Global economic crisis also a values crisis, Davos poll says

January 27, 2010

wefreportThe World Economic Forum, whose annual Davos summit opening today is a favourite gathering for the rich and powerful, has issued an opinion poll showing two-thirds of those surveyed believe the current economic crisis is also a crisis of values. Almost as many singled out business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world. “The poll results point to a trust deficit regarding values in the business world,” the Forum said in a statement.

The fact the Forum conducted this poll may come as a surprise to those who know Davos only from the “CEO in the snow” interviews that flood some cable TV financial broadcasts at this time of year. However, he Forum has widened its scope beyond its initial role as a European management seminar. Since 2001, it has been working with faith communities in inter-faith dialogue, especially between the West and the Muslim world, and more recently a Global Agenda Council on Faith to explore “the challenges that lie in the interactions between religion and society, religion and peacebuilding and religion and business”.

My news story here on the poll gives a summary of its findings. In a few bullet points, they are:

  • 67.8 % said the global economic crisis was “also a crisis of ethics and values”. Only 62.4 % of younger respondents aged 18-23 agreed here but the total jumped to 78.6 % for those aged over 30.
  • 60.9 % said businesses large and small should stress values more, compared with 23 % for politics and 16.1 % for global institutions.
  • Only 12.9 % of the 130,000 people polled said businesses were primarily accountable to their shareholders. 18.2 % said clients and customers, 22.9 % named employees and 46 % cited all of them equally.
  • 39.3 % said honesty, integrity and transparency were the most important values to stress in the global political and economic system, 23.7 % chose respecting others, 19.9 % said considering the effect of actions on others and 17 % said preserving the environment.
  • 54.2 % believed that universal values existed. Among rich countries, Germany was far ahead (64.9 %) of the United States (49.9 %) and France (37.6 %) here.
New York’s Trinity Church dwarfed by Wall Street buildings,18 Aug 2008/Wikikela

The quick takeaway from this is that lots of people believe the economic crisis reveals a crisis of values but they are less clear about what to do about it. Clearly they are not strong on the “shareholder value” school of business thinking.  And only a bit more than half believe that universal values — a possible basis for a more ethical approach to business — actually exist.

The full report includes plenty of interesting information about the countries where the poll was conducted and also short essays by 16 world religious leaders. The essays all stress such fundamental values as concern for the common good, but none get into the nuts and bolts of suggesting policies that businesses can implement to make up for their perceived ethical deficits.

What do you think? Do you have an ethical argument about reforming business that might catch the attention of the rich and powerful now gathered in that luxury village in the Swiss Alps?

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