Sunday, 21 July 2013
The Only Way is Ethics
Papiss Cisse’s recent one-man protest against Newcastle displaying the name ‘Wonga’ on their shirts has certainly got people talking.
The Senegalese striker has refused to wear the shirt during a pre-season tour on personal and religious grounds. He has offered to wear a blank shirt or one containing the name of a charity. As a Muslim, Cisse claims he is bound by Sharia Law which forbids an individual to benefit from the giving or receiving of financial interest. This becomes a very difficult issue when trying to obtain a mortgage. Only a few lenders in UK will lend money for Sharia-compliant mortgages. Given so much housing stock is owned by Muslim landlords in this country it is clearly not something which bothers everyone.
If his plan was to highlight the issue of ethics and sponsorship then he has certainly done this. The whole subject of ethics a fascinating and a difficult one to gauge as there is no definitive line which can truly conclude, ethical or unethical.
One man may say, “I’m not buying this product as its foreign and I only buy British”. Whereas another will say “that comes from a country whose only export this product is, therefore if I don’t buy it I am depriving that country and its citizens of an income”.
For some people it is simply enough to just recycle their newspapers, but for others they want to go even further by recycling their toilet water. Generally public opinion will determine what is viewed as ethical or unethical, but often you can find conflict in the practices of everyday folk.
For example, you may declare your disapproval at the lack of employee rights in countries such as China, yet your house may be full of goods manufactured and packaged by the very employees who you feel are being exploited. Yet surely you are involved in the exploitation by purchasing the goods? By continuing to purchase these products you are simply confirming to the employers that their system works and they have a market for those products.
In the world of finance, investing in companies which have an ethical policy has become a popular practice. You may argue you don’t want to invest in a company which doesn’t have an ‘employee engagement’ policy or maybe an ‘environmentally-friendly’ policy. However, as an investor putting money into such a company may allow you a voice to encourage the company to change its ways and implement such working practices. Is it better to walk away or try and influence and change?
You see it’s not so simple after all.
Back to Cisse. In any other walk of life he would be sacked for breach of his employment contract. Well, actually he would be suspended pending an investigation, then a meeting would be set up to give him the chance to conform or leave or he would be reprimanded. There may be many things we don’t like our employers doing and our choices are to
1. Make a stand and leave
2. Make a stand and complain to management
3. Put up with it
Either way, just refusing to go along with it on your own is unlikely to get you very far. Of course, all this depends on the employment contract he signed. If Newcastle (or any other club) is sensible they will have a clause in the contract which states the club’s clothing will be worn at certain times. You will notice this with plenty of other sportsmen where they are obliged to wear the sponsor’s equipment on certain occasions, caps worn during after-race interviews in F1 for instance. Cisse will have signed this contract and is bound by it.
The battle for many people in this situation is whether to take the money paid by a sponsor you do not agree with. Presumably, Cisse is continuing to be paid an income despite his public protest at his employer’s choice of sponsor?
One wonders whether Cisse bought his house with cash and where he leaves all his cash. Is his salary paid directly into a non-interest paying account, although there are plenty of those around now? What about his pension? He is likely to be investing in all sorts of companies with that.
Citing something on religious grounds is always a bone of contention as you are challenging others to ‘persecute’ you if they denounce your faith. What if you are a vegetarian on animal-welfare grounds and you work for a company now owned by a Muslim who eats halal meat? Do you leave, make a stand or just put up with it? After all one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
In many countries which have a fully developed procedure for employee rights, such as UK, the employment contract has grown in value beyond all recognition. You cannot be sacked for something if it isn’t clearly stated in your contract that you mustn’t do it. Many companies now are finding they want to restrict their employees’ use of internet and social media content, yet they are powerless unless it is stated in the specific contract.
Back to Cisse again. Apparently, he is protesting at Newcastle’s choice of Wonga as a sponsor. For those who don’t know, Wonga offers short term loans for those who are short of cash. There are many companies like this who have sprung up in recent times since ‘the credit crunch’. Where banks have withdrawn from this market and have become more choosy as to who they lend to, it is inevitable others would move into the gap in the market. Are they ethical? You could argue they are providing a service, with clear terms and conditions, which others aren’t. If they didn’t where would their customers go? Many have argued about the ‘exorbitant’ interest rates, but they are purely based on risk. The loans are designed to be paid back quickly, and rates are set at a level to deter delays in paying back. Many companies have ways of ‘encouraging’ their customer’s behaviour, supermarkets especially, so that is nothing new.
When all is said and done Cisse may not approve of Wonga but he is playing in a league sponsored by Barclays, who is also a money lender. They also had an extremely dubious record in the 80’s earning them the nickname ‘Bank of South Africa’. Is Cisse happy to be promoting a company who would do business with Apartheid South Africa? If you look further you find Newcastle was sponsored by Virgin Money last season. Surely the same thing should apply to them.
He needs to be careful when choosing a charity for sponsorship too as it’s just been discovered the online donations website, CharityGiving, has not filed any accounts since April 2009 leading to a sum of £250,000 which is owed to the taxman.
You see what I mean about conflict with ethics?
Football and ethics always seems to me to be completely opposed to one another. I have made this point many times before but it never ceased to amuse me when the whole ‘John Terry-Wayne Bridge affair’ blew up and many football fans demanded he be tried on unethical grounds. Yet, many of these supporters will have been unfaithful to their partners. Many of these supporters would adore a player playing for their team, but once he’d left and came back with his new team, they’d abuse him, simply because he wears the wrong shirt. Then they protest against discrimination. These same supporters who believe buying a ticket to sit in the ground gives them the right to shout disgusting and fearful abuse at another person, particularly abuse they would not be allowed to shout anywhere else.
Above all it seems to me just a ploy to try and engineer a move away from St.James’s Park. The mood cannot be great up there at the moment and with Demba Ba going and Hatem Ben Arfa rumoured to be leaving soon too, perhaps he’s found it difficult to convince prospective employers of his desire to move.
Making a stand on ethical grounds is always a tricky one as there are bound to be conflicts in the argument, but Newcastle will be under pressure to convince their star performer he must conform.