Ethics is defined as the set of characteristics, patterns of doings and right or wrong conducts possessed by a human being. Ethics can easily be influenced by human behaviours and attitudes and can have an impact on the surroundings, and the places where the person belongs. It can be a workplace, home, school, institutes or any other place (Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell, 2011).
Ethics is an essential concept that shapes the human personality, culture, values, mind-sets and one’s perceptions. These traits directly influence the corporate culture in the long term and affect the well-being of an organization. When it comes to an organization, the major concern is to take the right decision which should not harm the organizational culture. Decision making with the right course of actions is the important feature that keeps the business running efficiently and effectively. Unethical behaviour of employees may damage the overall reputation of an organization, which results in loss of valuable customers, employees, clients, shareholders, suppliers, consumers, business partners and other stakeholders and ultimately direct to failures or no profits (Trevino & Brown, 2004).
Business Ethics are of core importance to any company. Knowing that the company’s conducts are based on the best ethical practices and state the high morale, investors would feel free to put in their money in the company. Employees will never retain the position in the company where they will have no set of standards of ethical practices. Similarly, ethical and responsible actions of the company allow customers peace of mind to buy services or products (Adams, Tashchian, & Shore, 2001).
This essay is based on ethical issues that an Australian company, BHP Billiton has confronted. BHP Billiton is an Anglo Australian multinational petroleum and mining company. The company has recently met intense unethical situations that disturbed its corporate culture and morale by putting the reputation at risk, for which it has been fined.
INTRODUCTION OF BHP BILLITON:
BHP Billiton is one of the most leading natural resource companies. The company is based in Australia, formed in 2001. The main purpose of the company is to discover, develop, allocate and market the natural resources found in Australia. BHP Billiton is among the world’s largest producer of major commodities such as iron ore, coal, aluminium, copper, nickel, silver and uranium. It also obtains oil and gas and other related commodities (BHP Billiton, 2014).
BHP Billiton is dual listed company, which is comprised of two sub companies, they are: BHP Billiton limited and BHP Billiton Plc. The merge was taken place between BHP Limited (now it is named as BHP Billiton Limited) and Billiton Plc (now it is named as BHP Billiton Plc) and formed the BHP Billiton on 29 June 2001. This company was created through the DLC merger of the above named companies (BHP Billiton, 2014).
In Melbourne, Australia, the headquarters of BHP Billiton Limited as well as the global headquarters of combined BHP Billiton Group is located. Both companies are run by the same management team, and they consist of the same board of directors (BHP Billiton, 2014).
The companies are listed on various stock exchanges. In Australian Securities Exchange, BHP Billiton Limited has a primary listing whereas; in London Stock Exchange BHP Billiton Plc has a premium listing and in Johannesburg Stock Exchange, it has a secondary listing. Moreover, BHP Billiton is also listed on the New York Stock Exchange as two American Depositary Receipt listings (BHP Billiton, 2014).
BHP Billiton has shown weak operating performance and below par financial results. Over the last five years, the company has reported increase in its revenues, but a slight drop in 2013. In the year 2012-13, the company’s revenues has fallen by 8.69% from 72.23 billion to 65.95 bn and thus resulted in low net income which has dropped by27.20% from 15.42 billion to 11.22 billion. In 2011, BHP Billiton produced the net income of around 24bn which then reduced to 15.42 billion and 11.22 billion in the year 2012 and 2013 respectively. Its operating expenses has also dropped in the year 2013-12 from 48,474 billion to 44,951 billion; however, they showed the upward trend in the period of 2011-12 from 39,923 billion to 48,474 billion (Financial Times, 2014).
The company has reported the net profit margin of 24.27% and operating margin of 38.28% in the year 2013. Whereas, its profitability position projects the return on asset ratio by 11.53%, return on equity by 20.79% and return on investment by 13.91% (Financial Times, 2014).
(Financial Times, 2014)
In 2012, the company’s cash reserves were intensely dropped due to its increased investment activities which were accounted for $32.03bn, but in 2013 BHP Billiton increased its cash reserves to 1.21bn by 27.23%. It generated 20.15bn from its operating activities and used additional cash 18.72bn in investing activities (Financial Times, 2014).
