The concept of business ethics started gaining momentum in the late 1970s and 1980s and gained ground in the 1990s. Ethical behaviour is often promoted by companies as part of their social corporate responsibility.
This was a result of the growing consciousness by consumers that companies need to protect the environment and communities that host them as a payback for using the resources that particular community has. In Malta some big organisations embark on similar campaigns especially in aid of the Community Chest Fund. We know and expect companies to act responsibly and the profit motive should not guide the business blindly.
I fully support the concept of a free market as it generates wealth and encourages individual creativity to flourish. Governments sought to regularise the free market in order to maximise its benefits and minimise the social costs of businesses. It is impossible for the government to control each and every aspect of business, and it shouldn’t be.
We should be responsible for our actions and be ethical. Being ethical implies that even if there is not any law that prohibits an activity in general or in certain places, business should refrain from doing it. Unfortunately such situations are the ideal despite the few who practise it.
Lately I have been following a debate online which is heating up in Cottonera regarding the gaming outlets currently at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority awaiting approval. I was particularly interested in this issue as it seems incomprehensible how authorities should allow such outlets to operate there. Despite local plans having some clauses in this regard that do not allow such outlets in proximity of places that are frequented by children or close to schools, there is no such legislation that prohibits gaming outlets in particular areas. Gaming outlets have been regulated by the government and this was an important step in the right direction.
This non-existence of a regulatory framework that prohibits such developments in certain areas seems to be justifying planning applications.
However, shouldn’t authorities consider ethical aspects and social consequences of such activities? I have read quite a substantial number of articles and it seems that gaming has had both positive and negative effects on the communities that host them, but these effects depend on the type and nature of community that is hosting them.
If we were to ignore for a while the ethical considerations, communities with a thriving tourism industry might benefit from these outlets albeit it ultimately depends on what type of gamblers such activities attract. However, when one considers Cottonera, the picture changes dramatically.
Cottonera does not have a thriving tourist industry yet and it is unclear what market these outlets will be targeting. Will they be targeting locals? Possibly yes as there is no other audience they can attract. It is worth mentioning that these outlets will be simply small shops with slot machines! One cannot compare them to casinos as these often offer ancillary services such as restaurants.
In addition, Cottonera is already plagued by social problems. The unemployment rate is high and a good number of people are on social benefits. Therefore the target market is not affluent enough to afford gambling. If we were to be responsible we would try to contain these problems if not tackle them. In these last years there have been initiatives toward this aim. But would these gaming outlets be making the problems worse?
I do not agree that the state should control our lives – everyone should be responsible for his/her actions. But when the social costs outweigh the benefits of gaming by 3:1, as studies indicate, then the state has to intervene.
The state should free the business industry from the shackles of bureaucracy in order to generate more wealth especially if we have to reach the government-set target of 2015.
The free market is an important tool in reaching this aim; but can we ignore the consequences of a laissez-faire attitude?