We are all in it together – and that really does give the whole human body worldwide its corporate integrity, says REVEREND GEORGE PITCHER
Like ‘reputation’, integrity is one of those words that is bandied about by business leaders and politicians without stopping to think about what it means.
Rishi Sunak claimed that he would serve as a prime minister of integrity, presumably as a means of putting some Conservative blue water between himself and his quixotic predecessors.
Just last month, the Financial Conduct Authority fined merchant bank Julius Baer International £18m for ‘failing to conduct its business with integrity’.
Coming together: Christians hold that Christmas celebrates the divine sharing of the human condition in the incarnation – the greatest gift is a tiny baby who will change the world forever
In these contexts, ‘integrity’ is invariably assumed to mean the quality of being open and honest and acting with firm moral principles. And so it does.
But the word also has another meaning: of being solid, strong and whole. This last word has the same etymological root as ‘holy’, more of which in a moment.
An engineer might speak of the integrity of a bridge’s structure or the failure of the integrity of a plane’s airframe.
Integrity in this sense means, simply, that the whole construction is served with adequate strength by every part of it.
That’s not a bad principle to apply to a business. Because if we’re a part of a corporate structure, we need to know we’re as robust as its other human components and that our colleagues share our own strength and wholeness. There’s all too often a temptation to internalise our own integrity and ignore the lack of it around us.
An example of that might be offered by the World Cup. At its opening ceremony, we were urged to forget Qatar’s lack of integrity in domestic and international affairs and just ‘enjoy the football’.
But the World Cup inevitably served to focus global attention on Qatar’s shortcomings. From the oppression of LGBT citizens to the exploitation of migrant workers, from allegations of bribery and corruption of football’s governing body, Fifa, to its now apparent efforts to warp European democracy in the EU parliament.
It’s the same story closer to home, in some of the economic issues we face. The worst cost of living crisis in memory requires us to consider our strength and weakness as a whole: the integrity of society’s structure.
If there are those bearing an undue strain this winter, such as the elderly and vulnerable who are at the mercy of energy and other prices, then the integrity of our societal design structure is weak.
The same goes for tax. For some decades, there have been worthy attempts to build a meaningful structure for ‘responsible tax’, so that the burden is equitably distributed.
Liz Truss’s premiership foundered on that principle. Her proposal to drop the top rate of tax for highest earners lacked integrity.
We could go on. Generation Z are the youngest members of our workforce. They are entirely tech-literate and accustomed to working from home.
Employers need to decide how the integrity of their corporate structure stands up to new working practices. Because the act of being integrated into a workforce comes from the same word – integrity.
Similarly, ESG is the latest three-letter acronym for integrity: Environmental, Social and Governance. Or, as its critics would have it, ‘greenwashing’. We might ask what the ‘social’ part is actually about. Is it the responsibility of business to serve the community, which should be what corporate integrity means?
These are questions that are good to ask at Christmas. That’s partly because we gather together as people, rather than as bosses, employees or professionals. And we might feel that strength in numbers, as families and friends. But we also gather as a people. Not just the people of this nation, but of all nations.
And maybe we can feel the strength of the integrated world, our collective integrity.
Christians hold that Christmas celebrates the divine sharing of the human condition in the incarnation – more simply, the greatest gift is a tiny baby who will change the world forever.
Former chancellor George Osborne said: ‘We’re all in this together’. Whether that was a political slogan or a fundamental truth doesn’t really matter. What matters is that at Christmas, the divine meets humanity where it lives and thrives.
That means we are all in it together. And that really does give the whole human body worldwide its corporate integrity.
George Pitcher is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest