10 March 2006

Mr Wang is Proud to Work for an Ethical Employer

Mr Wang works for one of the larger banks in the world. This morning Mr Wang just discovered that the bank has a high-level policy about any financial transactions involving military equipment. In deciding whether to get involved, the bank will consider, among other things, the attitude of the relevant country towards democracy and human rights.

Furthermore the bank takes an outright "NO" position to getting involved in any financial transaction involving the manufacture, sale or distribution of antipersonnel landmines.

Today I feel a little prouder about my employer, and a little more ashamed of my country.

A young victim of the kind of things
that Singapore makes money from.


Anonymous said...

many of Mr Wang's readers would like to know the identity of the ethical bank so that they can open a bank account there.

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. must be a Swiss bank or one of those big European ones.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

This ethical bank does not do retail banking in this part of the world .... only investment banking, corporate banking and private banking.

Anonymous said...

No country can boast of respecting all rights. What about things like pollution, child labor and the abuse of animals? The excessive use of fuel that our entire world is built upon, that is causing problems for the poorest people as well as Arctic and Antarctic animals?

With regards to benefiting from the misery of others, I don't think any country in the world can come away with clean hands.


singaporean said...

I did a little sleuthing, and hey, it wasnt hard to find at all.

Since this bank has problems with landmines, it cannot be an American bank. Without retail ops, it cant be ABN-Amro, HSBC or Stanchart. That leave us with Macquarie/BNP/ING/UBS/CS/SGA. Take a pick!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Your sleuthing went way wrong this time, Singaporean. :)

HSBC and Stanchart have plenty of retail banking in Asia;

ABN, HSBC and Stanchart in fact all have retail banking in Singapore;

American banks may well have certain policies against practices that their government still subscribes to;

oh, and you missed a wide range of other possible candidates;

there are about 100 foreign banks licenseed in Singapore!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

No country can boast of respecting all rights, but some countries respect fewer rights than others.

There is a big moral difference between countries which are unable to control certain kinds of problems within their borders (pollution, child labour etc); and countries which very deliberately choose to manufacture landmines not for self-defence, but for sale & commercial profit.

And while I agree with you that no country has clean hands with regards to benefiting from the misery of others, are you aware of the extreme kind of misery that landmines bring? Singapore (through CIS) manufactures many kinds of defence equipment - do you know why landmines are singled out for special mention?

hugewhaleshark said...

Let's be systematic. These are the largest European banks by market capitalisaion, 2004

1. HSBC - retail operations
2. Royal Bank of Scotland - possible
3. UBS - denied
4. Barclays - possible
5. BNP Paribas - denied
6. SCH (Banco Santander) - are these guys still here?
7. HBOS (Halifax / Bank of Scotland) - were these guys ever here?
8. ING - denied
9. Deutsche Bank - possible
10. BBVA (Banco Bilbao) - are these guys here?
11. Lloyds TSB - possible
12. Credit Suisse - denied
13. Societe Generale - denied?

Not forgetting other names like Dresdner, Calyon, Fortis, Dexia, Rabo. And that's just the Europeans. It's a pretty long list...

Anonymous said...

Not very difficult to guess what.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Ahahaa! I cannot deny it - I do work for one of the banks that have been mentioned so far. ;)

Anonymous said...

I do admit making money from landmines is very sucky. I am ashamed that my country is part of the value chain that results in people getting their legs blown off.

But I would hesitate to say that pollution is uncontrollable, or attempt to rank the violated rights in a hierarchy of which rights are less deserving of respect than others.

I mean, pollution is one of the most controllable things, and harms more people than you can imagine. It harms in the form of deformities, landslides, cancer. It is one of the reasons rich countries choose to have factories in third world countries, so that if accidents happen, they doesn't affect their own country. I'm sure you have heard of the Soxal case, I studied it in a very basic law module.

All countries are unethical. Some just do it in less immediately obvious ways than others.


Anonymous said...

