"Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all"
(Evangelii Gaudium, 203).
Catholic Social Teaching is a core component of our Catholic faith. Its principles are rooted in the dignity of every human person and bring us together as a community, while creating relationships of love and respect. A few of the basic concepts that it encompasses are the life and dignity of the human person, a call to family and community, a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work, and a care for God’s creation. We are called to uphold these principles in every area of our lives, not only in our personal affairs, but in our professional lives as well. It is easy to see how these Catholic principles can be applied to the way we interact with customers, coworkers, and shareholders.
Businesses are commonly seen as seeking only to achieve higher profit margins, line the pockets of the executives, and expand their market share. By our Catholic standards, this is not an ethical foundation or what the purpose of any organization should be. The objective of a business should be to advance society by using its core competencies to fulfill a need, providing something valuable for society. This is not to say that businesses should not be profitable. Without profits, a company cannot exist. Instead of defining a company’s success solely by its profits, it should also be defined based on the value it adds to society and the way it treats any and all parties affected by its decisions. In other words, businesses should aim to serve the common good.
One of the biggest competitive advantages is creating good relationships with stakeholders—any of those who are affected by a company’s business decisions. Whether the quality of its goods and services are high or its prices are competitive, good relationships with stakeholders are invaluable and often lead to higher market share for these companies. Therefore, applying the principles of Catholic Social Teaching is also beneficial to the business’ success and, in turn, the success of the shareholders.
Today’s business world is highly competitive. As technology advances, businesses are required to act quickly when new ideas arise to obtain market share and stay afloat against competitors. With this need for quickly evolving business strategies also comes a tendency toward bending the rules and taking any measure necessary to beat out competitors. This can give a company a negative image, which is often difficult to reverse. On the other hand, a company that fights these temptations and follows the principles of Catholic Social Teaching will likely see success. Businesses should not be looked at as profit mongers, but instead as organizations who further develop society for the better. They must create this positive image, and as stakeholders we have a responsibility to hold companies accountable for their decisions and demand that they uphold ethical standards.
For a good article on the Catholic University of America's recently formed School of Business and Economics, click here.
Also, be sure to check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's resources on Catholic Social teaching by clicking here.
Amanda White is a graduate of The Catholic University of America's School of Business and Economics