A History of the International Society of Business, Economics, and Ethics, Part 1

Part I

Richard T. De George, University of Kansas

The history of any organization can be written in a variety of ways. Any history has to contain facts about the organization:  the contents of its constitution; a list of its officers, its major meetings, and the like. An organization that lasts any considerable length of time changes over the years. New members find the organization already formed and may know or care little about its history. Others may find the history of the organization they join of some interest. And so it is with the International Society of Business, Economics and Ethics (ISBEE).

At the Fifth ISBEE World Congress in Warsaw (2012) Christopher Michaelson, the ISBEE Secretary-General, approached me and asked if I, as the first President of ISBEE, would begin the history by writing my personal recollections, based to the extent possible on written records, of the Society. He would then ask Georges Enderle to add his recollections, and perhaps comment on what I had written, either to add another dimension or perspective to ground I had covered, or to add what I had omitted. Georges would of course know things he had done of which I had no knowledge and almost certainly would have had aims for the Society which were different from mine. The process would then continue to the next presidents in turn and would perhaps include others as well.

So I shall begin the story. How did ISBEE get started? To answer that question I shall have to provide some biographical and historical information. The idea of starting a truly global society of those interested in advancing ethics in business, rather than simply another international society, grew out of my experience with both the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (known by its French initials as FISP) and the Society for Business Ethics (SBE) in the United States. The model I envisioned was the model of FISP, with appropriate modifications. The major function of FISP was and is to convene and run the World Congress of Philosophy once every five years. As the name indicates its members are philosophical societies from throughout the world. The first FISP sponsored World Congress took place in 1948, and it continued a tradition of quinquennial World Congresses which started in 1900. I attended my first World Congress of Philosophy in 1963 in Mexico City, and continued to attend then thereafter in Vienna (1968), Varna (1973), Düsseldorf, (1978), Montreal (1983), and Brighton (1988), which is where ISBEE was born. In 1978 I was elected to the Steering Committee of FISP, and in 1983 I was elected Vice President. My experience with FISP greatly influenced my idea of what ISBEE could be. As a member of the FISP Steering Committee I attended meetings in places outside of Europe and North America, which were not the usual places for international philosophy meeting at the time, places like Nairobi, Ankara, Seoul, and Rio de Janeiro, and as a member of the Steering Committee I became friends with philosophers from Japan, Israel, Egypt, Brazil, India, and so on. Most other international meetings I attended were dominated by participants from North America and Europe. FISP was the model I hoped to follow with a new world-wide association in the newly developing field of business ethics.

Business ethics was still in many ways an emerging field. The first textbooks had appeared only in 1979; the Society for Business Ethics held its first meeting in 1980; and the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) was established in 1987. Nor was business ethics widely accepted in the traditional philosophical societies. In 1987, I proposed a Round Table (as the session was known) on business ethics for the XVIII World Congress of Philosophy scheduled to take place in 1988 in Brighton, England. Five years earlier I had organized a Round Table on applied ethics; but this would be the first time a session on business ethics would be on the program of a World Congress of Philosophy. The Round Table was approved, and I invited Georges Enderle, who was teaching in St. Gallen, Switzerland, Henk von Luijk, who was at Nijenrode University in the Netherlands, Thomas Donaldson, who was teaching at Loyola University of Chicago, and Anselmo Mataix, S.J., from Sofia University, Japan. They all accepted.i During the Congress I proposed to Enderle and van Luijk, both of whom had been instrumental in establishing EBEN and were on its Executive Committee, the idea of forming an international society of business ethics, modeled on FISP, which would hold a world congress every four years (rather than every five, as FISP did). They expressed interest, and during the remainder of the Congress we met to iron out the organization’s details.

It was clear from the start that the proposed society, even if modeled on FISP, was considerably different from it. FISP was a federation of philosophical societies, and its members numbered over 100. In 1988 there were very few business ethics societies. So membership would have to include both societies and individual members. Moreover we wanted the society to embrace businesses as members as well. So it would not be an exclusively academic society. Since there were relatively few societies for business ethics, part of the aim of the new organization would be to foster the establishment of such societies in countries and regions where they did not exist. The Society for Business Ethics in the U.S. already drew participants from Europe and Japan; and EBEN was a network with members from 12 countries and several national societies, and was growing. Its meetings attracted academics from the U.S. and from countries outside of its official member societies. As a result, one key consideration was to figure out what was required for our proposed society to be accepted, and another was to determine how we could ensure that ISBEE was not seen as a threat to existing societies.