Mugster...seems intent on making excuses for her country. Let's not expand the scope of comparison but instead focus back on why producing landmines for sale is unethical.

singaporean said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Did you not read the second sentence of my comment? Producing landmines is unethical, no debate about that. That other countries engage in similar economically enhancing but unethical activities doesn't provide an excuse for Singapore, but is not totally irrelevant either.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

To me, this looks like a rather meaningless line of argument coming from you, Mugster.

On factories in 3rd world countries - well, we know what they are there for. They are there to make things like paints; plastics; refined oil; canned food; clothes; telephones; microprocessors -

in other words, things which are NOT intentionally designed to permanently main, but not to kill. Unlike landmines.

And by the way, I have not heard of the Soxal case. I only know that it is a Singapore company whose subsidiaries include Jurong Island Industrial Gas Pte Ltd. Why - what about Soxal - is Singapore using it to pollute other countries as well?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

To me, this looks like a rather meaningless line of argument coming from you, Mugster.

On factories in 3rd world countries - well, we know what they are there for. They are there to make things like paints; plastics; refined oil; canned food; clothes; telephones; microprocessors -

in other words, things which are NOT intentionally designed to permanently main, but not to kill.

Unlike landmines.

And by the way, I have not heard of the Soxal case. I only know that it is a Singapore company whose subsidiaries include Jurong Island Industrial Gas Pte Ltd. Why - what about Soxal - is Singapore using it to pollute other countries as well?

Anonymous said...

Let's not be hypocrite, all of us deserve to be ashamed of ourselves. As Anon says, "With regards to benefiting from the misery of others, I don't think any country in the world can come away with clean hands." Sure, it does not make the act right ... You tell me that you are ashamed of Singapore, and if you really feel like this and against the mines, then go and protest against it, campaign against it or whatever, rather then hide behind a good MNC job which the govt has encouraged to come in to give people like you to earn big bucks. I think we are ashamed of you, Mr Wang! What a hypocrite! What a load of crap.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Protest? Campaign? And how many people do you think would actually get my message if I were to stand outside CPF Building for one hour on a Saturday morning?

Conversely, how many people do you think come to my blog each week to read my posts, including my post about the landmine issue?

Which method do you think is more effective in raising awareness about the landmine issue?

Use your blain, lah. And btw, no real chessplayer refers to that particular chess piece as a "castle". It's a "rook", my friend.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to rephrase my argument then, I'm not writing to defend Singapore, rather I am pretty tired of rich companies and countries saying that they are ethical clean and green, when every thing we buy and use definitely harms the environment, which in turn harms humans.

If people think Singapore is into money laundering, then where do the billions owned by corrupt politicians in SEA go to? All to Singapore? Or are these funds also managed by "ethical" employers who do not do ostensibly inhumane things like making landmines, but do everything under a veil of secrecy?

Mr Wang, I really don't think we can pretend to be surprised when we have massive oil spills, and chemical spills, because the risk of this happening always exists. It's not 100% likely to happen, but there's always a risk, and I believe it would be factored into the decision for a location for a factory. If pollution only happens as a result of accidents, then our world would be very clean today. Talking about intention as an excuse is as lame as saying "if we don't make these landmines, other countries will too".

So if we want to point fingers at unethical means to make money, by all means, but we can't say with a straight face that our own ricebowl is untainted by the blood of others'.


Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the case I was talking about.

As you can see, effects linger on even till today, and getting compensation was a legal struggle because what is unethical may not be illegal, and what is legal may not be ethical. Ethics is a strange thing, and the title of your post talks about ethics, not legality. Supposing you are manufacturing this deadly chemical, the chances of which leaking are perhaps 30%, and you build it in this 3rd world country where people would die like flies if the stuff leaks because they have poor medical infrastructure. Is it ethical? If we want to adopt the high moral ground, we'd have to say no. Because chemical accidents DO happen, and the aftermath is often horrifying.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


I guess we are not on the same wavelength then.

