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20 December 2017

A week ago Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the UN, surprised friend and foe by declaring that all women who felt assaulted by Donald Trump should be heard. That’s a courageous act for someone who was appointed by Trump himself.

In recent months, #MeToo has exposed the reprehensible behavior of countless (mostly older and successful) men. They have been dismissed and removed from their jobs in large numbers. Why doesn’t that happen with the person who is, as is commonly said, the ‘most powerful man on Earth’? He ‘grabs them by the pussy’, according to his own words. It’s captured on video. That doesn’t matter, though. Now he claims that it isn’t even his voice. Our government leaders worldwide continue to smile at him.

Integrity stands or falls with truthfulness. A director who deliberately doesn’t tell the truth to his supervisory board can be dismissed immediately. What about the president of the world’s most powerful country? Is there any use in talking about integrity at the level of companies and organizations if it is clearly lacking at the highest level?

“Is there any use in talking about integrity at the level of companies and organizations if it is clearly lacking at the highest level?”

As long as we continue to apply multiple standards, we won’t make any progress at all in promoting integrity in the business world and in our society. Most people are convinced that the current American president lacks integrity. He receives support anyway, though. Is it all about power? Economic superiority? The fact is that unethical behavior by the leaders of our world makes all attempts to improve ethics and integrity on others levels a useless effort.

What’s even more concerning, is that perspectives are shifting. Subjects that were covered in the world news and  surprised us two years ago no longer surprise us today. We now accept statements that we would have found unacceptably rude two years ago because we’ve heard them a hundred times already. We’re okay with it for lack of anything better. You’ll get used to everything. That’s because of those bad examples.

This is an extremely dangerous development. If you hear and read a thousand times that Muslims are terrorists, that all Mexicans are illegal deadbeats and that China is destroying your country, the step to launching your atomic bombs left and right is becoming increasingly smaller. My generation was brought up with the notion that you should be terrified of those kinds of sentiments. Amongst other things, it was sentiments like these that led to the murder of many millions of Jewish people. At the time, upstanding citizens like you and me used the excuse that they didn’t know what was going on. Sure. Now it’s happening again. Don’t we know or don’t we want to know?

Corporate governance is about integrity. Integrity in the business world is like a melting lump of butter in a hot soup if the highest political and administrative bodies within a society don’t behave with integrity. In the boardroom this sensitive subject must therefore be prominently on the agenda. Not only the internal integrity, but also that of the surroundings in which the company operates. Every company feels the effects of the political and public system in the country in which it operates, but is also partly responsible for them. No one can just stand on the sidelines. Talking about the integrity of your own organization is only possible if you also look at the integrity of the society in which you operate as a company. Integrity is not a fixed value, but a product of constant reflection and action. It’s just like cooking. All of the ingredients have their own effect and the end result is always determined by all of them together. Every ingredient that you add will alter the soup. And you can’t take back any of the ingredients. Ultimately, all of us are responsible for what goes into that soup and therefore also when it spoils.

This blogpost is also available in Papiamentu. Click here to download a pdf version.

Do you have a question about corporate governance yourself? Please e-mail it to governance@ekvandoorne.com and perhaps your question will be discussed in the next blogpost.