By the end of the Congress we had agreed on steps we would follow.ii Although I had argued for the tentative name of the society to be the International Society of Business Ethics, Georges argued that the term “business ethics” did not translate well into many languages, and that in Europe much of what in the U. S. was considered business ethics was considered economic ethics. We tentatively agreed on the working title of the International Society of Economics, Business and Ethics (ISEBE). We agreed to invite Kirk Hanson (USA), Kenneth Goodpaster (USA), Thomas Donaldson (USA), Jack Mahoney (Great Britain) and Vittorio Coda (Italy) to join the three of us to form an organizing committee, which would also serve as the first Executive Committee.  We divided up the task of contacting existing organizations to join in the project. We agreed on a four year cycle for the World Congresses. This would give enough time for host societies to raise the money needed for a World Congress and for a program committee to advertise and produce a good program, representative of business ethics throughout the world. We also decided that the first Executive Committee meeting would be planned in conjunction with the Second European Conference on Business Ethics in Barcelona on September 30, 1989. I was charged with drafting a proposed Constitution and By-Laws. I used the FISP Constitution and By-laws as my guide and made the modifications necessary to those documents to fit our organization.iii

The meeting in Barcelona took place on September 29, 1989.iv Those attending were De George, Donaldson, Enderle, Mahoney and van Luijk. After a long discussion we decided the name of the organization would be the International Society of Business, Economics and Ethics (ISBEE). I was chosen to be Secretary-General and Georges Enderle was chosen as Treasurer. Henk van Luijk was to be the organizer of the first meeting of the Society. In addition to the current members of the Executive Committee, we decided to add one member from the Far East, one from Latin America, possibly one from Africa, and two from the business community. Tom Donaldson was in charge of designing and printing appropriate stationery. Once the stationery was ready, I was to write corporations, societies and individuals inviting them to join and, as early members, to have a voice in changing and structuring the fledgling organization. We targeted 1992 for the first meeting of the Society, with the first World Congress to take place in 1996. Jack Mahoney was in charge of contacting appropriate organizations and business corporations in Europe. The fee structure was intentionally kept low, so as to make membership affordable for potential members throughout the world. Fees were: US$15 for individual members, $50 for non-profit organizations, and $100 for corporate members.

The final members of what is listed on the official stationery as members of the Organizing Committee were:  Richard De George, Secretary Generalv; Georges Enderle, Treasurer; and Members: Thomas Donaldson, Edwin Epstein, Kenneth Goodpaster, Kirk Hanson, Elmer Johnson, Anne-Marie Kjos, Henk van Luijk, and Jack Mahoney. (Elmer Johnson and Anne-Marie Kjos were from the business community.) The logo (three circles within a larger circle) represented the union of business, economics, and ethics.vi The French translation for the society that was eventually agreed upon was “Société internationale d’éthique, d’économie et de gestion.”vii The idea of adding the Society’s title in French as well as English was taken from FISP. But whereas in FISP the Constitution and all official documents were in both French and English, in the ISBEE case the use of the two languages was purely symbolic. Including the name of the Society in French as part of the letterhead was meant to indicate that the Society was not simply an American one, but an international or global one. In June 1990, letters of invitation to join ISBEE were sent to all members of the Society for Business Ethics and of the Social Issues in Management Division of the Academy of Management.

The next meeting of the Organizing Committee took place on August 11, 1990 following the meeting of the Society for Business Ethics in San Francisco.viii Present were De George, Donaldson, Enderle, Hanson, and van Luijk.  Paul Minus, President of the Council for Ethics in Economics (CEinE) in Columbus, Ohio, was invited for the first item on the agenda.

The Council was sponsoring an International Conference on the Ethics of Business in a Global Economy in Columbus, on March 25-27, 1992. The Council’s preparation of the Conference, including funding was far ahead of ISBEE, which had just started its membership drive. After considerable discussion, the Committee proposed having an ISBEE program and business meeting on March 27, immediately following the CEinE Conference, to officially launch the Society. CEinC would include in the publicity for its Conference information about the ISBEE meeting. ISBEE would provide CEinE with up to 100 names of academics around the world, primarily from the Society’s membership, to invite to the Conference. Each side would benefit from the arrangement. ISBEE would not have to negotiate with hotels for space and would get a reduced rate to the Conference; CEinE would have access to academics interested in business ethics around the globe.