I see a huge difference between:

(1) the manufacture of insecticides, paints, cosmetics, refined oil, steel, plastic etc


(2) the manufacture of landmines.

If you don't, I guess we don't have much more to talk about. But in future posts, I may write separately on environmental pollution / money laundering etc - these are worthwhile topics in themselves.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, allow me to butt in gently, does building strawmen arguements hit a note with you? Cos it sure seems that way to me seeing that a certain poster here have been doing that.

It's like the typical establishment kind of arguements anyway, if it suits them they will use whatever counter examples to build their arguement.

Anonymous said...

Your title is about an ethical employer, is it not? And you've not written a whole post about how Singapore is unethical for making landmines. My argument is about about how it is impossible for any rich country/company to boast of being "ethical".

The difference between these industries lies in the traceability. You manufacture cosmetics, dispose waste into a 3rd world country river, 20 years later, people get cancer and deformities. It's not immediately traceable to your company, and you can even boast of being humane.

I DID say that landmines are cruel, I don't know HOW you could have missed that, being a lawyer. If you think that industrial accidents are so rare that they are negligible, if I gave you a mansion next to a factory, would you live in it with your family?

No wonder Erin Brockovich was lauded for her ethics, because she KNOWS what ethics really are.


Anonymous said...

I think we both write with the same purpose.

You want to highlight certain unethical things that Singapore is dabbling in, and I want to remind you that aside from landmines, there are many ways in which developed countries screw 3rd world countries, under various excuses. (I'm sorry for this horrible chemical accident that will cause you and your unborn children to have three ears. Such things are totally unexpected and it's not like I meant to do it- (please click on link provided in earlier comment))

Basically the message is that we should not continue to delude ourselves that we're being ethical.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Firstly, Mugster, there is a difference between a company and a government. Example:

if a US company decides to set up a factory in India, there may not be anything that the US government can do about it. The Indian government is in the position to do something about it - but may allow it, even encourage it, because the factory will, say, generate jobs for people in that part of India.

If a US company sets up a factory in India, it is not with the purpose of screwing the Indian people as opposed to screwing the Americans. More likely it is because of reasons such as cheaper labour, availability of natural resources, lower land cost etc.

You can set up a factory anywhere - India or US - and apply the necessary safety standards. It may be the case that in a developing country, environmental standards are more lax, and therefore the company may apply lower safety standards in India than it would in the US. Still no one wishes that the accident would happen to either Indians or Americans.

Even if you were a totally money-minded company, you wouldn't wish for an accident to happen. At the very least, your factory operations would have to be shut down which means you make less money.

In other words, whether you are manufacturing vitamins or landmines, you wouldn't want an accident to happen at your factory.

Quite apart from all that, there is a big difference between vitamins and landmines. Which you seem to refuse to see.

Also I think you fail to see a very basic difference about being ethical and about things going wrong. The fact that something goes wrong does not mean that someone has been ethical.

For example, if you drive a car, you cannot be 100% certain that you will not one day knock someone down and kill the person. There could be an accident.

This does not make driving in itself unethical.

I hope you see the difference.

Anonymous said...

Typo, Mr Wang. You meant:

"The fact that something goes wrong does not mean that someone has been UNethical."

just a small point

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, you choose to call your son (I presume) Little Wang in the blog. Let me call my rook "castle", and i won't tell you what you can call your son. Anyway, you still miss the point. There are many things you can do to your nation if you are so ashamed of it, but the truth is that you want to live under the security that it provides you so that you can criticise it more. And you wonder why people are ashamed of you ...sigh... maybe you should go reflect more...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Really? How interesting. What kind of special security do you think Singapore provides to people who like to criticise. Very interested to understand better what you're trying to say.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

The difference lies in the traceability of the harm. The degree you can look at the aftermath of that particular trade, and pinpoint the companies responsible for it.

Pollution happens inevitably as a result of many industries. It is the norm rather than the exception. Chemical accidents are not the only source of pollution.


