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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Panel discusses presence of social justice in business

Published: February 8, 2013
Section: News

’Deis Impact hosted a discussion on Ethics and Social Justice in Business on Monday evening as part of a series of events designed to bring the campus community together while defining social justice. The event sought to answer the question “Just because it’s legal, does it mean it’s ethical?” while defining social justice from a business point of view.

The event included a trio of speakers including Ron Scott, the author and co-founder of People Magazine, Professor Andreas Teuber (PHIL) and Professor Detlev Suderow (BUS). Club sponsors included the Brandeis Investment Club, the American Students Investment Study Connection, the Econ Society and the Brandeis Libertarian Conservative Union (BLCU).

Throughout the event, each of the three speakers offered their perspectives and personal anecdotes to students about their experiences working for large corporations that were successful, as well as those that suffered great losses. The speakers repeatedly attributed a business’ success to its ties with the surrounding community and its charitable causes.

“This event sheds light on social justice practiced in corporate world,” Joshua Nass ’14 of BLCU. “One false stereotype that plagues the corporate world is that all corporate leaders are greedy. Social justice should be practiced by everybody, and it shouldn’t be considered a partisan issue. We should unite around engaging in social justice,” Nass concluded, as he introduced Scott to the audience.

As Scott began to address the audience, he spoke about the biography he had recently written of Mitt Romney, “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at The Man and His Politics.” In his book and before the audience, Scott further described Romney’s famous quotation, “Corporations are people too,” personifying often dominating and greedy corporations.

“People are the conscience of an organization,” Scott said. “Good corporate policies often trickle up from the marketing departments of large corporations. Corporate involvement in the community is good for business, because need drives major business decisions.”

Scott continued to discuss how successful business partnerships are almost always charitable. Marriott for instance, partnered with the March of Dimes because the March of Dimes wanted the publicity associated with Marriott. The partnership, according to Scott, was an overwhelming success.

“Corporations are looking for evidence of long term opportunities, where their employees can serve on the boards of these organizations, and as volunteers. Corporations, like people, make decisions to get involved in projects that are worthy and needed and beneficial and measurable. If the U.S. government were as demanding, it is likely that we never would have  heard of the Tea Party or of Libertarians. Mitt Romney was right when he said that corporations are people too,” Scott said.

Following Scott, Teuber spoke about the philosophical meanings of morality and social justice.

“It’s interesting to think that we would care about social justice at all because it means caring for people that aren’t members of our own family,” Teuber began. “We care for strangers halfway around the world. We want to give to famine relief efforts and to do something about world poverty. It is unusual that we would be willing to do this. That we would reach out to those who don’t have an immediate relation to ourselves and that don’t seem to do something immediately for you or me.”

Teuber elaborated by saying that morality is often contrasted with egoism, and he asked how it is possible that morality is a standard in a world that is founded in self interest. Business especially, he said, seems to be concerned with self interest and doing what is best to gain a profit.

“We tend to separate business from the notion of social justice. We think business is not in the ‘business’ of social justice,” Teuber said.

Following Teuber’s remarks, Suderow ’70, spoke to the audience about his years as a student at Brandeis and his time, years later, as a professor at Brandeis’ International Business School. Suderow emphasized how the lessons he learned of social justice at Brandeis had a lasting impact on his professional career.

“The sixties was a time of revolution at Brandeis, and the beginning of major social change, which had a lasting impact on the business world,” Suderow said. “First there was the Civil Rights movement. This had a lasting impact because of the fact that injustices were not just considered wrong but that they also had serious detrimental social consequences. Second came the anti-war movement. What was pertinent about the anti-war movement was that, as a result of that movement, I went into a career based on the idea that large communities can change social movements and countries. I learned that I could change large systems.”

Suderow continued by describing his chosen and eventual career paths following his graduation from Brandeis in 1970.

“After I graduated, I did what most people of our generation did. I thought all that stood for evil was embodied by business. None of my classmates wanted to go into business. And yet, to this day, I teach in the undergraduate business school. My first job after college dealt with social justice. Then some economic realities started to dawn on me and my wife, so she suggested I go out and get a real job and stop saving the world and make some money,” Suderow said.

Together, Scott, Teuber and Suderow strongly advised the audience to push business to be the social justice-promoting businesses they ought to be, by holding businesses accountable.

“If you don’t,” Suderow warned, “they will pursue their interest of making as much money for themselves as possible, which, unfortunately, is human nature.”