The Committee then discussed additional recruitment. Letters of invitation were to be sent to all EBEN members. News of the Society would be sent to all business ethics centers, and appropriate journals, newsletters and organizations. Names of possible members outside of North America and Europe would be solicited widely. Corporate sponsors would be sought. To attract members the Committee discussed information and networking possibilities, and agreed to issue a periodic International Report, which would include information about business ethics activities throughout the world. Dues would cover routine mailings to members. A Finance Committee was formed with Hanson (Chair), Donaldson and Kjos as members. A goal of $75,000 was set as a target needed to cover initial expenses. (As it turned out, no funds were raised.) A Recruitment Committee of De George (Chair) and van Luijk was created. De George agreed to draw up a statement of the Society’s objectives and a ten year plan for circulation and discussion. The draft Constitution would be sent to members with a request for comments. Ratification of the document and election of officers would take place at the Columbus meeting.

The resulting documents were distributed to the Organizing Committee August 17, 1990.ix The objectives were essentially 1) to develop a network for exchanging mutually beneficial information world-wide; 2) to promote the development of business ethics, especially in areas of the world where it was not or was minimally present through a World Congress to be held every four years, and to promote regional meetings in areas where they were not already taking place; and 3) to foster research into issues of business ethics on the international level. The Ten Year Plan called for completing the basic organization of the Society and conducting a membership drive in 1991-92; organizing and holding the first meeting of the Society in 1992; planning the First World Congress of Business Economics and Ethics, seeking outside funding, and working with other organizations on new initiatives in 1992-1995. 1996 was set as the target date for the First ISBEE World Congress; 1996-1999 would be devoted to post-Congress development; and the Second ISBEE World Congress would take place in 2000.

The Organizing Committee met at the EBEN conference in Milan, Oct. 5, 1990, with Donaldson, Enderle, Kjos, Mahoney and van Luijk in attendance. At that meeting Rowland Brown, senior counselor of CEinE, informed the Committee that CEinE had accepted the ISBEE proposal. Various changes were suggested to the draft Objectives of the Society.

On January 4, 1991 De George sent a letter to the “Charter Members” of ISBEE and included the proposed Constitution and By-Law; a list of members (121 individual members and 6 corporate or not-for-profit members); the tentative 10 Year Plan; and an Information Report, which included details of the 1992 meeting, a call for papers, and a call for invitations to host the first World Congress in 1996.

By February 21 membership had increased to 150. CEinE agreed to invite all ISBEE members to the Columbus meeting, which was to include 350 business leaders; 125 local, government and church representatives; and 125 academics.

The next meeting of the Organizing Committee took place in Miami, August 10, 1991 in conjunction with the SBE.x By that date only 35 members of ISBEE had expressed interest in attending the meeting in Columbus. As Chair of the Program Committee van Luijk suggested that the scale of the meeting be reduced to one plenary session of two hours, followed by a business meeting. The Society at that point had $2528.73 in U.S. banks and US$537.30 and 78.70 Swiss francs in Swiss bank accounts. Expenditures for printing and mailing had been absorbed by Georgetown University and the University of Kansas.

The Information Report of November, 1991, contained the program for the Columbus meeting, and announced that ISBEE would present a session at a conference at Bentley College, March 30-31, 1992. By the first meeting of the Society, which took place in Columbus, Ohio,xi the Society had 225 members from 22 countries. About 30 members attended the first meeting.

The program of that meeting consisted of a symposium on the topic, “An Agenda for an International Society of Business, Economics and Ethics.” De George chaired the session, and the panelists were Yukimasa Nagayasu (Japan), Ann-Marie Kjos (Norway), Ramuald D’Souza (India) and Henk van Luijk (Netherlands). A number of suggestions for future activities and for initiatives the Society might pursue were proposed and the minutes solicited additional suggestions from members.

The symposium then segued into the business meeting. Among the announcements were the fact that the Society had agreed to co-sponsor a conference on business ethics in New Delhi in 1994, and that Georges Enderle had secured tax-exempt status for ISBEE in Switzerland. The draft Constitution and By-Laws, which had been circulated to the members for comment in advance, were adopted by unanimous vote.xii Since the Constitution and By-Laws specify that elections are to take place at the business meeting of the World Congress, the present Organizing Committee and officers were ratified as serving until that time. A “Call for a Host Country,” listing the details of what was expected of the host country ( i.e., form an local Organizing Committee to be in charge of local arrangements, raise sufficient funds in addition to a registration fee to host the meeting, etc.) was sent out. Two invitations were informally received to host the first World Congress in 1996, one in Boston and the other in Tokyo. The ISBEE Organizing Committee was instructed to pursue both, but a consensus emerged that the first Congress would preferably be somewhere other than the United States or Europe.

