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Why politics and business ethics don’t match

You most likely know the expression “revolving door,” used for a movement of personnel between roles as legislators and regulators and the industries affected by the legislation and regulation.

In past weeks, a number of events on the global scene made it quite clear that politics and business don’t match and that ethics need to be carefully considered on the intersection of both.

In the hotel industry, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy joins AccorHotels to head the group’s international strategy. This new position comes only months after Mr. Sarkozy lost his bid to become the Republican party’s presidential nominee, and he is still publicly considered one of the party’s key figures.

In Belgium, political heads continue to roll across parties over highly paid (and sometimes fictitious) advisory roles for large telecom operator Telenet and for companies set up as co-ops between various towns.

We also all remember the indignation of the general public and of EU officials when José Manuel Durão Barroso, former Portuguese prime minister and head of the European commission for a decade, move to Goldman Sachs to advise the bank’s clients on Brexit. Although technically no rules or codes of conduct were breached, more than 150,000 people signed a petition drafted by EU staff criticising his decision as “morally reprehensible.”

The lines of separation between politicians and business when the former are in office, and for quite a while after they have left office, should be thick. In fact, that’s one of the few places where, in my view, we need a wall.

An even more intense debate rages over reverse transitions: leading business executives taking top posts in government in the new U.S. administration, starting with Donald Trump himself, Rex  Tillerson and others.

All businesses are continuously on a journey to become better and more responsible. No company operating in a global context can claim to hold the holy grail of business ethics. Having the basics in place, like a culture of ethics combined with solid processes and policies around ethics, human rights, anti-bribery, etc., can get you a long way.

Additionally, external validation of an organization’s business ethics is useful and done for example by the Ethisphere Institute. For eight years in a row, Rezidor has been assessed by Ethisphere and listed as one of the world’s most ethical companies. See the full list here.

Consumers have the power to vote with their money, and they will. Various tools are becoming available to make responsible consumption choices easier, for example the Google Chrome extension and app https://donegood.co/#.

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