts, is the first in the UAE to offer a specialised programme and platform for young Emiratis to help them establish their own sustainable businesses to foster entrepreneurship and private sector growth. Not only does the initiative provide young UAE nationals with access to an extensive development programme, including classroom learning, on-site training, mentoring and business advice, it also gives candidates networking opportunities with local and international business leaders and access to investment capital.

Finally ‘Fursa: Together We Shape Your Future’ is an Emiratisation initiative at Dubai Chamber. Each year a set number of new UAE national graduates are recruited by Dubai Chamber in order to increase the number of locals in our workforce and to impart skills and training to our young generations.

 

Dr. Belaid Rettab is the Senior Director of Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Since 2003, he has established a full-fledged research department that serves the needs of the business community in the fields of business, economics, corporate social responsibility and excellence. Additionally, since 2011, he has worked as an advisor to the UAE Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (TANMIA). In 2007, he restructured the Center for Responsible Business, through which he contributes to shape the perception of some common challenges that businesses in Dubai and the UAE face; while also identifying alternative ways to help businesses move forward with their sustainability agendas. Dr. Rettab has accumulated 25 years of achievements in academic teaching, research, advisory and consultancy work in Europe, Africa and Asia. He is an economist and has lectured micro-economics at Erasmus University where he worked from 1987 to 1998 as a researcher and later as a senior consultant at the Foundation for Economic Research in Rotterdam. He has published dozens of academic articles and research reports relevant to policy makers in the fields of economics, trade, international management, entrepreneurship, public administration and business ethics.

 

See other posts from our articles series 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: 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

Please: CSR is not Ethics in Business

Panel discussion: Medical ethics (plus video)

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

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

When Dubai spiraled into a crisis in 2009-2010, many a commentary was written. Many started criticising Dubai’s business and investment model. Many deserted the place in lock, stock and barrel. Many wise men had something to say about “what went wrong”.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Firoz1
By Firoz Abdul Hamid

When Dubai spiraled into a crisis in 2009-2010, many a commentary was written. Many started criticising Dubai’s business and investment model. Many deserted the place in lock, stock and barrel. Many wise men had something to say about “what went wrong”.

An article published in The Independent in 2009, wrote,

“In the years of the boom, Dubai set about building with an ambition that would have made even Ozymandias blush. Artificial islands full of luxury villas, the world’s tallest tower, an underwater hotel, even a stone-by-stone recreation of the French city of Lyon – no project was too extravagant, some would say vulgar, for the construction magnates of the emirate. But this was a project built on the shifting sands of credit. Foreign capital poured into Dubai as its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, set about turning his nation into the financial, tourist and sporting hub of the Gulf. In less than a decade, Dubai managed to accumulate foreign liabilities of $80 billion. Some estimates put it still higher… Dubai’s boom was one of the gaudy symbols of the era of excess. The torments of the emirate’s creditors in the bust seem likely to determine how traumatic it will be for all of us as we retreat into a more modest age.”

 Two years on we see the world converging back to Dubai.

The question that remains – Is Dubai today operating the same business model as it did pre-2010? What has changed today? Could it go back to the dark days of the crisis? Is Dubai attracting a new breed of investors in a new kind of environment? How is it creating a changed environment? Has ethics a place in investment decisions in Dubai, or indeed anywhere in the world of business? Can one institute ethics in a world that seeks instant gratification, quick successes and highs? Has ethics in business a role in a global civilisation that is so focused on status and money as its currency to achievement and true human accomplishment?

The well known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S Lewis said, “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny”. Is Dubai onto an extraordinary destiny? Dr. Belaid Rettab of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry shares the chamber’s initiatives in creating a new Dubai that is based on soul and ethics.

 

Belaid RettabDr. Belaid Rettab, Senior Director,  Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development Sector, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry

1. The new Dubai and ethics – The crisis which Dubai faced in 2010 brought to the fore many issues, as covered by the media. There was much praise in how Dubai addressed the media in the face of the crisis.  How did the crisis realign Dubai’s commercial vision and where is ethics in business placed in the new business landscape of Dubai?