(Financial Times, 2014)
According to company’s balance sheet, the total assets are increased constantly over the period of five years. Year on year, the company has spent more to acquire fixed assets and decreased its current assets and cash. Whereas, the increase in total debts was reported for last two years. Presently, the company holds the total equity of 70.66bn (Financial Times, 2014).
(Financial Times, 2014)
In this 21st century, businesses face the severe challenges regarding the business ethics due to the complex global environment. The major issue that a company encounters today is the behaviour of employees, which is directly influenced by their working conditions.
Providing safe and healthy environment for the workforce is the key concept of corporate ethics. If the employees are not satisfied with their working conditions, this may lead to poor performance by them and ultimately lead to loss of skilled and expert employees who might have brought growth in the future. In this case, management of the company must be aware of the safety precautions of their work environment. The employers should take notice of compensation policy of their employees. Paying a sufficient amount for all the time they have worked and paying all employees equally regardless of any social, cultural, disability, religious, racial, gender discrimination are the major ethical concerns. Working conditions also entail the importance of unreasonably long working hours, and level of difficulty in tasks.
BHP Billiton has been accused of discrimination among employees. Myers, who was 40 years old, had been illegally discriminated against his disability of not hearing since his birth. In the Australian Human Rights Commission, a disability discrimination claim has been placed against both companies, with lawyers asserting Andrew Myers was illicitly discharged. His employment was terminated at Atrea C mine in Western Australia. BHP and its contractor Carey Mining have been accused of discriminating against a deaf worker (Lannin, 2013).
Though, Myers is deaf, but he wears a cochlear implant and hearing aids. His qualifications allow him to operate heavy vehicles and machinery in construction and mining, and is also a licensed pilot. During the hiring period, in a medical assessment, Myers was declared fit to work, with a pass rate of 98 percent, but in May 2013, he was terminated few days after he started working with Carey Mining. He was a highly skilled and experienced worker, but was not given an opportunity to work at the position and prove himself (Lannin, 2013).
In 2012, BHP Billiton’s employees had just concluded a week-long strike, yet declared to set another 7 days strike. The strike was called by the company’s labour union. To stand in the second strike, 3500 odd unionized employees were voted in favour of the second strike. This dispute rose the matter seriously at the national level. The dispute was emerged due to the serious global coal consuming concern as BMA-operated mines generate more than 58 million metric tonnes a year of metallurgical coal, which comprise almost a fifth of the annual global trade (Griffth, 2012).
Another major concern of business ethics is its environment and surroundings. If the company’s operations are the cause of harm for the environment or go against the “green environment” law, such acts will ultimately downturn the reputation of a company, tending to lose its valued customers, shareholders, investors, consumers, and other stakeholders. To sustain the good position in the market, the business must be ecologically sound. Discharging chemical wastes and toxic into bodies of water, expanding the business geographically by demolishing public places, releasing toxic smoke in the residential areas, are the distressing acts that destroy the environment.
In case of BHP Billiton, the company has been sued by Papua-New Guinean (PNG) landowners against its operations at the OK Tedi copper mine that caused extreme destruction in the surrounding and to the people living there and their traditional lifestyle. BHP directed the waste of mine tailings into the OK Tedi and Fly Rivers. This reckless behaviour of the company has washed down the Fly River which adversely affected the lives of inhabitants and other aquatic organisms, as well. After the course of legal actions, parliament passed legislation declaring the BHP Billiton liable for environmental destructions caused by the OK Tedi mine (BHRRC, 2014).
BHP Billiton also violated the geographical construction and expansion law in January 2007. Native landowners from the Ningerum litigated BHP Billiton and operators of OK Tedi copper mine for extensive civil damages exceeding US $4 billion (Fox, 2013).
BHP Billiton has been accused of the violation of human rights in Nigeria and also for dumping toxic waste. Such environmental pollution started to bring up many health problems in people for which the CEO of the company was sued for $5 billion (Stern, 2014).
