Ethics, profit can both work in business world, Vatican official says

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A new political and business mentality "that does not exclude but transcends profit" is both necessary and possible, a Vatican official told a United Nations meeting.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said the first step toward this goal is to address "with urgency and effectiveness" the "current situation of inequality and of exclusion which affects too many people." The second step requires placing the economy "within a context where human persons have priority, are free to contribute their talents and their dignity is properly recognized."

The archbishop spoke Wednesday at a meeting of the United Nations' third "Forum on Business and Human Rights."

While the international community and some businesses and civil society groups have engaged in raising awareness "that respect of human rights in the long run is also good business... the financial crisis has demonstrated the difficulty of relying on business to voluntarily self-regulate," he said.

"Experience shows that further steps are required in the construction of a stronger business and human rights regime, including the development of national action plans on business and human rights," he continued.

He noted how poor countries suffer the inequality most, when the rights of big businesses are reinforced by laws while their obligations to their employees and the local community are only backed by guidelines. He also criticized businesses that "escape territoriality and carve for themselves an 'in-between' existence" to evade taxation and other legislation in view of maximizing their profits.

"But profit cannot be the only rational goal of business activity, as Pope Francis and other religious leaders tell us," he said. "When human rights are neglected, a systemic exclusion of the vulnerable comes about."

Tomasi proposed that an action plan or document of guiding principles "would raise moral standards, change the way international corporations understand their role and activity, and help clarify the extraterritorial obligations of states regarding the acts of their companies in other countries." Such a document would include a vision of business that "cares for the common good without giving up profit," he continued.

And while business activity has been fundamental in stimulating positive change and improvements in society, the problems of "environmental degradation, violent conflicts, forced resettlement [and] the rapid fluctuation" in prices of commodities as the result of business activities continue.

"In our globally interconnected world, people living in poverty are keenly aware, from their exposure to mass and social media, that their well-being is often determined by decisions made by leaders and policy makers they have little opportunity to influence. At the root of this situation is an individualistic ideology," he said.

"What is needed is a renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility," he said.

Tomasi recognized that "many men and women of great personal honesty and integrity" comprise the international business community.

Citing Pope Francis, he said business must first be understood as a "noble" vocation, offering "occasions of encounter, of dialogue, of cooperation, of recognized rights and of services rendered, of dignity affirmed in work."

But for this to happen, the archbishop continued, the dignity of the human person must always be central and the tendency to place money as the main goal must be countered so that choices can be made to "promote the social and economic well-being of the whole of humanity."

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