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The ethical wellbeing of society and of business

“The productive efficiency of a company, that which aims to assess its development not only on financial parameters, but also human and social ones, is becoming increasingly good at giving value to the professional, spiritual and other individual skills, capabilities and creativity of that company’s employees. Thus, the primary factor in productivity, more important that profits and capital, is the people at work and the value given to the environment around them, especially family and the community.” This is not a view of business, of the entrepreneur or of the workforce out of a modern textbook on business management, but rather that of Cesare Nosiglia, the Archbishop of Turin, a view he expressed in early July during an address to small-business owners for an event organised by API Torino, the association of small and medium enterprise in one of Italy’s most exploited areas industrially speaking.

It is a view that well represents the Catholic Church’s current interpretation of the link between production and the economy, enterprise and social wellbeing, capital and employment, and which shows a different take on concepts such as corporate social responsibility, the actions of a business within a given social context, the role of the worker, and organisational conflict.

Entitled Etica, imprese, società e benessere (Ethics, enterprise, society and wellbeing), this address by Nosiglia doesn’t give preferential treatment to anyone, but rather speaks of a “generational pact” for coming out of the current crisis, one which brings together institutions, young people, business, and other cultural forces. In Nosiglia’s words, “The current economic challenges point to difficulties to come and which are to be considered with care and dealt with through astute strategy, one which brings together the forces of culture (i.e. education), business, politics, and society in managing this period with wisdom and a spirit of solidarity with a view toward a social and generational pact that looks to the future of our territory and which values businesses that, despite it all, are managing to survive and are seeking new market outlets for dealing with these difficult times.”

In other words, together we can survive the crisis – not together in spirit alone, but rather looking towards a new culture of enterprise and of work with particular emphasis on the needs of capital, of the workers, and of society as a whole, and, as the Archbishop explained, the Church has a great responsibility as an institution made up of individual “Christian entrepreneurs”, who he calls upon to act as such, including in business.

As Nosiglia said, “We need to weigh the fact that the workplace, production, the laws of economics and of the marketplace come with a series of challenges, which may, at times, appear insurmountable and which, in any event, create tension, conflict and injustice.” This is a critical, if delicate, passage with the Archbishop of Turin says must be met with the help not only of religion, but also of the aspects of ethics that “each of us feels within ourselves as individuals”.

Thus, the ethics of business and profits end up tying in with those of Christianity and society. This is nothing new, but now it features an important element, underscored by the Archbishop and which may be clearer now than it once was, i.e. that challenges are overcome through the commitment of us all, Christians and non-Christians, business leaders and the workers.

A read of Nosiglia’s address can raise many questions as to how to act within society and in business and may cast doubts on existing paradigms – a read that would be good for us all.

“Etica, imprese, società e benessere”

An address by the Archbishop of Turin, Monsignor Cesare Nosiglia

Turin, 2 July 2014