BHP Billiton has improved its safety precautions and incident frequency for last several years. According to statistics, its total recordable injury frequency has improved by two percent in year 2013 from 5.8 per million hours in 2009 to 4.6 in 2013. Additionally, company has reported a decrease in the cases of noise-induced hearing loss from 42.7% in 2009 to 10.2% in 2013. Company is also striving to improve its energy and greenhouse gas emission. GHG emission has reached the level of 50,000 tonnes in 2006 due to the expanded operations of business, now which is considered as the targeted baseline to reduce emission. In 2013, GHG emission is increased by 6.5 million tonnes. Company has set the target to implement the abatement projects and reduce the GHG emission lower than the baseline by the year 2017 (BHP Billiton, 2013a).
CORPORATE CULTURE OF BHP BILLITON:
The BHP Billiton’s corporate culture is based on the codes of conduct that represents the commitment of the company to meet the practices of business ethics, set the standards and accept legal and other requirements. The corporate culture of BHP Billiton encompasses the following codes of conduct, which are implemented all through the company (BHP Billiton, 2013b):
Working with integrity, individually and in workgroups:
- Health and safety: Company has set the health and safety targets to constantly monitor and measure issues regarding health and employees’ security at work.
- Alcohol, drug and tobacco use: Use of drugs or alcohol is strictly prohibited in a safety sensitive job or location. Also, company has incorporated drug testing programs to ensure the safety of employees.
- Equality in employment: Company policy instructs its employees and employers to deal with fairness and respect in every matter without any discrimination.
- Harassment: Maintaining superior character value and fostering a work environment free from harassment is one of the core concerns. The employees undertake an appropriate cross-cultural training when they work in a different country in diverse culture environment.
- Personal information and privacy: BHP Billiton collect and maintain personal information of its employees that are mandatory to meet the business requirements. According to law, company reserves right to monitor the information systems and access the information, saved in the system to assure the accuracy.
Working with integrity with governments and communities:
- Working with governments: Company maintains a good relationship with the government and respect their conducts. However, person who interact with government on behalf of BHP Billiton must ensure to convey accurate information about the company and imply laws and regulations as recklessness in such cases questions the reputation and credibility of a company.
- Political contributions and activities: The political influence is very low. Company’s policy forbids to make any contributions on behalf of BHP Billiton regarding cash, assets, or use of company’s premises. Although, individual can actively participate in political events.
- Corruption: BHP Billiton strongly prohibits the transactions of payments, personal gifts, invitations to private parties/dinners or bribes to any person in powerful authority. The company has employed laws against corruption which may result in fines and imprisonment of employees.
- Engaging with communities: Being a multinational business, company undertakes all the cross-cultural requirements to ensure a good relationship with different communities. Moreover, company actively engage with communities where it operates, to take concern of the affected people by their work on a regular basis. Community investment programs have been launched to implement community development projects.
- Environment and stewardship: BHP Billiton is highly concern for ecological system. Company ensures the healthy, safe and environmentally sound business processes to reduce air, sound and water pollution and increase biodiversity protection. It uses its energy and resources efficiently to assure social responsibility and set strategies to overcome the risk of climate change.
Working with integrity with third parties:
- Conflict of interest: Company has strong legislation regarding the conduct of employees and management. All the meetings, relationships, business presentations must be conducted in the most professional manner, to avoid any conflicts of personal interests. Employees external activities must not affect the quality of work and performance.
- Accepting gifts, hospitality and entertainment: Company supports a flexible, friendly environment where it is permissible to accept gifts unless it is intended to build a better relationship with corporates and other businesses. Such acts should not influence the management to make forced decisions that may manipulate the operations of the business.
- Business travel: BHP Billiton is a multinational business, running in various countries, which requires travelling of employees to different countries for business meetings. The Company will be responsible to reimburse all such travelling and accommodation expenses.
- Competition and antitrust: Many countries have designed their reserved competition policies. BHP Billiton has experienced many countries who have developed the competition (antitrust) laws that restrict the business trade practices to some extent and free and fair competition in the country. Such competition or antitrust law include price fixing, bid rigging, unfair market sharing or misuse of a governing market position.
