Riaz Tejani is an associate professor of business ethics at the University of Redlands who can comment on ethical business issues rising out of the pandemic.
“Following ethical principles in times of wealth and social tranquility is easy. People share, businesses honor employees and customers, and governments balance growth with sustainability. But take the same ethical principles and drop them into a time of scarcity and panic, and the world looks very different.
“The COVID-19 global public health emergency has demonstrated this all too well for a new generation to cringe and learn. Determining ‘the right thing to do’ has gotten much harder now. Do you keep your business open to serve the public or shutter to protect employees? Do you raise prices on necessities or keep them low to allow easy access—knowing all the while that hoarders will themselves ‘buy low and sell high.’ And if you’re a member of the United States Senate in possession of early intelligence briefings, do you sell your personal stockholding because you know, before most Americans, that the whole economy is about to plummet?
“Facing us with such questions like never before, COVID-19 is both a scourge and an opportunity. It is a scourge not only because it is hurting and killing, but because it is doing so to people in near-total isolation from families, friends, communities, and society. Once diagnosed or suspected of having the disease, we are atomized, severed from loved ones and visitors in a way that defies human tendencies to need empathy and care. But it is an opportunity for leaders and organizations to reflect on their values—on the ways that they once construed ‘the right thing to do.’
“While the disaster proves to be a moment for ethical self-examination, and one would hope it is used to full advantage, it is probably only the latest in a string of epochal events that include the 2008 financial crisis, and the 2001 9/11 attacks. When it comes to corporate ethics in times of global crisis, we are seeing yet again that heroes aren’t made they are born—and sadly not very often.”
Riaz Tejani is an associate professor of business ethics. His research examines problems in legal and business ethics with a focus on race and class inequality, access to justice, and higher education. Riaz’s first book, Law Mart: Justice, Access, and For-Profit Law Schools (2017), is an ethnographic account of for-profit legal education during and after the global financial crisis. His second book, Law and Society Today, critically surveys contemporary themes in socio-legal studies after “law and economics”. Riaz serves on the National Advisory Council of the non-profit research center Law School Transparency, and his recent articles have appeared in American Ethnologist, U.C. Irvine Law Review, and Political and Legal Anthropology Review. His work has been cited or reviewed in outlets including the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal Forum, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, The Nation, Huffington Post, Salon, and NPR.
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