It is fair to state that globally, the financial crisis took the spotlight off corporate social responsibility (CSR) and interest in sustainability as businesses and industries were forced to adjust expectations and resort to lower cost of production and less risky business ventures.

In Dubai, things have also changed, and consistent restructuring and recovery started to result in growing performance. Sustainability and CSR have been fundamental parts of doing business in Dubai. For companies who applied the practice in this region, they have done very well and the crisis didn’t impact very much the way they continued doing business. CSR and sustainability is not an add-on that sits on the periphery of business activities, but an integral part of business strategies.

The financial crisis did not change Dubai Chamber’s approach to CSR, it rather underlined its importance. Companies need to adopt sustainable practices for the benefit of their bottom line, economic stability and societal wellbeing. Throughout the downturn, Dubai Chamber continued to dedicate time and resources  through the work of the Dubai Chamber Centre for Responsible Business (CRB). While there were plenty of hurdles, CRB launched a number of tools and services such as ENGAGE Dubai, the Dubai Chamber CSR Label and the Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network to keep momentum going and raise the bar for responsible practices in the UAE and the region.

But at the same time our research shows that while the intention is there, implementing and integrating CSR and sustainability amongst businesses is still a huge challenge. The survey, carried out by the CRB in 2012, shows that only 44 per cent of companies believe that CSR is important to the company, but not central to the business strategy, while only 9 per cent of companies have a CSR policy and strategy in place. These figures show that we have made in-roads an increasing awareness, but that there is still a long way to go before CSR and sustainability are fully incorporated by the entire business community.

2. Instituting ethics – Ethics in business has taken a momentous traction globally since the global financial crisis in 2008. Much has been spoken of bankers and their work culture towards governance and their compensation and incentive packages. This – you will agree – is not only specific to the financial industry. It cuts across industries and sectors, countries and continents. What drives ethics in any business? What is the role of leadership in instituting ethics? Can it be instituted?

Leadership is central to ethics in business; it can change an organisation’s culture for better or worse. It is very difficult for change to occur within an organisation unless the management is completely on board. Culture change requires setting the tone at the top and then creating alignment throughout the organisation with the values you espouse to live.  Keeping true to the CSR values compass is a critical guidepost to change management and team alignment.  Additionally, the move to incorporate a CSR ethic throughout the firm necessitates a change management approach.

Obviously, large international companies have encouraged this shift towards CSR with strategies being devised in their head offices, but now more and more national companies are leading the way. Dubai Chamber has been playing an integral part in encouraging and assisting companies to act more responsibly and sustainably for over a decade. During this time CSR and sustainability have made much progress due to a growing global awareness about environmental and social issues and business ethics. CSR has become an important concept for businesses today as it contributes to the greater goal of sustainable development and improving the wellbeing of society. In order to ensure continued prosperity, enhance our urban environment, and retain and increase Dubai’s appeal to talent and investors, CSR and sustainability have become a necessity.

Dubai fog3. Investing in Dubai – As a chamber of commerce, how important is ethics in your selection process to invest in Dubai? What are the steps you take to ensure not only businesses but also the people who work there uphold ethics?

Dubai has been quite mindful of the need to incorporate sustainability into its economic and social policies for long-term development. We are constantly striving to create a business environment that is conducive to investments and jobs, and enhances the environment for the people. Dubai has clear laws and regulations regarding how companies can operate. These are constantly being updated and enhanced to ensure that businesses are upholding the law. However, in terms of going beyond the legal requirements, it is only possible to encourage businesses to do so. Dubai Chamber guides companies to becoming more ethically responsible and conscious through the work of the Centre For Responsible Business. We recognise the importance for businesses to operate ethically and responsibly early on. In CRB we believe that CSR is an appropriate form of corporate self-regulation integrated into the business model. As such, matured corporations in Dubai are encouraged to integrate the concept of CSR in their existing strategies expanding to corporate governance, risk management, core competence and value creation, to promote Dubai as an international business hub which offers global businesses an environment of transparency and accountability.