- Maintaining supplier relationships: Suppliers are the most important to any company’s quality efforts. Keeping up healthy relationships with suppliers can significantly contribute to the success of the company. BHP Billiton make certain that management practices should develop relation with potential suppliers, perform contracts, and resolve the issues of suppliers and maintain the integrity.
- Use of business partners: Business partners are the third parties such as brokers, agents, consultants, accountants, joint venture partners, travel agents, customs agents, freight forwarders, tax advisers, law agencies, co-investors and lobbyists. Choosing appropriate business partner and engaging with them is a critical task. Any unacceptable or offensive conduct can harm the company’s reputation or may lead to legal penalties and civil accountability.
- Trade controls: For any multinational company, it is important to deal with trade laws and regulations, to encourage the trade around the world. BHP Billiton also meets all international and national terms and regulations of trading of goods and services across the world. It undertakes the risk based safety measures, trade restrictions policies and transportation laws to build good trade associations.
Working with integrity when using the company’s resources:
- Protecting BHP Billiton assets: Using the company’s assets in an appropriate way at the proper time can favourably affect the company’s performance, but misuse of assets can result in a great deal of loss. BHP Billiton has taken precautions to prevent destruction, misuse, theft of assets. All employees are held responsible to protect the assets and use them wisely for the interest of business only.
- Accuracy of records and reports: Any financial or non-financial reports and information of BHP Billiton must be accurate and authorized. Creating false, misinterpreted, inaccurate, misleading or altered information is illegal in the lawsuit of the company as such information can hurt the status as well as the operations of the company.
- Information systems: All the information technology and communication systems are the property of BHP Billiton. It is a responsibility of every employee to use the company’s information and digital systems in a disciplined manner. Using systems to access or store any violent, abusive or obscene material is strictly prohibited by the company.
- Insider trading: The information of any company that cannot be made available to public is inside information. Conveying this inside information to other companies or the public is illegal in the law of BHP Billiton. The confidential information can be related to the company, customers, suppliers, partners or joint ventures, which must not be traded outside the company.
- Communicating externally: Disclosing sufficient information about the company is necessary to aware the investors about the position of the company. BHP Billiton provides precise, well-timed, fair, reliable and complete disclosure of information to its investors so as to make valuable decisions. However, publicizing information is the responsibility of authorized spokespersons of BHP Billiton.
- Intellectual property: Intellectual property is referred to as any creative idea or product that gives identification to the company and has its commercial value. For BHP Billiton, its intellectual property can be any trademark, invention, original design, idea or any practical implementation which must be safeguarded by all employees so that outsiders cannot access this property and take ultimate advantage.
CONTRIBUTION OF CORPORATE CULTURE IN DEVELOPING ETHICAL ISSUES:
Ethics is considered to be the set of standard principles of what is wrong and right or what is good and bad. These are the stated principles, here it does not refer to society’s perceptions of wrong and right or good and bad. Ethics provide a whole system of rules and regulations that shape up the behaviour of people and guide them take correct decisions in different situations. In case of any company, setting principles and rules of conducts and doings highly depend upon culture values prevailing within the organization. Ethical values are greatly influenced by corporate culture. A company-wide culture outlines the core beliefs and norms of the people that guides to form the ethical values. Company prepares a complete statement of codes of conduct and a detailed list of doings and restrictions that embeds a healthy and understood corporate culture. Hence, it becomes easier for a company to define its ethical values and overcome ethical issues by redefining the codes of conducts of a company (Lozano, 1998).
The corporate culture of the company has a profound impact on the behaviour of its employees. A positive corporate culture encourages employees to behave in an ethical and responsible way, consequently leading to high morale of employees, team collaboration, great degree of satisfaction and motivation, employee empowerment and happy workplace. Similarly a negative corporate culture would impact the motivation level of employees, discourage them to perform in an accountable way and thus result in poor performance and inefficient outcomes of company (Graham, J., n.d.).
BHP BILLITON’S CULTURAL VALUES AND ETHICAL ISSUES:
BHP Billiton has a well-defined set of codes of conduct that enlightens the corporate culture prevailing throughout the company (BHP Billiton, 2013a; 2013b). There is a great degree of stress on integrity, unity and reliability when working individually, with fellows or even work teams. Company takes serious considerations if employees are confronted with health and safety issues. Even the use of drugs is prohibited in working hours, to protect employees from unfavourable incidents. Similarly, annoying acts of employees are intolerable at the workplace, and breach of such laws lead to serious employment issues at BHP Billiton (BHP Billiton, 2013a; 2013b).