Anonymous said...

As for safety standards, who are we kidding? How often are the same safety standards applied in 1st world nations applied in 3rd world countries? The wage of 3rd world workers is a few dollars a day, would the company spend a hundred times that amount to implement safety precautions?

Hypothetically (in a perfect world), rich countries care about what happens to the workers that work for a few dollars a day, but we're in a world where the rich DO exploit the poor.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Actually I did some research since the last time I discussed this with you and I have a better opinion now of Singapore as far as landmines are concerned. When I finish my research, I'll be blogging about landmines again.

Apparently the Singapore Technologies company which manufactures landmines now only has one customer - the Singapore Armed Forces - and will not sell landmines to anybody else.

This kinda makes me feel better about the whole thing, even though Singapore obviously remains in bad company, as far as landmines are concerned. Most of the countries which are still making landmines are basically the same kind of countries which share approximately Singapore's status in press freedom rankings:

Iraq (although production had presumably ceased since the invasion of 2003)
North Korea
Russian Federation

Anyway, I still see your logic as quite flawed - is any act less ethical or more ethical just because it can be traced?? - but since the point is irrelevant to landmines anyway, I shan't explore it any further.

Anonymous said...

I mean that with landmines, we can look at the victims and point the culprits to be Singapore.

But with the damage that is done by other industries, it is indirect and it's harder to trace the perpetrator.

"When you invest in such SRI funds as Domini, Calvert, Sierra Club and Pax, you are investing in American corporations that fight against environmental regulation; whose trade associations lobby against living wages or increases in the minimum wage; that lobby for and receive corporate welfare from Congress in the form of pork-barrel tax breaks and subsidies; create non-profit organizations to fight claims that junk food causes obesity; prevent people from getting price breaks on pharmaceuticals, whose CEOs raise millions of dollars for the Bush administration's assault on human rights and the environment, and more. You would never know this because you invest in the "language" of social responsibility, not the reality. The advertisements cater to our desire to do good things with our savings, and based on their language and promotional material, investors trust that the SRI mutual funds live up to their word."


Anonymous said...

Are you now going into areas like corporate social responsibility? That's a totally different field although not totally unrelated to the landmines Mr Wang is talking about.

Let's not be hypocritical, safety standards implemented in 3rd world countries factories set up my TNCsa are often much higher than the factories that only follows the local laws. So what are you talking about Mugster? And you are conflating Transnational companies with the rich countries. It is the companies that are doing the investing in poorer countries, not the rich countries per se. Get over it.

You really should be exploring the topic of CSR rather than talking about tracebility etc etc. Makes for a confused case.

Anonymous said...

Not the special security. The basic security that you have. The roof over your head, your children and even yourself basically receiving a good education that allows you to be employed by an international firm/bank. The list can go on. You are enjoying all that, sometimes more than you deserve.

And yet, you go around criticising your country and act as if you have the moral authority. And then you declare that you are ashamed of your country. Please if you are so ashamed, reject the country.

My point is this: why are you critiising? You wrote:
"Protest? Campaign? And how many people do you think would actually get my message if I were to stand outside CPF Building for one hour on a Saturday morning?"

You want to give the impression that you care. Do you? Does all this rob you of your peaceful sleep? If you really feel about it, there are more than you can do, and you know it.

You seem to have other reasons for taking such potshots. Is it because you want the 5 min of fame? You certainly behave as if you crave the fame, if indeed you can that. You seem to have a high when the media gives you a mention. Is that what you are craving for? I don't know. But in actual fact you certainly don't behave as if you really care about landmines maiming people although you like people to think so.

You write in the safety of your big bucks job. and you keep yourself annoymous although I think your ego sometimes let you slip and we think we know who you are.

I don't know what your motive is. maybe it is just an academic exercise. maybe you have other agenda. But really. don't act if you care for you certainly, don't. The people who lose their legs or their lives don't need a fake to represent them.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Ted is actually quite right. To give you an example, if a foreign bank sets up a branch in Singapore, it is subject both to the regulations in its home country AND Singapore's own MAS regulations.

DBS, operating in Singapore, need only comply with MAS standards. A Citibank or HSBC, operating in Singapore, needs to comply with both regulations in their home country AND the MAS standards.

Anyway, we drift again. For all I know, landmine making is as pollutive an industry as, say, the manufacture of paint. Still, pollution aside, there is a huge difference between making paint and making landmines, a difference which Mugster still won't or can't see.

Anonymous said...

Ted and MW,

Ethics is when you classify actions into what is right or wrong. There are many schools of ethics.

The landmine industry is unethical.

But so are industries that do not account for the negative externalities of their economic actions.

We see a kid with his leg blown off, and we immediately blame the company making those landmines.

But we see a village full of deformed children, who do we blame? Which one of the many companies that dump waste into the nearby river can we blame?

Yes, the intent of making landmines is to kill or maim, and that makes this unethical. However, an unavoidable consequence of a lot of other industries is the harming of poor people, which makes these industries unethical too.

CSR is a concept developed to make people see how companies and governments need to deal with the ethics of business. It's about how even if the objective of most businesses isn't to kill people (unlike the landmine industry), people do get killed anyway, so something has to be done.


Anonymous said...

Ah ha. So that's it, Mugster is desperately trying to get Singapore off the hook by talking about Oranges, while some of us wants to and had already focus on the issue by talking about the Apples.

I think we can pretty much stop at here, it's going nowhere. Why don't you start your own blog and write your own issues? We'll or at least I will gladly comment there. By the way, alot of industries also equally harm the people living in rich countries, so how?

Anonymous said...

It's a delight reading your comments, Ted. You don't see the things I spell out clearly, and even accuse me of saying the opposite. You don't care much about ethics and landmines. Anything to pin down Singapore.


Anonymous said...

"By the way, alot of industries also equally harm the people living in rich countries, so how?"

I don't think you are harmed as much as you should be by the industries which produce things you use everyday.


Anonymous said...

Well, the point is what is there to talk about? Singapore don't own much of the TNCs that you said that were polluting. What do you want to do about them other than, well, criticising them? Don't buy their stocks? Products? Or gasp..protest? You know we can't do that in Singapore , the protest I mean. So that pretty much leaves boycotting their goods and whatever they sell.

But mind you, you have not once point a concrete example except for a vague Soxal case. So what do you want to talk about?

You are not the only one who are qualified to talk about ethics, I am sure many of us reading the blog have at least took a lesson or two in ethics or moral reasoning. So yeah, I am not seeing anything special from your arguements.

So you said alot of industries harm people, then what? Boo hoo, everyone is equally guilty, so Singapore who have previously sold landmines to other countries is safe because everyone else is doing it? Oh nice try. Why don't you try this example, BAT produces tons of cigerattes for sale in first world and third world countries, many studies have shown that smoking causes alot of diesease . So the question is, people in both 3rd and 1st world countries smoke the same cigs produced by a TNC, are they equally harmed or poor people in poor country are harmed more than that of people in rich countries?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Just by the way, Mugster, it's not as if I condone companies which behave unethically and cause a lot of damage to unborn children etc.

I happened to be talking about Singapore's landmines, because as I said, I happened to be at work, and chanced upon my employer's policy about getting involved in military equipment, AND there was a specific reference to landmines, and I remembered that the topic was mentioned on Tomorrow.

Sure, there are numerous examples of unethical behaviour in the world, but don't blame me for not writing about all of them. I can only manage about five posts a week, and that already makes me one of the most active bloggers around, I should say.

Thought for you -

instead of focusing on how to defend Singapore's bad reputation for certain kinds of behavior which you already agree is unethical,

why don't you focus on how Singapore should change its unethical behaviour,

so that further defence is not even necessary.

Or is that too major a paradigm change for you?