4. Islamic economy – His Highness the Ruler of Dubai recently announced that Dubai aims to become an Islamic economic hub – the focus is on Islamic finance and the halal industry. There have been much commentaries of late on these areas of businesses that they are run more for profit than for the essence of what it stands for in the faith of Islam. What drives this Islamic economic industry – ethics and justice or product development for profit making? Has the industry lost sight in the very essence of commerce and trade as stipulated in the Quran and Sunnah to the more pressing issues of bottom line?

In principle, all economic activities (with the exception of very few activities) are permissible in Islam provided that they follow the spirit of the tenets of Islam. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Islamic ethics and justice and profit making. Our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself was a trader and so were most of his prominent companions.

Commerce and finance are some of those economic activities where Dubai excels relative to its peers in the region. What Dubai is doing is just responding to the growing needs of Muslim customers (who are vast and growing fast) for economic products that satisfy their needs, both materially and spiritually.

Since all economic products are provided within a context of public regulations, like in any place in the world, Dubai strives to put together the necessary framework that govern those economic products. This framework will be complying with the spirit of the tenets of Islam and satisfy the modern needs of the Muslim population.

The basic and necessary ingredients of this Islamic economy are present in Dubai, they just need to be put in a holistic framework that render it practical, implementable and consistent and have the faith and the trust of the Muslim customers.

At this stage, we want to be the capital of the Islamic economy, and the next stage is to convince the people with this claim through our deeds, not words, as we have always done in Dubai in our major projects. Because we keep our word, people trust us and this project is not an exception.

Dubai chamber5. Leadership – How do you train leaders to be ethical?

The CRB offers a variety of educational and professional training courses and consulting services which are designed to build a company’s capacity to implement broad CSR programmes. These include business ethics, sustainability reporting and corporate governance. CRB is a member of the Global Partners Network, convened by Business in the Community, and is an organisational stakeholder of the Global Reporting Initiative. Dubai Chamber also tries to invest in the leaders of tomorrow through several initiatives including the University of Dubai, which provides CSR in the annual curriculum, Dubai Chamber’s CSR awareness and qualification programmes for business leaders and the Excellence Award Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Performance Programme which embraces CSR and corporate governance as major pillars.

In addition, Tejar Dubai was launched in 2012 to encourage the next generation of Emirati entrepreneurs. The initiative, under the patronage and support of His Highness Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts, is the first in the UAE to offer a specialised programme and platform for young Emiratis to help them establish their own sustainable businesses to foster entrepreneurship and private sector growth. Not only does the initiative provide young UAE nationals with access to an extensive development programme, including classroom learning, on-site training, mentoring and business advice, it also gives candidates networking opportunities with local and international business leaders and access to investment capital.

Finally ‘Fursa: Together We Shape Your Future’ is an Emiratisation initiative at Dubai Chamber. Each year a set number of new UAE national graduates are recruited by Dubai Chamber in order to increase the number of locals in our workforce and to impart skills and training to our young generations.

 

Dr. Belaid Rettab is the Senior Director of Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Since 2003, he has established a full-fledged research department that serves the needs of the business community in the fields of business, economics, corporate social responsibility and excellence. Additionally, since 2011, he has worked as an advisor to the UAE Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (TANMIA). In 2007, he restructured the Center for Responsible Business, through which he contributes to shape the perception of some common challenges that businesses in Dubai and the UAE face; while also identifying alternative ways to help businesses move forward with their sustainability agendas. Dr. Rettab has accumulated 25 years of achievements in academic teaching, research, advisory and consultancy work in Europe, Africa and Asia. He is an economist and has lectured micro-economics at Erasmus University where he worked from 1987 to 1998 as a researcher and later as a senior consultant at the Foundation for Economic Research in Rotterdam. He has published dozens of academic articles and research reports relevant to policy makers in the fields of economics, trade, international management, entrepreneurship, public administration and business ethics.

 

See other posts from our articles series 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: 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

Please: CSR is not Ethics in Business

Panel discussion: Medical ethics (plus video)

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

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