"In the wake of probes and investigations into organizational conduct and practices, business leaders are finally launching a project to look into their own ethics."
That's how Lottle L. Mosher, at the Washington headquarters of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, describes an unusual project her organization has begun.
Armed with a $175,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the nationwide Better Business Bureaus have established a "Project on Business Responsibility."
The goal is to open up for broad public discussion such issues as responsibilities of advertisers to society, diisclosure to the public by business, product design and manufacture, guidelines for business when demands of society are in conflict with corporate goals, and multinational corporations.
In the first business organization program ever finanaced with money from the National Endowment, which has beeencouraging exploration of the role of private enterprise in American life, the Better Business Bureau profram currently is focused on a series of five conferences across the country.
Two have been held, in Dallas and New York. Additional panels are scheduled for Berkley and Chicago followed by a final session inWashington.
Scheduled for June 1 and 2, the local meeting will be conducted in cooperation with the Georgetown University Law Center and will be devoted to responsibilities of the multinationals.
Says Better Business Bureaus President W.H. Transkersley, "Wee believe the time has arrived when business must come to grips with siciety's demands for more responsive and ethical behavior."
His organization's new project is staffed by three persons, headed by Elizabeth T. Boris.
The Better Business Bureau people, who act as national spokesmen for 146 local bureaus in cities across the U.S., believe a humanities approach to these issues represents a breakthrough in the ongoing debate about business ethics. They are attracting business executives, government leaders and humanities scholars.
At the Washington program, for example, panelists will include Donald Jones, professor of ethics at Drew University, Laura Nader, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkley; former Forune editor Max Ways and Terrance Hasold, former chairman of the Better Business Bureaus and former president of Philosophy.
Boris says she hopes the project will help develop better communications between business, consumers and homemakers. The session in Dallas, she notes, attracted srudents, advertising agency and business executives from as far away as San Francisco and Florida for a panel on advertising.
The panel transcripts will be published to provide local Better Business Bureau with materials that can be used to launch additional regional efforts of a similar nature.
Workshops for local bureau leaders are planned next fall to help them develop local programs.
NEW INFORMATION - Speaking of more business disclosure, one of the city's largest financial institutions has decided for the first time to "tell all" in its annual report to stockholders.
American Security Corp, which owns the second-largest bank here, distributed in the past week a report that include the Form 10-K annual statement required by the Securities and Exchange Commission of all publicly-traded firms.
In so doing, American Security joins a growing list of major firms that are seeking wider dissemination of the SEC documents, which normally are filed in the agency's libraries and available to stockholders only on special request. The SEC documents contain detailed financial and management information often deleted from reports sent to owners.
American Security also has dressed up its report with graphics that help stockholders understand the financial data - such as color charts on loans loses and overdue loans.
Among statistics often omitted from bank reports, American Security details the major holdings of its trust department - including 617,000 shares of General Electric, 490,000 shares of American Telephone and 262,000 shares of Southern Railway.
Largest equity purchases last year included Central Telephone & Utilities (6.7 million) and E. I. du Pont Nemours ($5.9 million). Major sales included Schlumberger ($7.3 million) and Air Products & Chemical ($5.6 million). All told, the trusts department manages assets of $1.9 million and is custodian for another $1 billion of assets.