However, company has confronted the case of discrimination of employees based on disability. Recently, a deaf man has lodged a disability discrimination case against BHP Billiton as he was terminated from employment because of his hearing disability. Though he was using a hearing aid, and was well qualified and completely eligible for the position. He went through proper recruitment process and cleared all the assessments with flying colours, despite all the facts he was terminated after the few days on the job (Lannin, 2013). This shows the open discrimination of employees at BHP Billiton, opposing its own corporate culture and codes of conduct. Disability discrimination is an extremely unethical act grasping the public attention towards lack of equality among employees and poor corporate culture prevailing in BHP Billiton.
Further, company has itself entrenched such laws which firmly restrict the employees to work with the government bodies on behalf of the company. Participation in political activities or working with political parties, which can affect the operations of the company or influence the decisions is not permitted. Even, creating relations with the political persons, giving presents, inviting them to parties and engaging with powerful authorities is restricted to some extent in order to maintain the transparent image of the company and prevent the company from corruption. Also, it strongly emphasizes on environmental concerns and the needs of other communities living in surrounding of the mines. The codes of conduct of the company entail the concern of the ecological system, environment, pollution and habitants of the surrounding areas who can get affected by the company’s operations (BHP Billiton, 2013a; 2013b).
Beside these restrictions, BHP Billiton has failed to respond to their environmental issues and encountered numerous ecological issues for which it has been legally sued many times since 1980 (BHRRC, 2014). In 2007, BHP Billiton and operators of OK Tedi has violated the civil rights by bringing the civil damage of around US$4 billion in Ningerum, for which it has been litigated by the native landowners. Not only this, but the organization also contravened the national environmental policies and resource conservation and recovery act by dumping the hazardous waste into the environment. Fly River was washed down by disposing the toxic chemicals into it. This act shows that the company has no concern of the environment and the people living in surroundings (Fox, 2013). Such unethical acts have brought serious destruction in the environment and affected the lives of hundreds of people, which is against the company’s codes of conduct.
As BHP Billiton’s corporate culture does not support such unethical and harmful activities, it needs to introduce and implement some environmental friendly projects and monitor the operations. Currently, company has taken measures to improve its energy systems and waste disposition procedures and set targets to overcome the major environmental problems. Regarding the other concerns, BHP Billiton is successful to maintain its ethical values through its strong corporate culture.
ROLE OF MANAGEMENT IN CULTIVATING A GOOD CORPORATE CULTURE:
Culture is the heart of an organization which provides the greatest source to gain competitive advantage. Corporate culture is something that gives an edge over its competitors. A good corporate culture enthuse the energy and loyalty in employees and makes them own the mission of the company. It motivates the employees to perform in a responsible manner; and to do the right things instead of doing the easy work for the betterment of the company. With the high level of satisfaction and motivation, employees will always tend to perform dutifully. At companies with good corporate culture, employees are not only well informed about what they should do but also why they should do. Though, leaders and management team find it challenging to build a winning culture in an organization. According to a Bain survey, only fewer than 10% of leaders are able to develop a winning culture across the company. 365 companies of Europe, Asia and North America participated in this survey which further states that even those companies who succeeded to form a good corporate culture, find it difficult to sustain that in the long term (Rogers & Meehan, 2007).
Research proves that developing a high performing culture is crucial for the management team (Crane & Matten, 2007). This is because developing a good corporate culture requires playing efficiently with people’s firm beliefs and their deepest values. People from diverse background have various beliefs, and shaping their beliefs according to company’s requirement is certainly a challenging job for management. For building, a high performing corporate culture, management must undertake the following points (Weaver, 2001; Jones, Felps & Bigley, 2007):
- Develop an effective strategic plan: Develop a clear strategic plan that is understood and embraced by every employee working in the company at all levels. If a strategic plan is not ideally mapped out, employees will perceive and interpret the management goals as of their understandings, resulting in chaos and conflicts.
