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Lawfulness means greater competitiveness: the courts push for social responsibility

Lawfulness is a key asset in the competitiveness of a nation, an essential tool in both social and economic development, as reiterated by the Bank of Italy’s director general, Salvatore Rossi. It is a principle of sound democracy and in the relationship between a government and its citizenry, but it is also a condition for fair competition in business and for a positive culture in a transparent, well-regulated marketplace. This is why Assolombarda insists on lawfulness as a cornerstone of projects to drive the Milan area forward (“far volare Milano”, literally: to make Milan fly) and to make the metropolitan area a driver of innovation and economic growth for all of Italy.  Lawfulness as a means of achieving efficiency and efficacy in the justice system and as a means of combatting organised crime.

Presented on 18 January by court president Livia Pomodoro, the 2013 social responsibility report of the Milan Tribunal has a fitting title, “Fare giustizia” (literally: Doing justice), and equally fitting photo of a construction site on its cover, symbolising the attitude typical of Milan of being constantly under construction on a quest to continue improving. Inside, the report speaks to the relationship between the workings of justice and the attractiveness, competitiveness and the quality of life and of the job market in a given area, while also emphasising the open dialog between the courts, the other institutions and all of the various stakeholders (e.g. associations, businesses, unions and social partners in general) and looking at the performance of the Milan justice machine as compared to the Italian average, as well as to the justice systems in other countries where things work better than here.

Take, for example, the time it takes to settle a civil dispute in a Milan court of first instance: 296 days, 60 more than the average of 238 for all OECD countries, but still well below the Italian average of 564 days. Greater efficiency, but still not enough according to the court’s social responsibility report. Efficacy is to be improved, as well, with sentencing needing to be not only faster, but also able to actually ensure that justice is done. Much has been done in Milan to computerise processes, to promote the settling of disputes out of court, to work through the backlog of cases, and to improve the efficiency of the corporate-law court system, but there is still much that needs to be done. Everybody knows it, and businesses and industry associations are ready to lend a hand and to contribute their ideas.

There is also another area in which Assolombarda is focusing its efforts concerning lawfulness. The association has launched a series of initiatives to protect businesses from the unfair competition coming from organised crime and has declared (in Corriere della Sera on 11 January) its support for the anti-mafia efforts of the Milan public prosecutor’s office and their investigations into the perverse relationship between the organised-crime families of the ‘Ndrangheta and unscrupulous business people looking for illegal shortcuts in business.

Competition is a cornerstone of any good culture of enterprise, so long as that competition is open, follows the rules, and is played out in line with the underlying principles of a fair market, i.e. good quality, the best price, the most innovative product, and the most efficient service. This is nothing like what happens in a mafia-run business, where many other elements come into play, such as: violence in dealing with competitors and strong-arming suppliers; bribing public officials; misrepresentation in employee relations and relations based on threats and the frequent use of “off-book” workers; tax evasion; and “black-market” lending of laundered money that is easy to obtain and comes at a very low cost. “The mafia gives bread and death,” penned a courageous newspaper, L’Ora, in 1958 for the first of its documented major inquiries into organised crime: the bread of a broken, distorted economy, and death for those who don’t fall in line.

Despite successful court investigations, criminal trials and various preventive measures, organised crime continues to taint Italy’s economic fabric, and not only in the south (in regions like Sicily, Calabria, Campania and parts of Puglia), but also in the metropolitan areas of northern Italy where most of the nation’s wealth is concentrated (“The ‘palm-tree line’ is moving north,” Leonardo Sciascia famously warned), and in Milan this could even threaten the work being done for Expo2015, as well as other major investments and public works that mafia families have had their eye on for some time. As such, authorities were right to sound the alarm and take preventive measures against the rise of organised crime, and these are efforts that should continue and be further strengthened beyond the standard bureaucratic obligations of anti-mafia certification.

It would also be wise for businesses and industry associations to work hard to increase awareness of these issues throughout enterprise. In times of crisis, some may well be tempted to accept an offer of help coming, directly or indirectly, from a mafia boss or family in the form of easy credit from outside the banking system or the silencing of a tough competitor or aggressive trade union. As Assolombarda has clearly stated, shortcuts will not be tolerated, and shortcuts can be dangerous. Working with the mob is like heading down a blind alley. Once you’re in, there’s no way out, and the unscrupulous businessman has no choice but to support the interests of the mafia and, often, to lose everything he has. “Bread and death” indeed.