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Sunday, December 24, 2006

THE BEST OF YEARS, THE WORST OF YEARS

It's time again to look back at egregious ethical lapses of the past year. As usual, however, believing that as much can be learned from those who do the right thing as from those who don't, I'm sticking with my tradition of offering positive alternatives that stand in stark contrast to the misguided actions or wayward intents of many people in the news.

AN IMPLAUSIBLE `PRETEXT'

In trying to find out who might be leaking information about their company, Hewlett-Packard executives engaged in "pretexting," which involved posing as someone else in order to gain access to the telephone records of some of their own board members, as well as those of journalists covering the company. As a result the company's reputation was tarnished and its former board chairwoman and others face criminal charges. [UPDATE: To here an interview I gave on NPR's "Here and Now" on HP's pretexting on January 12, 2007, you can click on Here and Now : Prosecutors Press Charges in Hewlett-Packard Case ...]

A much better example is provided by Nike. The athletic-shoe company has turned around its previous image as a company that didn't pay attention to the sweatshop conditions in some of the foreign plants at which its products were assembled. This year Nike was recognized by the Sustain Ability Global Reporters Program as the top company in the United States, and one of the top 10 in the world, in reporting the working, environmental and community conditions wherever it does business.

Once viewed as a pariah, Nike now is a leader in making its supply chains transparent enough to safeguard employee rights.

[For more on Sustain Ability's Report, see CSRwire.com - News from Nike, Inc.: SustainAbility Names Nike Top ... and for more on overcoming sweatshop conditions, see Rising Above Sweatshops, edited by Laura Hartman, Denis Arnold, and Richard Wokutch (Praeger, 2003) at Rising above Sweatshops: Innovative Approac... ]

IF YOU CAN'T SAY SOMETHING GOOD...

I was relieved when News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch finally pulled the plug on O.J. Simpson's book and television interview about how he might have murdered his ex-wife. More than enough said.

But not nearly enough has been said about Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his book Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty (Public Affairs, 2003). Yunus makes extremely small, unsecured loans to very poor people to help them lift themselves out of poverty. While initially many were skeptical of his efforts, the default rate on his loans is negligible and the impact of the loans on his borrowers has been transformational.

This year Yunus and his Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. It brought renewed attention to Yunus and his efforts, but they deserve even more. [Yunus' book is available at Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the B...]

IN VINO VERITAS?

On July 28 Mel Gibson was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. During the arrest he let loose a barrage of anti-Semitic and sexist statements. The next day he apologized, saying that he was ashamed of everything he had said. Gibson's outburst raised the suspicion of deep-seated feelings of hatred toward particular groups in him and perhaps in others as well.

Compare that to an incident that occurred in September on the campus of the University of Minnesota. A member of Hillel, the Jewish student association, received a call from a member of the Muslim Student Association who on Sept. 9 had noticed a swastika painted on a sidewalk near the Minneapolis campus.

Members of the two groups, as well as those of the Episcopal Student Association and others, met to discuss the issue. The students saw the incident not as a Jewish, Muslim or Christian issue, but as a human issue.

The meeting was the first time the groups had come together, but, according to Lauren Palay -- who, besides being the president of Hillel, is also my niece -- they intend it to be the beginning of a unified commitment to do the right thing and to stand together against any such instances of hate in the future. [I happened to be visiting Minneapolis when this incident occurred. For a fuller report, see the university newspaper's (The Minnesota Daily) story at A message of hate inspires peace - Minnesota Daily]

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