The Oath. Has It Really Come to This?

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The medical field has one that dates back to the 5th century BC and now about 2,600 years later an oath is taking shape for students of the Master’s of Business Administration degree. We here at the Inspired Economist clearly hold Net Impact in high regard. After all, we’ve seen articles on their sustainable MBA rankings, looked at their report on how to get a job in the field of sustainability and just this past year, one of our reporters took to the streets to provide live coverage of the annual Net Impact Conference. I myself have been a member for a number of years and it is undoubtedly a great and important organization. However, I just don’t get “the Oath”.

Over the last year or two, Net Impact has teamed up with the Oath Project to create a document for MBA students (and professionals) to sign which “is a step toward fulfilling the promise of business people as professionals, who hold ourselves to a higher standard”. Last year over 40 business schools promoted the oath and over 5,000 people signed it.

Obviously, oaths are non-binding agreements, just like poor moral and ethical conduct is not necessarily punishable by law, however the desired effect is to solidify one’s ethical and moral decision making by reflecting on this non-binding agreement. Doctor’s have taken the Hippocratic Oath for millennia and rightfully so. They are working directly with the livelihood of the people they care for and must understand that they are required to conduct themselves and make decisions in a manner that is best for their patients. In business, things are not so cut and dry.

Over the past 15 years or so (and many instances earlier) big businesses and those running them have rightfully been vilified for various unscrupulous activities. Whether it was Enron, Worldcom, oil companies or any number of others, the public is well aware of the lack of a moral and ethical compass that has often lead to a CEO’s and a company’s downfall. However, I’m not sure an oath would save these types.

Now, as a member of Net Impact and a writer for a website that promotes CSR, I am in no way condemning the idea of responsible business. I’m extremely happy that it’s growing both in the corporate world and in academic settings and I hope it continues to do so. My question is simply whether an oath for MBA students matters or not. There will always be bad seeds in any group and the prospect of squeezing one more dollar of profit out, regardless of ethical or moral issues will always be driving this small (hopefully) group. On the other hand, as I mentioned, there is a growing group of those committed to responsible business regardless of whether they have signed a piece of paper or not.

Perhaps an action with more impact would be for those who are committed to the “responsible” business ethos to prove to all business students and the public at large that doing good for the environment and the community also makes good financial sense. After all, the only way to get a message to the “make money at any cost” group of MBA students is to show them the money.

Image Credit by Adro Madrone via Flickr under a CC license

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