Speeches & Presentations
by James M. Sylph, Executive Director, Professional Standards
Mar 12, 2009
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Corporate Governance and Ethics
Just before his untimely death in July 2008, Rashad Malik, the Commissioner of the SEC in Pakistan, wrote a very thought-provoking article on ethics and business.
In it, he suggested that ethics, as standards of society, do not exist in a vacuum but have to be evaluated with reference to accepted thresholds, actions, and feelings. To what extent, he asked, can the regulatory environment in a jurisdiction take account of ethical issues? At first sight, regulatory environment or statutory law do not give much attention to core ethical issues. The regulation in any system does not mention ethics and no legal texts refer to ethical concerns. The regulatory environment, however, does take account of ethics, for example, through enforcement and dispute settlement outcomes, which inevitably reflect certain values about how society perceives actions.
In today's environment our thoughts on corporate governance immediately turn to visions of boards of directors rewarding themselves with lavish bonuses or unscrupulous owners creating corporate giants without substance. The names of Madoff and Satyam are on everyone's lips today. In the papers this week, I have seen the initials of seven people accused of swindling Dh 1.8 billion from the Dubai Islamic Bank. A year ago, we were all talking about corporate failure at the Northern Rock Building Society. And before that, the discussion over coffee would have been Enron and WorldCom.
But corporate governance is much bigger than personal gain by a few key individuals in the upper levels of a company. The core of ethical concerns with regard to international economic relations usually comprise human rights, labor standards, environmental protection, and more recently extended to cooperation on anti-terrorism, anti money laundering, and transparency.