Monday, 12 October 2009

Lakes inspire ethics charter

THE man who tried to warn the financial world that it needed to clean up its act years before it crashed has now jointly launched a new movement to put ethics at the front of public debate.
A new “Twenty First Century Charter” was launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday, October 13.
The authors are Professor David Jackman, formerly head of ethics and education at the Financial Standards Authority, and Cameron Butland, Rector of Grasmere, in the Lake District, where Prof Jackman now lives.
They say the new Charter draws its inspiration from the Chartists of 1848 who sought to effect change in society through a popular movement.
The Chartist movement was one of the most influential mass political movements of nineteenth century Britain and helped create modern parliamentary democracy.
The new Charter is born out of a belief that there is a need for a new debate as a society about its ethical base for this new century, say the authors.
The hope is that when launched the Charter might be adopted by individuals who will use it to govern how they behave in a number of ways.
First, as a personal discipline, so it may be carried on credit card size sheet in a wallet or in a purse, and used to help make everyday choices in the light of a universal set of values. It is to be hoped decisions based on common values might produce a more harmonious and less divided society.
Second, each statement on the Charter can be a focus of discussion and as part of the launch there will be a web site with the facility to provide a forum of discussion.
Third, it is hoped that the Charter will be applied to many different aspects of community life and by organisations. It will probably provoke further specific charters perhaps in the areas of politics, spirituality, education etc.
The authors say it aims to wrestle with significant over-riding themes: financial responsibility, sustainability, continuing inequality, globalisation and demographic pressure – and to see new ways forward in everyday situations and in building community.
The Charter is divided into ten commitments. The first five relate to individual actions – face, stand, recognize, match and see; and the second five apply these actions in a communal way – belong, risk, give, turn and search.
The co-founders will introduce the Charter to members of the press and an invited audience in Committee Room No.5 of the House of Commons on Tuesday (October 13) from when The Twenty First Century Charter is for everyone to sign on the internet:
Cameron Butland said: “The Twenty First Century Charter stands in the tradition of the great 19th century Charter and the social organisations that developed from it, reinterpreted to meet the challenges of today. The Charter is a grass-roots movement committed to engagement in community life and our common future.”
Prof Jackman said: ‘The Charter offers a framework to find our shared values and common ground. This will be vital to deal with the significant challenges ahead. We invite everyone to consider The Charter carefully and to involve others in finding ethical ways forward.’
They say the Charter is independent and not aligned to any political party, cause, creed or interest, but it will strike a chord with those who heard Conservative Party leader David Cameron call for people to confront the culture of irresponsibility at the party’s annual conference at Manchester.
The House of Commons was booked before the recent MPs’ expenses scandal and was more to do with resonance with the Chartists movement than making any political point, said Professor Jackman.
In 2002, in the wake of the crisis at Enron, Professor Jackman wrote a 20-page discussion document, calling for ethics to be accepted as a driving force in the financial sector.
In a section ominously prescient for the more recent crisis, he wrote: “The pressure of short-term gain could be seen to encourage undesirable behaviour. Staff bonus payments may often seem to be geared to pure bottom line success. ..
“Some individuals behave unethically because they think it is worth the risk. This may be related to a short-term agenda, or may be simply personally selfish. People weigh up the pros and cons and take a chance.”
Despite the support of the then chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Howard Davies, not much changed as a result of the report, but Prof Jackman is already taking action to make sure the new charter has an immediate effect.
In a related development he and Mr Butland have set up Grasmere Crucible Community Interest Company to pilot a British Standards Institute standard for a sustainable community.
The community project, with 28 members, will develop a range of sustainable activities, including a community market, employing underused land for a market garden and creating craft workshops, linked to affordable housing for rent.
If the pilot is successful such communities will qualify for a BSI kite mark.

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