Relaxing the Midas Grip
01 June 2003

If love makes the world go round, greed also keeps things moving-but it makes for a stomach-churning ride. Personal greed is rampant-not least where failed company bosses receive seven-figure 'golden handshakes' while their redundant ex-employees are only offered a few thousand pounds. A recent white paper from Britain's Department of Trade and Industry offers hope that these scandals may be addressed, by linking directors' retirement pay-outs to their companies' performance.

A thousand scandals and scams aim to separate Joe Public from his cash. And Mr/Mrs Public's greed often makes them susceptible-as those duped by emails offering them large sums in return for access to their bank accounts know to their cost. Institutional greed causes even more misery than personal greed.

The good news for anti-capitalist protestors and conscientious employers alike is given in a ground-breaking report from Britain's Institute of Business Ethics*, which suggests that ethical companies do best financially. 'These are important, even momentous, findings,' commented The Observer newspaper.

And what of our Western trade systems and institutions? According to Oxfam, 128 million people would be lifted out of poverty if Africa, East Asia, South Asia and Latin America each increased their share of world exports by one per cent. Yet the tariff barriers they face when they export to the West are four times higher than those encountered by rich countries. These barriers cost developing countries twice as much each year as they receive in aid.

There is, of course, a link between institutional and personal greed. Politicians would listen if voters in the West demanded that governments be more generous to the world's needy, even if this affected their own standard of living. If enough shareholders in international conglomerates demanded change, boards would respond.

A whole new climate of public opinion will be needed to shift the way we do business globally. And, on the individual level, we each have an internal Midas to confront.

There is a long way to go. But there is at least one area where the individual can make a difference. Fairtrade products, as our lead story reveals, offer Western consumers the chance to give a fair deal to small farmers in developing nations-and to empower them to improve their lot.

*'Does business ethics pay?' ISBN 0-9539517-3-1