Bridging course

The Ethics Centre to develop ethics bridging course for financial advisers

Bridging course

The Ethics Centre is developing a higher-education ethics course for financial advisers to help them meet the requirements of the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA) reforms.

The Ethics Centre will deliver the pilot ethics and professionalism bridging course for financial advisers in conjunction with an Australian university in late 2019.

Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre, said the course will support financial advice practices as they integrate the FASEA reforms into their operations.

“Our aim is for this pilot course to set the benchmark for ethics education for the financial advice community as it continues to develop into a profession.

“Financial advisers should be encouraged to offer a competitive professional service in all areas but one – their ethics.

“The ideal is for this emerging profession to have a common ethical foundation, enriched by a common understanding informed by a common set of educational experiences. Our hope is that this new course will be widely embraced across the profession – for the good of society and the clients it serves.”

In developing the bridging course, The Ethics Centre will access the expert guidance of an advisory group comprised of peak industry bodies, consumer advocates and leading academics.

It will also build on the Centre’s existing experience in education for financial advisers, having run the Ethical Professional Program for the financial services sector since 2016. The Ethics Centre was named Training Education Provider of the Year in the 2017 Optus MyBusiness Awards for its Ethical Professional Program.

The course will initially be piloted through the university partner, and The Ethics Centre welcomes expressions of interest from other higher-education providers to facilitate the curriculum after the pilot is complete.

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Where do ethics and politics meet?

In the Western philosophical tradition, ethics and politics were frequently deemed to be two sides of a single coin.

Aristotle’s Ethics sought to answer the question of what is a good life for an individual person. His Politics considered what is a good life for a community (a polis). So, for the Ancient Greeks, at least, the good life existed on an unbroken continuum ranging from the personal through the familial to the social.

In some senses, this reflected an older belief that individuals exist as part of society. Indeed, in many cultures – in the Ancient world and today – the idea of an isolated individual makes little sense. Yet, there are a few key moments in Western philosophy when we see the individual emerging.

St Thomas Aquinas argued that no individual or institution has ‘sovereignty’ over the well-informed conscience of the individual.

Renee Descartes placed the self-certain subject at the centre of all knowledge and in doing so undermined the authority of institutions that based their claims to superiority on revelation, tradition or hierarchy. Reason was to take centre stage.

Aquinas and Descartes (along with too many to be named here) helped to set the foundations for a modern form of politics in which the conscientious judgement of the individual takes precedence over that of the community.

Today, we observe a global political landscape in which ethics can be hard to detect. It’s easy to say that many politicians are ruled by naked greed, fear, opinion polls, blind ideology or a lust for power.

 

 

This probably isn’t fair to the many politicians who apply themselves to their responsibilities with care and diligence.

In the end, ethics is about living an examined life – something that should apply whether the choices to be made are those of an individual, a group or a whole society.

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Does ethics have a seat in the house of politics?


What is Free Will ethics?

What is the definition of Free Will ethics?

What is Free Will ethics?

Free Will describes our capacity to make choices that are genuinely our own. With free will comes moral responsibility – our ownership of our good and bad deeds.

That ownership indicates that if we make a choice that is good, we deserve the resulting rewards. If in turn we make a choice that is bad, we probably deserve those consequences as well. In the case of a really bad choice, such as committing murder, we may have to accept severe punishment.

The link between free will and responsibility has both theological and philosophical roots.

Within theology, for example, the claim that humans are ‘made in the image of God’ (a central tenet of major religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is not that they are the physical image of their creator.

Rather, the claim is made that humans are made in the ‘moral image’ of God – which is to say that they are endowed with the ‘divine’ capacity to exercise free will.

Of course, the experience of free will is not limited to those who hold a religious belief. Philosophers also argue that it would be unjust to blame someone for a choice over which they have no control.

Determinism is the belief that all choices are determined by an unbroken chain of cause and effect. Those who believe in ‘determinism’ oppose free will, arguing that that the belief that we are the authors of our own actions is a delusion.

