We may not have done it consciously, but we have the kinds of businesses that we have chosen. Perhaps it is as much by default as by intention, but we have really never asked businesses to behave as we expect other persons to behave – with some meaningful obligations toward the common good, or at least common decency. For most of us, even expecting business to do anything but “make money” is almost a novel idea, perhaps a little naïve – quaint even.
This set of expectations of our businesses is so embedded that it even normalizes phrases in our language that excuse business behavior that, were it exhibited by strangers, much less our friends, would be intolerable, if not downright ghastly. “Nothing personal, it’s just business,” one might say – as they fired their cousin from a job she needed. “Just looking out for shareholder interests,” one might claim, as they priced the repair to a neighbour’s fence at more than the going rate to ensure revenue meets the quarterly targets. These scenarios make us feel uncomfortable, and they should. But why are they sufficient reasons when given by a business to justify all manner of behaviour? The point is, we have come to exempt businesses from some of the basic rules of human decency we tend to keep with one another. Why is that? And more importantly, is it ok? More and more, people are saying “no” and pressuring businesses to behave differently.