Responsible Lobbying

Ethical Corporation magazine has an interesting article today about How business can lobby responsibly.

Some experts on ethical lobbying offered some tips at a London conference this week
Allegations of undue corporate influence of government officials are never far from the news these days.

Recently the UK’s Guardian newspaper detailed how mobile operators are aggressively lobbying Brussels over EU plans to limit expensive roaming charges.

Partly in response to greater awareness of business lobbying, one of the City’s biggest investors, F&C asset management, which manages over £110 billion for various clients, sponsored a report last year on responsible lobbying.

Speaking at the Business in the Community annual conference in London on Tuesday, Karina Litvack, head of governance for F&C, said that the US lobbying system is viewed by many as “institutionalised bribery”.

The issue of lobbying is an interesting & complicated one, and one worthy of more attention than it’s received in the business ethics literature.

On one hand, lobbying is just a particular kind of expression of an opinion, and thus ought to be protected by freedom of expression.

On the other hand, we all realize that the lobbying efforts of a company like Shell or Wal-Mart or GlaxoSmithKline (or of an entire industry association) is quite different from the letter written by the average citizen to his or her elected representative. Corporations often have the money required to hire very, very good lobbyists, who are well-compensated for being very, very convincing.

I think the interesting philosophical question here has to do with what limits (if any) should be placed on the ability of companies to influence public policy. Even quite radical defenders of the free-market (people who often deny that companies have any significant social responsibilities) typically agree that companies do have a responsibility to play according some fairly narrow interpretation of the written and unwritten rules of the game. OK, so, gotta follow the rules of the game. We all agree on that. The question at hand, though, has to do with the ability of companies to influence — indeed, sometimes to determine — what the rules of that very game will be.

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