Thursday, September 25, 2014

Culpability and White Lies at Tesco

A few days ago, I read with interest the breaking news in the UK that the FTSE 100 UK-based firm, Tesco, is under investigation for financial malpractice. Like many others, including shareholders whose investments have plummeted, I will be interested to discover the possible extent of the wrongdoings and the degree of culpability amongst the top executives.

Since the global recession and the collapse of some banks, we are all more acutely aware of the malpractices and corruption that can occur within big companies that are driven to produce ever-increasing profits. I wrote about big business, corruption and culpability in White Lies, one of my stories in my collection, A Modern Life. The main protagonist, William Baxter, is a tyrannical profiteer who relishes his ruthless reputation until, one day, he meets a blind woman who unwittingly changes his perspective on life. The twist in the tale though is, by the end of the story, where Baxter is redeemed from his abhorrent ways, the blind woman has been corrupted by her new found material wealth.

Not all decisions are easy.
It is sometimes too easy to criticise and mock people in big business and politics. Of course I do it here on my blog in a jovial way and, at a deeper level, discussion, scepticism and criticism are part of the democratic processes that helps to keep businesses and governments in check. However, we should remember that not all companies or executives are corrupt and without banks and businesses we would have nowhere near the scale of wealth and prosperity that we do in the Western world. Banks and businesses supply the investment that provide jobs and mortgages that ultimately have taken us from the poverty-ridden subsistence level existence of the pre-industrial era into a world where the quality food, warmth and housing that were once the prerequisite of the elite are now commonplace. We should also remember that corruption is not limited to the rich or powerful. Stealing the office paper, using the office franking machine to send Christmas cards (I've seen it happen), hiding aspects of your income, exaggerating expense claims - are all examples of degrees of corruption.

I'm aware that there is a huge difference between the culpability of people who are trying to exist at the most basic human level to those at the highest level. But the point of my story White Lies is that we are all capable of corruption and we all just as capable of redemption - should we so wish. Sometimes things happen in our lives that makes us change the way we think and act, for better or for worse, so perhaps nothing, except death, can be predetermined. What is important, I believe, is that people who have the power to influence and change lives have a strong ethical code. In my opinion, Western society is pursuing a relentless quest for increasing profit and obscene indulgence which will result in an unequal distribution of wealth so great it will beyond any justification. Maybe we have already reached that point. It concerns me that some people have more money than they could ever need and yet, even in Western world, there are those still living on the breadline. If we extend those comparisons to the Third World, where societies still suffer extremes of poverty and disease, then the comparisons are far greater. These inequalities are not just sad. They're tragic. It's impossible to pretend that such deprivation does not exist; the faces of dying children are no longer pages in a book or a remote column in a newspaper but faces on our TV screens, tablets and mobile phones. They cannot, or should not, be ignored.

I do believe that individuals and companies should be amply rewarded for their efforts. It is pure idealism to believe society will ever be truly equal in all respects. However, that doesn't mean we can't strive for an equality in basic human comforts and health care or ensure companies conduct their business in an ethical fashion. So many companies relentlessly pursue increasingly profits for their major shareholders on a yearly basis and many top executives have massive bonuses based on those profits. The temptation to resort to unethical behaviour, for some, must be strong. And I don't just mean unethical behaviour that is strictly illegal but behaviour that involves unfavourable treatment of suppliers or subtly misleading promises to consumers.

There is only so much money one needs to live, even gloriously. Wouldn't it be nice if we shared it around more?

White Lies and twelve other tales of contemporary life can be found in my story collection, A Modern Life


  1. Great post. I shared it on Twitter and on our reader Facebook page:


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