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Social Cohesion - A Jain Perspective: [3.3] Business and Workplace Ethics

Published: 03.11.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

Employment is a major part of the working life of every adult. At present, it appears as if it is separate from social and community life - a job as it were for the purpose of earning money to help pay the bills and go on holiday. All too often, meaning has been stripped off and passion is discouraged. Surveys have shown that employees are expected to switch values and identities when they go to work in order to ‘fit in’ and follow the bosses’ orders.

This is wrong. It will not lead to social cohesion. Purpose and passion have to be infused into work for people to experience real joy and fulfilment. This in turn binds the workforce helping to build a cohesive Britain. Citizens need to be encouraged to find their strengths and given advice that would help them align their careers to their skills and passions.

Jains have always believed that purpose in life should be beyond the material. Death puts paid to all material possessions, so why not live as if one is preparing for the after-life, taking good karma and deeds with them? Work is necessary but should not be divorced from one’s ethics and values and there are many values which are universal.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is aimed at businesses participating in their communities and encouraging employees to get involved. It is not a legal requirement, but a best-practice initiative among corporations. This is a good development which can also help employees discover a sense of purpose and civic responsibility in their work. However, all too often it is subsumed under the corporate drive for greater profits and growth.

Many small and medium-sized companies remain unaware of the opportunities and benefits that CSR can offer. As a result, it too often becomes a marginal and cosmetic exercise rather than a genuine approach to social cohesion. Jains are very strong in this sector and have been a very positive force in encouraging ethical enterprise and socially responsible ways of business. They could become a vital resource for demonstrating how such communities can be nurtured and social capital cultivated. Business co-operatives should be encouraged and models of co-operative working should be developed, promoted and supported.

Social entrepreneurship has always been an important part of Jain business life. One well-known example of a Jain social entrepreneur is the late Meghji Pethraj Shah. In 1919, aged 15, he arrived in Kenya (the under colonial rule) as part of a migration which continued until the middle of the twentieth century. Over the following thirty-five years, he created a business group involved in distribution, manufacturing and finance. From his retirement in 1954 until his death ten years later, Meghji Pethraj Shah devoted much of his time, money and energy to charitable activities, building schools, colleges and hospitals in India and Kenya. Meghraj is still a thriving financial services group operating in several countries including the UK. In Britain, Jains are also integrating their ecological and social concerns with their entrepreneurial skills. In London, for example, a young couple, Nishma and Mahersh Shah, have founded a catering service called Shambhu’s, which provides and publicises healthy and tasty international vegan cooking that leaves a low ecological footprint. They, and other Jains, support animal sanctuaries in the UK, notably HuglettsWood Farm in East Sussex, which operates on the principle of ‘compassion for all life’. Jain temples are being encouraged to collect donations for Hugletts and similar causes under the principle of Jiva Daya. In India, there is a longestablished tradition of Jain panjrapura (animal sanctuaries) funded by social entrepreneurs. It appears that this tradition is starting to take root in the UK.

Businesses need to unpick the notion of profit and unadulterated greed and temper it with balance and sufficiency. This is the only way that they can play a part in social integration and cohesion. They need to embrace nonmaterial and non-monetary values as part of their core mission and to operate by these principles. Accounts need to incorporate the social, environmental and the financial performance of an enterprise - whether or not all aspects are quantifiable.

Interdependence and inter-connectedness of business with society and nature must be fully understood and appreciated by employees and directors. Education and training needs to include these dimensions and leaders should set an example by ensuring that they practice what they preach and act to preserve the planet and its societies.

The Jain complex at Oshwal Centre, Potters Bar, North London is multidimensional - not only is it a community and spiritual space, but it is also a major networking hub where social capital is nurtured and enhanced. Government policy should be targeted at supporting such community initiatives and should understand their multi-dimensional character. Such centres can help in business and employment initiatives, but also in areas such as health education, youth training, cultural understanding and social cohesion. We need to encourage business ethics and co-operative ways of working.

Sources

Published by: Diverse Ethics Ltd diverseethics.com
August 2008 Front Cover Image:
Jain Pooja by Jayni Gudka, London Back Cover Image:
Jain Temple, Potters Bar, London, www.oshwal.org
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  1. Business Ethics
  2. Greed
  3. Jain Temples
  4. Jiva
  5. Jiva Daya
  6. Karma
  7. London
  8. Meghji Pethraj Shah
  9. Oshwal
  10. Oshwal Centre
  11. Panjrapura
  12. Potters Bar
  13. Shambhu’s
  14. Space
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