Poverty and the role of business
Thesis (MPhil (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2008.
As poverty continues to impact billions of people across the world – to the extent that millions die daily simply because they are too poor to live – there is a pressing ethical question to ask: Who, if anyone, should be taking moral responsibility to end extreme poverty? The key moral problem that my thesis addresses is that those individuals who should primarily be taking moral responsibility to eradicate extreme poverty because they have the power and thus responsibility to make a real difference are not. My contention is that capitalism as it is currently practiced perpetuates extreme poverty and that the very individuals who have the greatest power to eradicate poverty do not view this as a real ethical challenge nor as their primary responsibility to address. I argue that these individuals are global corporate business leaders and that extreme poverty will only be eradicated when these leaders take moral responsibility to apply capitalism in a far more sustainable way - a way that has continuity for future generations and that is fundamentally just towards all human beings. The practice of sustainable capitalism as a solution to extreme poverty is dependent on a ‘critical mass’ of business leaders acting in a way that displays virtuous moral character and sets the example for others to follow. I will assume as a starting point that global poverty does exist and that people dying of poverty when others have far in excess of their needs cannot be ethically justified, irrespective of which moral theory it is viewed from. My thesis will commence by assessing the virtue of virtue ethics theory in comparison to other moral theories and I will illustrate that virtue ethics theory is most appropriate in addressing the moral problem of extreme poverty because it places moral responsibility firmly on the individual human being rather than on any metaphysical principle or context that exists ‘above’ the individual. In my analysis of the relationship between virtue and justice, I will specifically argue that capitalism as it is currently being practiced is unjust and unsustainable. I will further argue that it does not represent Aristotle’s ideal of ‘the good life’ for all and that the outdated modernist principles on which capitalism is currently premised, need to be challenged. Since global corporate business leaders are both the architects of capitalism as we currently experience it and the greatest beneficiaries of it, they have the corresponding greatest moral responsibility to act to eradicate extreme poverty. Business leaders need to take primary moral responsibility to eradicate extreme poverty through practicing a more just and sustainable form of capitalism that is inclusive of all, balancing society and profit needs. In closing I will propose that the African humanist concept of ‘ubuntu’ provides a unique opportunity in South Africa to inform an ethical consciousness that could underpin a future sustainable capitalist approach and perhaps serve as an example to influence global corporate business leaders.