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Ties between religion, wealth examined

Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Business, academic and religious experts have convened on campus for a two-day conference to discuss how Muslim, Christian and Jewish views play roles in business values and ethics – specifically the creation of wealth.

Sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business at Mendoza College, the event, titled “Muslim, Christian and Jewish Views on the Creation of Wealth,” is described as an interfaith conference targeted at business people, academics and researchers, though all events are open to the greater community.

Conference director Georges Enderle, a professor of International Business Ethics at Notre Dame and fellow at the Kellogg and Nanovic Institutes, said the event is attracting leaders from around the world – including the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

“World religions play a major role in influencing business behavior and corporate behavior,” Enderle said. He said the conference will examine “business in an international, global context and what role religions play in business,” specifically the idea of wealth creation.

The conference revolves around the Interfaith Declaration of International Business Ethics, an agreement between members of the three faiths to promote common business values. The four principles of the declaration are justice, mutual respect, stewardship and honesty. The declaration was formulated by leaders in both the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds from 1984-93.

Enderle said Notre Dame is a good place to “search for common ground” during such a conference. He thinks participants will gain a greater awareness of the values all three Abrahamic faith traditions share.

“I’m hoping that we’re realizing that we do have a lot in common – although we are not aware of it,” he said.

The conference, being held in the Mendoza College of Business and also in the Hesburgh Center, began Monday with speakers who gave perspectives on the 12-year-old declaration and thoughts on the idea of wealth creation.

Opening perspective: Reviewing the declaration

Simon Webley, research director of Notre Dame’s Institute of Business Ethics in London, said Monday if he could add one thing to the list of principles included in the Interfaith Declaration of International Business Ethics, he would add trust.

Trust, Webley said, is an extremely prevalent issue given corporate scandals and general mistrust among the public in recent years.

Webley said a recent poll in London revealed that only one-third of the public trusts business.

Trustworthiness in businesses is necessary, Webley said, as many conclude that a business is not successful without trust. Many multinational corporations now include the idea of trust in preambles to agreements and ethics codes, along with statements that say they will strive for integrity, responsibility and trust.

“These values are becoming the norm and form the basis for many corporate [ethics codes],” Webley said, adding the principle of trust to the declaration would round out the changes of business ethics.

Webley also spoke about the context in which the declaration was initially created, a time when the “phenomenon of international business, globalization” was young, he said.

In the more than dozen years since the declaration, talks of ethics and values in business have become increasingly prevalent, going far beyond dealing the original goal of uniting different cultural and religious groups.

Webley cited the United Nations’ decision to create ethical principles for businesses as an example of that.

“The United Nations, for the first time in its history, it entered into agreements not with countries but with corporations,” Webley said, noting the creation of standards for labor and environmental protection and a later addition of guidelines against bribery and extortion.

Webley said that while there is a growth in the use of ethical codes in business worldwide, there is still little emphasis on faith, something the declaration sought to take into consideration.

“There are very few if any examples of [these values and ethics codes] being related to faith,” Webley said before adding an exception. “However, in many Muslim countries, relationship between these values and business is more explicit.”

Speakers this morning are scheduled to address the Muslim, Jewish and Christian views of ethics in business, specifically related to wealth creation, and presenters in the afternoon will address ethical challenges for business leaders, economics and conflicting values, and changing corporate responsibilities.