While scientific evidence has found that there is brain activity prior to the sensation of having made a choice, is unable to the resolve the question of which account is correct.

Should that gap close – and free will be proven to be an illusion, then the basis for ascribing guilt to those who act unethically (including criminals) will also be destroyed.

How could we justify punishing a person who claims that they had no choice but to do evil?

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Is free will merely just an illusion?


automated-cars-ethics

Why ethics matters for autonomous cars

Why ethics matters for autonomous cars?

Whether a car is driven by a human or a machine, the choices to be made may have fatal consequences for people using the vehicle or others who are within its reach.

A self-driving car must play dual roles – that of the driver and of the vehicle. As such, there is a ‘de-coupling’ of the factors of responsibility that would normally link a human actor to the actions of a machine under his or her control. That is decision to act and the action itself are both carried out by the vehicle.

Autonomous systems are designed to make choices without regard to the personal preferences of human beings, those who would normally exercise control over decision-making.

Given this, people are naturally invested in understanding how their best interests will be assessed by such a machine (or at least the algorithms that shape – if not determine – its behaviour).

In-built ethics from the ground up

There is a growing demand that the designers, manufacturers and marketers of autonomous vehicles embed ethics into the core design – and then ensure that they are not weakened or neutralised by subsequent owners.

We can accept that humans make stupid decisions all the time, but, we hold autonomous systems to a higher standard.

This is easier said than done – especially when one understands that autonomous vehicles are unlikely ever to be entirely self-sufficient. For example, autonomous vehicles will often be integrated into a network (e.g. geospatial positioning systems) that complements their integrated, onboard systems.

 

A complicated problem

This will exacerbate the difficulty of assigning responsibility in an already complex network of interdependencies.

If there is a failure, will the fault lie with the designer of the hardware, or the software, or the system architecture…or some combination of these and others? What standard of care will count as being sufficient when the actions of each part affects the others and the whole?

This suggests that each design element needs to be informed by the same ethical principles – so as to ensure as much ethical integrity as possible. There is also a need to ensure that human beings are not reduced to the status of being mere ‘network’ elements.

What we mean by this is to ensure the complexity of human interests are not simply weighed in the balance by an expert system that can never really feel the moral weight of the decisions it must make.

For more insights on ethical technology, make sure you download our ‘Ethical by Design‘ guide where we take a detailed look at the principles companies need to consider when designing ethical technology.

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Would you travel in an autonomous car?


Crunch Time for Financial Advisers – Stay or Go?

How can Financial Advisers rebuild trust?

Crunch Time for Financial Advisers – Stay or Go?

It would be no exaggeration to say the Australian financial advice industry is going through a difficult time.

Following years of scandals, and shocking evidence brought to light by the Hayne royal commission, urgent steps are now being taken to “professionalise” the banking and finance sector.

Amongst the headlines: embattled financial services giant AMP is setting aside an eye watering $290 million to compensate customers who received poor financial advice, and a further $35 million annually to improve compliance structures.

All of the major banks have announced their plans to “amputate” financial advice and wealth management from their portfolio of vertically integrated activities.

Many advisers have already lost their jobs. And many more have already announced their intention to leave the industry rather than face greater scrutiny and a new compliance burden.

For those operators planning to stay in business, there’s a new sheriff in town. The Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA) was established by the Federal Government in 2017 to set the education, training and ethical standards of licensed financial advisers in Australia.

FASEA requirements for mandatory education and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) are unlike anything the industry has ever seen.

The push to professionalise the sector is moving with speed. Starting this year, advisers will be required to undertake formal education, in the form of either a full degree or bridging course, plus nine hours of continuing professional development (CDP) annually. Advisers will be required to pass an exam to earn their license and continue to operate. 

What’s the problem?

While the standards mentioned above might sound perfectly reasonable to someone already working within a well established profession such as accountancy or the law, this is unfamiliar territory for many financial advisers.

Many advisers who have been working for years or even decades will be daunted by the demand for serious study and a formal academic qualification. Some advisers have already expressed concern at the financial burden of course fees and lost income. Many others will be daunted by the sheer number of hours required each year to meet FASEA’s standards.

