Getting to Yes, And

Ethics, Human Rights and a Better Way


Alison Taylor

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Kelly speaks to Alison Taylor, a clinical professor at NYU Stern School of Business and the Executive Director of Ethical Systems, a research collaboration of prominent business school professors working on ethical culture founded by Jonathon Haidt. They discuss her new book, “Higher Ground: How Business Can Do the Right Thing in a Turbulent World.”

This book is so refreshing in it’s view on ethics. You talk about the limits of shareholder capitalism and also how to not get yelled on on Twitter (I still call it Twitter).

“If it's not, ‘Let's focus on shareholder value and don't break the law.’ What is it? And there we pretty quickly get embedded in a very, very, very confusing situation, where a high proportion of the public seem to be extremely cynical about business, and have somewhat of a Gotcha mindset; where you make some single misstep, and then, you know, everybody is piling on on Twitter, which I also still call Twitter. So, that's all very well. There are good reasons for that. I think we can all understand why one might be cynical about being a good business, but there are still people running businesses who have good intentions, who recognize the complexity, who would actually like to do their best and find out what this takes. And another comment I'd make is, there's an enormous amount of bad advice out there.”

So, you’re approach to business ethics really hangs on a company considering human rights. Talk about that.

"Human rights has got a lot going for it. One, it considers the impact of global politics 2. Even more importantly, it considers the respective role of business and the government which sustainability and ESG does not. sustainability and ESG act as if the company is just acting in a sort of vacuum and trying to figure out what problems it's profitable to solve and what problems it isn't without considering the role of other institutions. And then, thirdly, human rights is non-ideological, and it says that individuals are allowed to have values and rights and responsibilities, and that we should not impose our values on people that do not share them. So I think that is also helpful, because we're in this era where we have enormous numbers of people who seem to believe that your corporation, your employer, or the brand you buy from standing up on issues you care about like gun control and immigration and reproductive rights and climate change is somehow a good avenue of representation. It's almost as if the discourse has evolved into companies are kind of like governments.”

And this is important because many people want their companies to speak out on the hottest of the hot button issues, even if they just sell toothpicks.

“I can certainly understand where these ideas come from. We can all understand. We're in a very dysfunctional political era. But once you start to get into the idea that a corporate CEO can somehow represent its employee's positions on an issue like Israel and Palestine, you can quickly see that we have got into a really bonkers place here, and we somehow need to get ourselves to a more sensible discussion, and a more sensible position on what corporations can and cannot achieve.”

Photo Courtesy of Harvard Business Review Press

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