I was invited to Nord-Ost Gymnasium in Essen on 26 January to bring university atmosphere to two courses shortly before graduation, as part of FOM’s initiative “Rent your Prof”.  There were two expectations I disappointed right away: I was no old, grey-bearded man, and I did not give answers to all the prepared questions. I turned the tables and formed questions myself or criticised the given solutions immediately.

I did not intend to give a sermon on the advanteges of an ethical  live that might one day be rewarded with a spot in heaven, but to convey four theses:

  • Each decision in consumption is also an ethical decision; no one can deny this responsibility. And it is not easy to estimate the consequences, e.g.: Is it right to throw used clothes into Red Cross containers? What will be done with it?
  • Acting ethically, requires a lot of thinking because as well as us consumers, producers sometimes do not attend to their resposibility: If Katjes claims that their candy does not contain fat, that claim itself is true but still borders on consumer fraud. And buying organic products requires more time and effort, if relailers do not place such products ion their shelves.
  • Trust is an essential company value that is hard to establish but easy to squander. Here, we discussed the question why  Volkswagen has lost millions in stock market value after the diesel scandal – although it only touched upon details in exhaust fumes that most costumers do not even care about.
  • While unethical behaviour may often be worth while in the short run, its long term consequences are different. We discussed this with the example of a German company selling gas turbines to a corrupted state, and the question if it was a good chance to invest black money because everybody does it. At the latest when the pupils had realized how easily susceptible this would make one to blackmail, their conviction overturned.

If the pupils keep in mind that business ethics require a lot of thinking and scrutinizing, I am happy with this event.