The Limits of Corporate Ethics

imageTelstra walks back its support for G.A.Y.* rights.

It wasn’t perhaps all that shocking when the leader of an American pharmaceutical company recently announced that he didn’t give a toss about sick people: his company’s job was to make money.

Michael Pearson, CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, has been busy acquiring new drugs for his company’s portfolio, increasing the price of some of them by as much as 550%.

“My primary responsibility is to Valeant shareholders. We can do anything we want to do. We will continue to make acquisitions, we will continue to move forward,” he said, shrugging off accusations of gouging.

This is the mantra of modern capitalism. So long as it makes money for the shareholders, and is within the law, then fine.Conversely, if taking an ethical stance might hit the bottom line, some companies won’t worry about morality. So it’s not fair on employees, stiffs the customers, causes damage to the environment, for example? Yeah, we’re really sorry about that, but the shareholders come first.

Churches also duck their ethical obligations in order to make money. The Wesley Conference Centre, which belongs to the Uniting Church, is insisting that there is no moral dimension to the centre hosting the Australian Christian Lobby conference, despite being informed that it will be used as a platform for imported American hate.

Which brings me to Telstra. Pride in Diversity, “Australia’s first and only national not-for-profit employer support program for all aspects of LGBTI workplace inclusion,” lists Telstra as a Foundation Member. Telstra also counts itself a supporter of Australian Marriage Equality, too, with its logo proudly displayed on the AME website. And Telstra has many G.A.Y.* employees, who speak highly of the inclusive workplace culture.

But there are limits beyond which they will not go, presumably to protect their bottom line. Like almost all the other employers, including Pride in Diversity itself, they declined to take a public stand in support of Safe Schools.

And now, in response to veiled threats from the Catholic Church, Telstra are walking back their support for equal marriage.

Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges sent a letter to corporations whose logos appeared in an Australian Marriage Equality advertisement last May, implying it would withdraw all church business from Telstra.

Currently Telstra has the contracts for all Catholic schools across the country, and The Australian is saying that it has now backed away from public support for same-sex marriage, as the telco “did not want to risk its commercial relationship with the church”.

The Telstra logo remains on the AME website but all mention of the campaign has vanished from Telstra’s pages.

Many are accusing the telecoms giant of cowardice, saying they should have called the church’s bluff. After all, with Optus as a major sponsor of Sydney Mardi Gras, and Vodafone also a strong G.A.Y.* supporter, there isn’t really any place else for them to go.

*G.A.Y. = Good As You: the acronym formerly known as LGBTIQQ2A

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)