Business integrity in Africa is possible

Cathal Gilbert, project director of Freedom House, speaking on human rights and business ethics. (Johann Barnard)

Cathal Gilbert, project director of Freedom House, speaking on human rights and business ethics. (Johann Barnard)

Athough it is dangerous to make generalisations­ based on ­perceptions, the numerous ­studies and reports on corruption on the continent do little to dispel this image.

Speaking at the Africa Business Conference in Sandton last week, Cathal Gilbert, project director at Freedom House, said that business leaders had a responsibility to ­combat this plague.

“The business environment in sub-Saharan Africa is a dog-eat-dog world,” he said.

“It is competitive and business leaders only get credit when they are successful, when they drive profit and do things that add value. But at the same time we believe business is not isolated from the societies in which they operate.

“Society and the public sector really provide the environment in which business operates and ­business leaders have a moral obligation as citizens of that society to improve that environment.”

The key to overcoming the ills of corruption lies in strong leadership, he said. Importantly, leadership in this context is not dependent on a ­position of authority and it is the responsibility of all in the organisation to provide moral leadership.

One way to promote this culture in organisations is to adopt an ­integrity strategy that provides this moral compass that cuts across business operations and all ­decision-making procedures.

“At the same time we realise the environment that business operate in. The integrity strategy is not a utopian proposal; we recognise that business leaders cannot be saints,” Gilbert said.

He explained this by saying that business leaders need to have their eyes open to moral dilemmas and exercise sound moral judgement.