The CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) Busisiwe Mavuso told the recent launch of the GIBS Ethics Barometer in Johannesburg that there “is still a lot business can do to contribute to the task of social cohesion.”

The Ethics Barometer, compiled by the GIBS Ethics and Governance Think Tank in partnership with Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), draws on a Harvard Business School tool, adapted to South Africa’s issues and challenges. Fifteen leading companies from diverse sectors were surveyed to establish this comprehensive benchmark of South African business ethics.   

When asked whether it is the responsibility of business to correct South Africa’s historical wrongs through transformation, Mavuso said for corporate South Africa to represent the demographics of the country, business will “have to reflect and shift their approach from transformation as a compliance issues to transformation as an ethical imperative.

“Racial tension has escalated and there is a lot that we need to do as business to encourage social cohesion. We are failing to see beyond our noses.”

“As business we should challenge ourselves to do more,” she continued. “The trust deficit between employees and leaders is an indictment on us as leaders. If we can’t be trusted by our employees, are we truly leaders?”

Joining Mavuso at this launch, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said “Injustice is unsustainable”. Business should be considered a citizen of South Africa, with rights and responsibilities: “In a nation as challenged as ours, you need government, civil society and the corporate sector working together.”

Mogoeng said he didn’t believe harsh punishments would act as a deterrent against unethical behaviour, but that people must understand it is in their interest to do the right thing. “We must expose unethical behaviour, have strong institutions in place and name and shame all that are not doing the right thing.”

It is the duty of South Africa’s leaders to find peaceful and enduring solutions for our problems, he said. “As leaders of integrity, it is our responsibility to deal with problems of racism and discrimination.  We need to work aggressively towards crushing this polarising nonsense of racism and unite our people in a genuine peace in this country. We must work to heal the divisions of the past, as our Constitution says.”

Nonkululeko Nyembezi, chair of the JSE and BLSA, called ethics “the defining business issue of our time” and said leaders should strive to create corporations who will do the right thing, even when they are not under scrutiny.

Director of the GIBS Ethics and Governance Think Tank Rabbi Gideon Pogrund explained that the Barometer is an attempt to shift ethics from the periphery to the centre of corporate decision making.