It’s little wonder the industry is going through a crisis of confidence. And while the emphasis has rightly been placed on the rights of the customer, and the many people who have received poor advice, it’s also worth pausing to think about the impact this has on individual advisers – some of whom have been operating honestly and ethically for many years. For such people, and there are many, the avalanche of bad press and community outcry has been difficult to bear.

We know many people become financial advisers because they are passionate about the financial wellbeing of their family, friends and community. They aspire to help people secure economic stability and security whilst avoiding the abundant pitfalls and bad products.

Of Gallup’s Five Essential Elements of Well-being, financial security is at the centre. Practiced ethically and professionally, the work of a financial adviser supports and protects other critical areas of a person’s life. 

This leads to some interesting questions about the overarching purpose of a financial adviser.

Why does this role exist? What purpose does it serve individuals, communities and society at large? What is the overarching public good that can be achieved from a profession that supports, protects and grows a person’s financial wealth?  

Or to look at it another way, what would the world look like without financial advice? If all of the competent advisers were to leave the industry, where does that leave the community?

Advisers who are on the fence about their future should take time to work out what the role of financial advice means to them. Whilst the reputation of the industry may be at its lowest point, it’s a great time to get back to basics and think about the purpose and impact of this type of work.

What is the solution?

The Ethics Centre has had quite a bit of involvement in this story as it’s unfolded.  When the scandal first began to erupt three years ago, we worked with some of the largest advice firms to develop in-house training programs for financial advisers.

We’ve helped inform FASEA’s thinking on ethical standards for the industry. We’re currently working on building a course on ethics and professionalism to be delivered by universities.

We also offer free counselling to individuals via our Ethi-call service – and that includes financial advisers struggling at a career crossroads.

 

For those advisers currently at this point, we’d advise some clear headed thinking about career purpose and priorities. If you think you’d benefit from talking through your dilemma with an impartial counsellor, you are welcome to call Ethi-call.

The service is a free, appointment-based telephone counselling service offered by The Ethics Centre to help people navigate some of life’s toughest decisions.

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Would you travel in an autonomous car?


The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

To understand the ethics of IVF (In vitro fertilisation) we must first consider the ethical status of an embryo.

This is because there is an important distinction to be made between when a ‘human life’ begins and when a ‘person’ begins.

The former (‘human life’) is a biological question – and our best understanding is that human life begins when the human egg is fertilised by sperm or otherwise stimulated to cause cell division to begin.

The latter is an ethical question – as the concept of ‘person’ relates to a being capable of bearing the full range of moral rights and responsibilities.

There are a range of other ethical issues IVF gives rise to:

  • the quality of consent obtained from the parties
  • the motivation of the parents
  • the uses and implications of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis
  • the permissibility of sex-selection (or the choice of embryos for other traits)
  • the storage and fate of surplus embryos.

For most of human history, it was held that a human only became a person after birth. Then, as the science of embryology advanced, it was argued that personhood arose at the moment of conception – a view that made sense given the knowledge of the time.

However, more recent advances in embryology have shown that there is a period (of up to about 14 days after conception) during which it is impossible to ascribe identity to an embryo as the cells lack differentiation.

Given this, even the most conservative ethical position (such as those grounded in religious conviction) should not disallow the creation of an embryo (and even its possible destruction if surplus to the parents’ needs) within the first 14 day window.

 

 

Let’s further explore the grounds of some more common objections. Some people object to the artificial creation of a life that would not be possible if left entirely to nature. Or they might object on the grounds that ‘natural selection’ should be left to do its work. Others object to conception being placed in the hands of mortals (rather than left to God or some other supernatural being).

When covering these objection it’s important to draw attention existing moral values and principles. For example, human beings regularly intervene with natural causes – especially in the realm of medicine – by performing surgery, administering pharmaceuticals and applying other medical technologies.

A critic of IVF would therefore need to demonstrate why all other cases of intervention should be allowed – but not this.

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Is it ethical to intercede in natural selection?


take control of your data

Not too late: regaining control of your data

take control of your data

IT entrepreneur Joanne Cooper wants consumers to be able to decide who holds – and uses – their data. This is why Alexa and Siri are not welcome in her home.

Joanne won’t go to bed with her mobile phone on the bedside table. It is not that she is worried about sleep disturbances – she is more concerned about the potential of hackers to use it as a listening device.

“Because I would be horrified if people heard how loud I snore,” she says.

She is only half-joking. As an entrepreneur in the field of data privacy, she has heard enough horror stories about the hijacking of devices to make her wary of things that most of us now take for granted.

“If my device, just because it happened to be plugged in my room, became a listening device, or a filming device, would that put me in a compromising position? Could I have a ransomware attack?”

(It can happen and has happened. Spyware and Stalkerware are openly advertised for sale.)

Taking back control

Cooper is the founder of ID Exchange – an Australian start-up aiming to allow users to control if, when and to whom they will share their data. The idea is to simplify the process so that people will be able to visit one platform to control access.

This is important because, at present, it is impossible to keep track of who has your data and how much access you have agreed to and whether you have allowed it to be used by third parties. If you decide to revoke that access, the process is difficult and time-consuming.

Big data is big business

The data that belongs to you is liquid gold for businesses wanting to improve their offerings and pinpoint potential customers. It is also vital information for government agencies and a cash pot for hackers.

Apart from the basic name, address, age details, that data can reveal the people to whom you are connected, your finances, health, personality, preferences and where you are located at any point in time.

That information is harvested from everyday interactions with social media, service providers and retailers. For instance, every time you answer a free quiz on Facebook, you are providing someone with data.

Google Assistant uses your data to book appointments

 

With digital identity and personal data-related services expected to be worth $1.58 trillion in the EU alone by 2020, Cooper asks whether we have consciously given permission for that data to be shared and used.

A lack of understanding

Do we realise what we have done when we tick a permission box among screens of densely-worded legalese? When we sign up to a loyalty program?

A study by the Consumer Policy Research Centre finds that 94 per cent of those surveyed did not read privacy policies. Of those that did, two-thirds said they still signed up despite feeling uncomfortable and, of those, 73 per cent said they would not otherwise have been able to access the service.

And, what we are getting in return for that data? Do we really want advertisers to know our weak points, such as when we are in a low mood and susceptible to “retail therapy”? Do we want them to conclude we are expecting a new baby before we have had a chance to announce it to our own families?

Even without criminal intent, limited control over the use of our data can have life-altering consequences when it is used against us in deciding whether we may qualify for insurance, a loan, or a job.

“It is not my intention to create fear or doubt or uncertainty about the future,” explains Cooper. “My passion is to drive education about how we have to become “self-accountable” about the access to our data that will drive a trillion-dollar market,” she says.

“Privacy is a Human Right.”

Cooper was schooled in technology and entrepreneurialism by her father, Tom Cooper, who was one of the Australian IT industry’s pioneers. In the 1980s, he introduced the first IBM Compatible DOS-based computers into this country.

She started working in her father’s company at the age of 15 and has spent the past three decades in a variety of IT sectors, including the PC market, consulting for The Yankee Group, as a cloud specialist for Optus Australia, and financial services with Allianz Australia.

Starting ID Exchange in 2015, Cooper partnered with UK-based platform Digi.me, which aims to round up all the information that companies have collected on individuals, then hand it over those individuals for safekeeping on a cloud storage service of their choosing. Cooper is planning to add in her own business, which would provide the technology to allow people to opt in and opt out of sharing their data easily.

Cooper says she became passionate about the issue of data privacy in 2015, after watching a 60 Minutes television segment about hackers using mobile phones to bug, track and hack people through a “security hole” in the SS7 signaling system.

This “hole” was most recently used to drain bank accounts at Metro Bank in the UK, it was revealed in February.

Lawmakers aim to strengthen data protection

The new European General Data Protection Regulation is a step forward in regaining control of the use of data. Any Australian business that collects data on a person in the EU or has a presence in Europe must comply with the legislation that ensures customers can refuse to give away non-essential information.

If that company then refuses service, it can be fined up to 4 per cent of its global revenue. Companies are required to get clear consent to collect personal data, allows individuals to access the data stored about them, fix it if it is wrong, and have it deleted if they want.

The advance of the “internet of things” means that everyday objects are being computerised and are capable of collecting and transmitting data about us and how we use them. A robotic vacuum cleaner can, for instance, record the dimensions of your home. Smart lighting can take note of when you are home. Your car knows exactly where you have gone.

For this reason, Cooper says she will not have voice-activated assistants – such as Google’s Home, Amazon Echo’s Alexa or Facebook’s Portal – in her home. “It has crossed over the creepy line,” she says.

“All that data can be used in machine learning. They know what time you are in the house, what room you are in, how many people are in the conversation, keywords.”

Your data can be compromised

Speculation that Alexa is spying on us by storing our private conversations has been dismissed by fact-checking website Politifact, although researchers have found the device can be hacked.

The devices are “always-on” to listen for an activating keyword, but the ambient noise is recorded one second at a time, with each second dumped and replaced until it hears a keyword like “Alexa”.

However, direct commands to those two assistants are recorded and stored on company servers. That data, which can be reviewed and deleted by users, is used to a different extent by the manufacturers.

Google uses the data to build out your profile, which helps advertisers target you. Amazon keeps the data to itself but may use that to sell you products and services through its own businesses. For instance, the company has been granted a patent to recommend cough sweets and soup to those who cough or sniff while speaking to their Echo.

In discussions about rising concerns about the use and misuse of our data, Cooper says she is frustrated by those who tell her that “privacy is dead” or “the horse has bolted”. She says it is not too late to regain control of our data.

“It is hard to fix, it is complex, it is a u-turn in some areas, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t do it.”

It was not that long ago that publicly disagreeing with your employer’s business strategy or staging a protest without the protection of a union, would have been a sackable offence.

But not today – if you are among the business “elite”.

Last year, 4,000 Google employees signed a letter of protest about an artificial intelligence project with the Department of Defense. Google agreed not to renew the contract. No-one was fired.

Also at Google, employees won concessions after 20,000 of them walked out protesting the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases. Everyone kept their jobs.

Consulting firms Deloitte and McKinsey & Company and Microsoft have come under pressure from employees to end their work with the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), because of concerns about the separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents.

Amazon workers demanded the company stop selling its Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement.

Examples like these show that collective action at work can still take place, despite the decline of unionism, if the employees are considered valuable enough and the employer cares about its social standing.

The power shift

Charles Wookey, CEO of not-for-profit organisation A Blueprint for Better Business says workers in these kinds of protests have “significant agency”.

“Coders and other technology specialists can demand high pay and have some power, as they hold skills in which the demand far outstrips the supply,” he told CEO Magazine.

Individual protesters and whistle-blowers, however, do not enjoy the same freedom to protest. Without a mass of colleagues behind them, they can face legal sanction or be fired for violating the company’s code of conduct – as was Google engineer James Damore when he wrote a memo criticising the company’s affirmative action policies in 2017.

Head of Society and Innovation at the World Economic Forum, Nicholas Davis, says technology has enabled employees to organise via message boards and email.

“These factors have empowered employee activism, organisation and, indeed, massive walkouts –not just around tech, by the way, but around gender and about rights and values in other areas,” he said at a forum for The Ethics Alliance in March.

Change coming from within

Davis, a former lawyer from Sydney, now based in Geneva, says even companies with stellar reputations in human rights, such as Salesforce, can face protests from within – in this case, also due to its work with ICE.

“There were protesters at [Salesforce annual conference] Dreamforce saying: ‘Guys, you’re providing your technology to customs and border control to separate kids from their parents?,” he said.

Staff engagement and transparency

Salesforce responded by creating Silicon Valley’s first-ever Office of Ethical and Humane Use of Technology as a vehicle to engage employees and stakeholders.

“I think the most important thing is to treat it as an opportunity for employee engagement,” says Davis, adding that listening to employee concerns is a large part of dealing with these clashes.

“Ninety per cent of the problem was not [what they were doing] so much as the lack of response to employee concerns,” he says. Employers should talk about why the company is doing the work in question and respond promptly.

“After 72 hours, people think you are not taking this seriously and they say ‘I can get another job, you know’, start tweeting, contact someone in the ABC, the story is out and then suddenly there is a different crisis conversation.”

Davis says it is difficult to have a conversation about corporate social activism in Australia, where business leaders say they are getting resistance from shareholders.

“There’s a lot more space to talk about, debate, and being politically engaged as a management and leadership team on these issues. And there is a wider variety of ability to invest and partner on these topics than I perceive in Australia,” says Davis, who is also an adjunct professor with Swinburne University’s Institute for Social Innovation.

“It’s not an issue of courage. I think it’s an issue with openness and demand and shifting culture in those markets. This is a hard conversation to have in Australia. It seems more structurally difficult,” he says.

“From where I stand, Australia has far greater fractures in terms of the distance between the public, private and civil society sectors than any other country I work in regularly. The levels of distrust here in this country are far higher than average globally, which makes for huge challenges if we are to have productive conversations across sectors.”

 

This article was originally written for members of The Ethics Alliance. The Alliance brings organisations together to place ethics at the centre of how we do business.

Join the conversation

Is it too late to regain control of your data?


Employee activism is forcing business to adapt quickly

Employee activism

It was not that long ago that publicly disagreeing with your employer’s business strategy or staging a protest without the protection of a union, would have been a sackable offence.

But not today – if you are among the business “elite”.

Last year, 4,000 Google employees signed a letter of protest about an artificial intelligence project with the Department of Defense. Google agreed not to renew the contract. No-one was fired.

Also at Google, employees won concessions after 20,000 of them walked out protesting the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases. Everyone kept their jobs.

Consulting firms Deloitte and McKinsey & Company and Microsoft have come under pressure from employees to end their work with the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), because of concerns about the separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents.

Amazon workers demanded the company stop selling its Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement.

Examples like these show that collective action at work can still take place, despite the decline of unionism, if the employees are considered valuable enough and the employer cares about its social standing.

The power shift

Charles Wookey, CEO of not-for-profit organisation A Blueprint for Better Business says workers in these kinds of protests have “significant agency”.

“Coders and other technology specialists can demand high pay and have some power, as they hold skills in which the demand far outstrips the supply,” he told CEO Magazine.

Individual protesters and whistle-blowers, however, do not enjoy the same freedom to protest. Without a mass of colleagues behind them, they can face legal sanction or be fired for violating the company’s code of conduct – as was Google engineer James Damore when he wrote a memo criticising the company’s affirmative action policies in 2017.

Head of Society and Innovation at the World Economic Forum, Nicholas Davis, says technology has enabled employees to organise via message boards and email.

“These factors have empowered employee activism, organisation and, indeed, massive walkouts –not just around tech, by the way, but around gender and about rights and values in other areas,” he said at a forum for The Ethics Alliance in March.

Change coming from within

Davis, a former lawyer from Sydney, now based in Geneva, says even companies with stellar reputations in human rights, such as Salesforce, can face protests from within – in this case, also due to its work with ICE.

“There were protesters at [Salesforce annual conference] Dreamforce saying: ‘Guys, you’re providing your technology to customs and border control to separate kids from their parents?,” he said.

Staff engagement and transparency

Salesforce responded by creating Silicon Valley’s first-ever Office of Ethical and Humane Use of Technology as a vehicle to engage employees and stakeholders.

“I think the most important thing is to treat it as an opportunity for employee engagement,” says Davis, adding that listening to employee concerns is a large part of dealing with these clashes.

“Ninety per cent of the problem was not [what they were doing] so much as the lack of response to employee concerns,” he says. Employers should talk about why the company is doing the work in question and respond promptly.

“After 72 hours, people think you are not taking this seriously and they say ‘I can get another job, you know’, start tweeting, contact someone in the ABC, the story is out and then suddenly there is a different crisis conversation.”

Davis says it is difficult to have a conversation about corporate social activism in Australia, where business leaders say they are getting resistance from shareholders.

“There’s a lot more space to talk about, debate, and being politically engaged as a management and leadership team on these issues. And there is a wider variety of ability to invest and partner on these topics than I perceive in Australia,” says Davis, who is also an adjunct professor with Swinburne University’s Institute for Social Innovation.

“It’s not an issue of courage. I think it’s an issue with openness and demand and shifting culture in those markets. This is a hard conversation to have in Australia. It seems more structurally difficult,” he says.

“From where I stand, Australia has far greater fractures in terms of the distance between the public, private and civil society sectors than any other country I work in regularly. The levels of distrust here in this country are far higher than average globally, which makes for huge challenges if we are to have productive conversations across sectors.”

 

This article was originally written for members of The Ethics Alliance. The Alliance brings organisations together to place ethics at the centre of how we do business.

Join the conversation

How do we address activism from within?


What ethics should athletes live by?

Athletes are bound by multiple codes – including the formal rules of the games they play and the informal conventions that define what is deemed to be acceptable conduct.

Professional athletes are often bound by a more stringent code that governs many aspects of their public and private lives.  In an era of social media and phone cameras, lucrative sponsorships and media rights, online sports betting and performance enhancing drugs, there is very little that isn’t regulated, measured or scrutinised.

The culture of sport

The formal rules of any game establish the minimum standards that bind players and officials equally in order to ensure a fair contest. Not surprisingly, the formal rules are relative to the sports that they define: you can tackle someone to the ground in a rugby match (provided they’re holding the ball), but it would be deemed unacceptable in tennis.

But there are also conventions and informal obligations that define the culture of sport. For example, most sports establish informal boundaries that seek to capture a spirit of good sportsmanship.  The cricketer who refuses to “walk” after losing their wicket  – or who delivers a ball under-arm – may not be breaking any formal rule, but they’ll be offending the so-called spirit of cricket.

The sanctions for such an offence may be informal, but may blight that player’s career.

 

A question of trust

In sport, the bottom line is trust. Sportspeople are stewards for the games they play – with an obligation not to destroy the integrity of the sports in which they participate. Athletes tend to be intensely competitive, seeking victory for themselves, for their team or sometimes their nation.

Professional sports sell themselves to the public on the basis that the contests are real and, hopefully, fair.   Every time two teams or competitors walk out onto the field of play, they place so much at stake – far more than just the result of one game.

That is why evidence of match fixing, doping or cheating is so destructive – it destroys public trust in the veracity of the competition that people pay to watch. It damages the reputation of the sport. And it is ultimately self-defeating – always leaving doubt in the dishonest victor’s mind, denying forever the satisfaction of a honest win.

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Is it fair to expect an athlete to be an ethical role model?


Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

James Baldwin was one of the great American writers of the twentieth century.

His elegant, articulate and keenly perceptive work bore witness to the hostile, day-to-day realities in which African Americans lived, and the psychological implications of racism for society as a whole.

His fifth novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, is no exception. Forty-four years after it was published, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins has adapted it for the screen.

 

A different type of love story

A hypnotic, visually sumptuous and intimate love story, Beale Street has little of the structure of a traditional romance. The film begins, for instance, with the generic arc of courtship already complete. We first see the two young protagonists – Tish Rivers and her boyfriend Alfonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt – walking slowly together in a park, their affections clear and perfectly mirrored. Growing up as childhood friends in the Bronx, there was never a time they did not love each other.

The story instead bears testimony to the resilience of love, and the strength it endows those who have faith in it. Here, we witness its many forms arrayed against a vast, malicious and coldly impersonal system which is rigged to destroy black lives and fracture the most precious of bonds.

