Business Ethics, Mafia Style

Long before Tony Soprano became everybody’s favourite mobster, it was pretty well known that the Mafia — despite it’s reputation for being far from law-abiding — has certain, um, rules…very strict rules, in fact, failure to follow which could result in very serious repercussions. Still, it’s interesting to know that those rules were codified. Here’s the story, from the BBC:

Mafia’s ‘Ten Commandments’ found

Italian police have found what they say is a “Ten Commandments”-style code of behaviour for Mafia members, at the hideout of a captured Mafia boss.
Prohibitions include frequenting bars and looking at friends’ wives, while members are urged to treat their own wives with respect.
The list was found during the arrest of Salvatore Lo Piccolo, the reputed new boss of the Sicilian Mafia.
It is thought to have been drawn up as a “guide to being a good mobster”.

It’s worth pointing out the parallels between the Mafia code and the ethical strictures placed on members of legitimate business enterprises, including:

“#2. Never look at the wives of friends.” (this is roughly parallel to various rules most businesses have regarding sexual improprieties)
“#3. Never be seen with cops.” (i.e., avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest)
“#4. Don’t go to pubs and clubs.” (presumeably this is to make disclosure of ‘company secrets’ less likely)
“#5. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty – even if your wife’s about to give birth.” (every organization promotes loyalty to itself)
“#6. Appointments must absolutely be respected.” (presumeably this is an attempt to minimize the effects of agency problems)
“#8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.” (no explanation required)
“#9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.” (i.e., a basic rule prohibiting fraud)

This highlights the fact that we can meaningfully divide the field of business ethics into two different types of questions: questions about ends, and questions about means. On the one hand, you have questions about what count as legitimate ends for profit-seeking enterprises. Is extortion, pimping, or making cigarettes a legitimate way to make a living? Are those legitimate goals for your company? But on the other hand, we have questions that we can sensibly ask even about organizations whose goals we despise: given that you’re going to make your living selling cocaine or sex or cigarettes or SUV’s, what sorts of rules ought your organization, and its employees, follow along the way? This helps explain why companies can do very well on certain kinds of ethics/CSR rankings, despite being in problematic industries.

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