In his capacity as Secretary General De George developed and periodically sent out an Information Report.  The first Report included a list of all organizations and centers interested in business ethics. William Baumer (University of Buffalo) organized an electronic bulletin board for ISBEE, open to all members of the Society as well as to members of SBE, EBEN, and CEinE. (Remember that this is 1992, before the World Wide Web and electronic search engines; Yahoo did not appear until 1994 and Google did not become popular until 2000).  A second Report listing business ethics journals and newsletters was sent to members on May 25, 1993.xiii The cover letter of that Report announced that the Organizing Committee had accepted the invitation from Professor Nagayasu to host the First World Congress of Business, Economics and Ethics in May, 1996. It also noted that unfortunately the New Delhi meeting had been cancelled.xiv

The actual dates of the First Congress turned out to be July 25-28, 1996. The official host was the Institute of Moralogy of Reitaku University, located in the outskirts of Tokyo. On July 27, 1993,xv De George sent Nagayasu detailed suggestions for organizing a world congress (most of which were adaptations taken from practices followed by FISP in organizing the World Congresses of Philosophy). Enderle worked with Nagayasu in elaborating the considerable organizational details. The program was to be handled by an International Program Committee, and details of venue, housing, meals, etc., by the Japanese Organizing Committee. An official announcement went out on September 22, 1994.xvi Contributed papers were due December 15, 1995. The International Program Committee was composed of Richard De George, Thomas Donaldson , Georges Enderle , Edwin Epstein, Kenneth Goodpaster, Kirk Hanson, Elmer Johnson, Ann-Marie Kjos, Jack Mahoney, and Henk van Luijk. The Chair of the Japanese Organizing Committee was Yukimasa Nagayasu.

Enderle took the lead in setting up the invited portion of the program. The Keynote Speakers included Amartya Sen (Harvard), Akira Takahashi (Institute of Deverloping Countries, Tokyo), and Hans Küng (Tübingen). On the suggestion of Donaldson, Enderle also invited and provided the guidelines for Country- and Region-Related Reports on business ethics from 12 regions of the world. Contributed papers were invited on six main topic areas, and Enderle was in charge of having them reviewed and organizing the final program.  He became the de facto Chair of the International Program Committee. About 3,500 announcements of the Congress were distributed to individuals and organizations in 30 countries. Enderle attended a meeting with members of the Japanese Organizing Committee to work out details of the Congress.xvii

The First World Congress of Business, Economics and Ethics took place July 25-28, 1996. It was not just another international meeting on business ethics, but the first truly global meeting, with five of the continents represented. The 90 papers presented were first posted on the new ISBEE website and then distributed on two floppy disks to all participants. The Congress attracted over 200 participants from 29 countries. Although the Finance Committee was not able to raise any funds for the Congress, the Japanese Organizing Committee was successful in raising funds in Japan, and anonymous gifts of $24,000 provided travel expenses for some presenters from less developed countries who otherwise would not have been able to attend.

Before the Congress opened in the evening of July 25, a special conference for business leaders took place in downtown Tokyo, sponsored by ISBEE, the Institute of Moralogy, and Nihon Keizai Shinbun Inc., and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Education, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren), and the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (Nikkeiren).xviii

At the ISBEE Business Meetingxix the Assembly accepted the slate of officers presented by the Organizing Committee, which acted as a Nominating Committee. Additional nominations were invited from any group of 15 or more members.  Four additional nominations were received. The Program Committee announced that the Journal of Business Ethics had agreed to publish the Country- and Region-Related Reports, and the Business Ethics Quarterly offered to publish the Plenary Session papers. (In 1999 a volume of plenary session and other papers from the Congress on four topic areas, edited by Georges Enderle was published by University of Notre Dame Press under the title International Business Ethics.) Cecilia Arruda expressed the interest of a group in Brazil to host the next Congress in São Paulo. Two potential regional groups were formed during the Congress. On August 22 a call for a host for the Second World Congress, a list of nominees, minutes of the General Assembly meeting, and a list of all the members was sent to all members of the Society. The ballot was sent out on November 22, 1996. Results were reported to the members on January 25, 1997.xx De George was elected President, Georges Enderle Vice President (President-Elect), and 13 members were elected to the Executive Committee from a slate of 15 nominees. By vote of the Executive Committee, Enderle was appointed Secretary General. The Society was now officially organized, had held its first World Congress, and had elected its first complete set of officers.

The Executive Committee received two invitations from members interested in hosting the next World Congress—one in Hannover, