Malaysia is a trending society. By that I mean our people love trending and following trends.
Not so long ago, the trend was to get a Datukship, Tan Sriship and Tunship.
Than, having such royal award was deemed insufficient. Perhaps because an ex-gate keeper of KTM could also get a Datukship. And so one must have some other distinguishing award or title.
So, the trend changed. Apart from the royal titles, one must also get a doctorate of some sorts. After some time, we could see many Datuks and Tan Sris suddenly being conferred Honorary Doctorate. Tun Abdullah, for example was conferred a Doctorate in Democracy.
That being so, the awardees' social status is elevated one notch higher than everybody else's. One is no more a mere mortal Datuk so and so but Datuk Doctor so and so. Sort of makes up for one's deficiency in the crotch region, I suppose.
Then, when everybody was getting a doctorate of this that and the other, another trend stared. This new trend involves the grant of an award from some international bodies for some humanitarian works, charitable acts or whatever.
Thus we have Tun Dr Mahathir receiving - hahahah, sorry, I have to laugh - get this, the Human Right Award from, of all countries, Libya!
As you all can see, the people who gave the awards and the recipient are of course oblivious to the irony of it all. Libya, I mean, Muammar Gadafi giving a human rights award. And it was given to Dr Mahathir. That's like the Myammar junta giving the Freedom and Liberty Award to Kim Il Sung. Or vice versa. Classic case of self gratification. In other word, classic case of wanking in public.
The latest is this. Rocky Bru's posted that Datuk Seri Abu Kassim Mohamed, the Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has now been "listed down as the fourth most influential person in the world by Ethisphere." It is also stated that "last year, Ethisphere listed Barack Obama as the 33rd most influential."
Wow! Congratulations. The fourth most influential person on earth. Even Barrack Obama managed a 33rd. As listed by Ethisphere. I am sure the good Datuk Sri deserves his listing.
But, Ethis who?
- There's just one hitch: These ethics awards—let's call them the Ethies—may have ethics issues of their own.
- The Ethisphere Insitute, which describes itself as "a leading international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability," is actually a for-profit company. The institute also lends itself credibility with an "advisory panel" of ethicists, yet several former members say they've had little if anything to do with it. Finally, the institute and an affiliated company sell services to and collect fees from some of the same companies Ethisphere extols.
- As might be expected, the Ethisphere Institute's director, Alex Brigham—also president and CEO of Corpedia, which helps corporations develop and review their ethics programs—is sensitive to any conflict-of-interest concerns.
- Over the phone in an earlier interview, Brigham sounded less like a lawyer. Ethisphere is an ambitious undertaking, and "I've got to figure out a way to fund all this stuff," he says. "I'd love it if someone wants to give me money to create a huge, separate institution to do it. ...We're just trying to do something good."
- For its ethics awards, Ethisphere accepts outside nominations, and it scores a corporation on several factors.
- The scoring is based mostly on information provided by the companies themselves, and Ethisphere says its questionnaire should take 30 to 40 minutes to complete.
- Brigham acknowledges that the system is imperfect. "Could they be lying to us?" he says. "Sure, they could. ... Over time, we're going to have to figure out how to verify that. And no one is going to pay us to verify it, and if we try to charge them to verify it, we're going to have reporters like you make it sound like we're getting paid off."
- Ethisphere says its methodology was developed with the help of a panel of independent experts. But as I dialed up half a dozen of the 20 committee members, I found only one (George Ash) who said he actually contributed to shaping the methodology. Others said they made a suggestion that wasn't heeded (Thomas Donaldson), or didn't seriously analyze the methodology (Patrick Barwise, John Dienhart, Chris MacDonald), or didn't know they were on the panel (Karen Paul). (my comment - oh dear oh dear....)
- Ethisphere charges companies to be part of its membership groups, buy ads in its magazine, and certify them with its "Ethics Inside" label, which they receive only if Ethisphere determines that "its compliance and ethics activities are demonstrably better than competitors." At first, Brigham told me that "because our fees are so small," there was no possibility of conflicts of interest. I would have "a better, sexier story," he said, if Ethisphere were "a wildly profitable enterprise."
- Then Ethisphere announced that for the 2010 list of the world's most ethical companies, which has yet to be released, 10 percent have "a material economic relationship with Ethisphere," and 5 percent have one with Corpedia. What, exactly, is a "material economic relationship with Ethisphere"? The institute's "Media Responsibility Report" defines it "as any customers that have represented one percent (1%) or more of the prior year's (2009) sales bookings of any product or service."
- It's tempting, of course, to dismiss all this as just corporate window-dressing, and in fact Canadian ethicist Chris MacDonald, who until recently was on Ethisphere's advisory panel, warned me to take such awards "with a grain of salt." And then there are people like Gretchen Winter, former ethics officer for "World's Most Ethical" winner Baxter International and current director of the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society at the University of Illinois. Winter says the institute's conflicts of interest and reliance on self-reported information make its awards "less credible." At the same time, she says, the awards help in "advancing the conversation about ethics and compliance programs in the executive suites and boardrooms." (my comment - Oh My Gawddddd!)
And taking the cake and eating it is this:
"Last year, while working on another story, I was interviewing a corporate spokesman about allegations of fraud against his company and government fines for a radioactive waste spill. He sent me a press release trumpeting the news that Ethisphere had named his engineering and construction firm, CH2M Hill, one of the "World's Most Ethical." It "speaks for itself," he said. If only he knew."
I don't mean to cast aspersion on Datuk Sri Abu Kassim. I am sure he deserves all the accolades. I am just highlighting some of the things said about Ethisphere.
And the award goes to.....