Decades ago, the most fundamental principle for old-school businesses was honesty. That meant that most — if not all — businesses were focused on being successful without lying to or cheating their customers.
When Taiwan was transforming from an agriculture-based economy to an industrial one and most people were struggling to make ends meet, everyone did what they could and what they should to get by, while both small and large businesses valued their reputations and worked hard to earn their customers’ lifetime trust.
This code of business ethics may sound simple and straightforward, but it is now becoming an increasingly difficult way to do business in Taiwan. Soon, these virtues may vanish entirely, especially if companies and corporations do not learn lessons from the spate of food safety scandals that have emerged in recent years.
Of course, extreme cases of irresponsible food manufacturers may only be one small part of this phenomenon of immoral businesses. Taiwan still has many good companies, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co in the high-tech sector and Wowprime Corp in the restaurant industry. Both of these firms are recognized not only for their management style and ambitions, but also for their willingness to provide employees with a stable working environment, favorable benefits and bonuses.
Regardless, all Taiwanese must consider the following question seriously: In what state is the morality of the commercial sector today?
Even if the public believes the promises made by business leaders of their commitment to fix these problems and the authorities mete out heavy punishments to companies that break the law, all Taiwanese have to deal with the damage that has already been done to the trust between society and the business sector. The public must also think about how the nation can move forward with less fear and more confidence.
The latest food scandal highlights the crisis regarding morality in business, but it also indicates the need to develop a more socially responsible business world, where the spirit of credibility takes center stage. Certainly, it will take time to compel all companies to behave responsibly and it is unrealistic to hope that the adoption of stricter laws and heavier penalties will immediately rectify bad business behavior.
Most important of all, everyone needs to realize that businesses are as much an integral part of society as any other sector and what is needed now more than ever is for society to re-engage the commercial sector to help strengthen its partnership with communities, not alienate it. All the parties involved in this interaction are in the same boat and should endeavour to work together for society to progress.
It is undeniable that Taiwan also needs to adjust its social values, which have in recent years increasingly prized instant success based on short-sighted greed and an egomaniacal mindset.
Still, the bottom line is that businesses must take their role in society seriously and ensure that what they do is legal, socially responsible and environmentally acceptable. Business have to do this if they are to rebuild their credibility and regain the public’s trust.