- Commit to great communication: Communication leads to resolve numerous emerging problems. Reduce the barriers of communication so that employees must feel flexible to communicate about their problems with the managers. Managers should also put in great effort to resolve their problem so that employees must sense that they are part of the organization and equal contributor in its success. This attitude motivates the employees, keeps them focused on their tasks and ultimately leads to higher performances.
- Increase employee engagement: Great leaders encourage their employees to participate in decision making activities. Employee engagement is an effective strategy that strengthens the relationship between an employee and organization. People hold direct responsibility of the things in which their participation level is high, and also employees take responsibility for every reaction or outcome, either bad or good and make constant efforts to improve their performance.
- Develop a winning culture: Forming a high performance culture where everyone is a part of the team is a winning approach to increase the integrity among employees. A culture where every employee is owned by its company gives a sense to employees of one family. In return, employees also own the organization, its resources and mission. A “think like owners” attitude is important for employees to form a winning culture.
- Be flexible to change: In order to form a good corporate culture, always be ready for a change. In this era of globalization, change comes with every instance. The best part is to be responsive to these changes to keep up the level of global competition.
Developing a good corporate culture is the responsibility of management, where employees are bound to shape their ethical values keeping in mind the mission of the company.
RECOMMENDED CORPORATE CULTURE FRAMEWORK FOR BHP BILLITON:
The recent case stated that there is an open disability discrimination in BHP Billiton. A qualified, well-skilled deaf man has been terminated due to his disability after being selected through an intense recruitment process. Such act was extremely unethical and rested against the disability discrimination law. In order to reduce the issue of discrimination among employees, company should follow these steps:
- Monitor the human resource practices and policies that create hurdles in reducing the discrimination at the workplace. This screening entails current level of compliance of the company to labour laws and practices that support all kinds of discrimination such as disability, qualification, gender, religious, political, and cultural. It is necessary to make sure that to what extent the company is respecting the human rights regarding the workplace.
- Create an agreement where all employees and even managers and leaders will sign the agreement to signify their intentions to work with management in order to reduce the discrimination. This agreement should be updated periodically according to the amendments in regulations made by government.
- Encourage employees to report the management directly when they witness any instance of discrimination. However, management must also be very pro-active and responsive to such reports and right away report to the top management to take action. If the management fails to do so, this will give an impression that employees must tolerate the discrimination at the workplace.
- Company must develop a separate committee where discrimination cases will be filed. This committee will be responsible to handle all the cases relevant to discrimination.
- Management must design an additional policy regarding non-discrimination which should be included in its overall strategic approach.
BHP Billiton has been involved in dumping chemical wastes into bodies of water which have affected the ecological system, environment, pollution and habitants of the surrounding areas. To overcome the environmental issues, company must undertake the following steps:
- The company must significantly increase investment in trash reduction projects.
- Build and increase regional partnerships and coordination among businesses, societies, individual citizens, environmental groups and government bodies at all levels to foster trash reduction programs.
- Enhance environmental education programs within the organization to increase the general awareness among employees. To encourage employees to change their behaviour, give incentives such as cash awards, gifts, certificates, etc.
- Use effective trash reduction technologies and approaches.
- Develop new regulations and strategies that support the trash reduction approaches across the company. Improve enactment and enforcement of laws to reduce trash.
Ethics is the set of policies and principles that guide an individual to identify the right and wrong doings and help them to take decisions in any situation. In case of an organization, a code of ethics is the set of regulations and principles that guide the company to operate in an ethical manner, take corrective actions where necessary, and make effective decisions.
Internationally, the conduct of businesses and the places where they run their operations are increasingly under the limelight of law agencies and other communities. Therefore, all types and size of organizations are advised to prepare good structures and strategies which help to promote good corporate culture and ethical values into their operations and in the wider business environment. Eventually, this is not only good for the company, but also good for the entire society.
In this essay, we have studied the ethical issues of an Australian company, BHP Billiton. It is an Anglo Australian multinational petroleum and mining company. The company has encountered intense unethical situations that disturbed its corporate culture and morale by putting the reputation and global brand image of the company at risk.
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