Barely a minute into screen time, the plot throws Fonny (Stephan James) behind a glass wall. He’s in jail after being accused of rape. To his accuser and certainly the police, his innocence is irrelevant. As a black man, his identity in the white cultural imagination is as a violent savage – he was always-already condemned, regardless of his actions. It is through this transparent barrier that Tish (KiKi Layne) tells him that she is carrying his child.

When the past and present merge

Following this revelation, the story diverges in two interweaving streams of past and present. One, filled with hope and secret joys, sees the young couple come to understand each other as man and woman, while nursing dreams of a future together. In the second narrative, hope is not a simple impulse but an inviolable duty, as their baby swells in Tish’s womb, Fonny’s case stagnates and despair threatens. Each scene is freighted with the viewer’s knowledge that the lovers’ destiny is not their own.

Tish’s tale

This second narrative is also very much Tish’s story, and shifts its focus to a different kind of love. Beale Street is most affecting in its portrait of the Rivers family, who support Tish wholly and will do whatever they must to fight for her and the new life within her. Regina King won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Tish’s mother Sharon, who embodies a fierce, calm and indominable maternal courage. Her father Joseph (played with a rich, growling warmth by Colman Domingo) and older sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) readily take on the role of advocate and defender.

Their unity has its foil in Fonny’s family, the Hunts, who refuse to partake in any struggle they did not ask for. Headed by a spiteful and Godfearing mother, who curses her unborn grandchild and rationalises prison as a place in which Fonny can find the Lord, theirs is a pride born of self-serving weakness. The Rivers’ contrasting pride is one born of unassailable dignity and a determination to act, in spite of the odds arrayed against them.

“What do you think is going to happen?” asks Mr Hunt when Joseph lays out a plan for them to steal from their workplaces to help their children.

“What we make happen.”

“Easy to say,” Hunt protests.

“Not if you mean it,” Joseph levelly responds.

Emotional explotation

Through these characters, Beale Street puts forward the case for love as the single most steadfast bastion against the dehumanising machine of systemic oppression. Those characters without this vital force are vulnerable to emotional exploitation – betraying family and friends to protect themselves. Hunt’s mother sacrifices her son rather than align herself with his fate.

Fonny’s old friend Daniel also deserts him when his words could have saved him, his integrity broken by the terror of returning to a prison that broke him. And Fonny’s accuser is so traumatised, she is locked in a prison of her own pain, insensible and insensitive the suffering of others.

None of these individuals are free. Living in a constant wash of fear without refuge or reprieve has deprived them of their integrity, transforming them into actively complicit agents in the perpetuation of a racist structure. This, Baldwin’s story reveals, is perhaps the most wretched and insidiously effective mechanism of tyranny.

Racial tensions

Daniel is sure that white man is the devil. But Beale Street itself doesn’t espouse this view. At crucial junctures, white allies take risks to intercede against social, economic, police and court racial injustice. A Jewish real estate agent grants the lovers a path to an affordable home. An old storekeeper stands up to a reptilian policeman. And Fonny’s lawyer is a ‘white boy just out of college’.

At two hours, the film is languid and poetic, with gorgeous cinematography by James Laxton. The deliberate slow pacing and the use of frequent close-ups demands of the viewer they recognise the central (and very beautiful) characters as subjects. In a culture which frequently effaces black bodies, fetishises them, or arbitrarily fashions them into villains, these images are quietly radical. The film plays out between the steady gaze of the two lovers, and plays within the gaze of an audience that can’t look away.

Quietly significant too, is the film’s inclusion of moments which are superfluous to the plot, but vital to the immersive legacy of Beale Street. One, impossible to forget: Tish’s parents swaying before a jazz record in the family loungeroom, holding each other close, smiling in the new knowledge of themselves as grandparents to be.

Final thoughts

Opening in Australia on Valentine’s Day, Jenkins’ film is a tender dream of two lovers trapped in a too-real nightmare. It is not difficult to remember that this nightmare still torments the freedoms of racial minorities in America, ‘the land of the free’, and other nations too – whether they characterise themselves as progressive democracies or not.

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