Business Ethics: A German-Chinese Dialogue

August 22, 2013

A Discussion on the Role of Culture, the Lens of History and its Impact on the Global Economy and Society Today

A Discussion on the Role of Culture, the Lens of History and its Impact on the Global Economy and Society Today


The fourth edition of “Cultural China & Global Citizen” brought together leading figures in business ethics from China and Germany.  The panel consisted of Dr. TU Weiming, Chairman, CKGSB Committee on the Humanities and Honorary Professor, Dr. Klaus Leisinger, Chairman of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development   and Dr. Josef Wieland, Chairman of the German Business Ethics Network and winner of the Max Weber Prize for Business Ethics. The speakers shared their views on globalization and business ethics, focusing on the importance of transparency and transcultural business practices.

Dr. Klaus Leisinger began by noting that globally, corporations are ranked amongst the lowest in trustworthiness compared to institutions such as NGOs, scientific and academic institutions. This indicates that they do not operate by the standards that society expects them to. He asserted that the need for Corporate Responsibility is more salient than ever before, and companies cannot simply claim their legality in certain localities without respecting international standards. Dr. Leisinger declared, “no good company should work under a bad law”, emphasizing legitimacy over legality. Dr. Leisinger urged companies to not only list their general guidelines with regards to their responsibilities to the society, but also practically apply those guidelines and align them to their management practices and key performance indicators.

 Prof. Josef Wieland offered his insights on the global economy, declaring that we are living in an exciting time when extra-territorial laws and standards are gaining increasing importance. Today, a British manager can be brought to justice in the U.S. because of his agent’s work in Malaysia. Globalization, however, has also resulted in institutional deficits with no “world-wide referees” to moderate the globalized business landscape. Dr. Wieland emphasized the need for globally accepted norms and that businesses and companies are in the forefront of this movement. He also lauded the emergence of companies which are now not only furnishing their financial reports but also other performance indicators such as social and environmental impacts.

Finally, Prof. TU Weiming, who led the establishment of the Humanities in the CKGSB’s extensive curriculum, emphasized the importance of having both social and economic capital in the 21st century. He asserted the need for dialogue and understanding of ethnic, gender and cultural diversity, especially in the China context. Prof. Tu stressed that the idea of the “Confucian-scholar business man” has been to a large extent eroded in China despite its prominence in nations such as South Korea and Japan. He asserted that one of CKGSB’s goals is to rekindle this concept in business leaders today, so that ethical and commercial values are well-aligned.

Many other topics were covered in this talk including matrixes to evaluate good leadership and effective corporate responsibility. All three speakers affirmed that countries should constantly engage in dialogue, learning from each other’s philosophies and traditions.

The following Q&A session garnered questions from the audience including the media, business professionals and students.  Issues raised include spiritual and philosophical traditions and their effects on the economy, the concept of “Confucian-scholar business man” in China, and social consequences of depleting natural resources. 

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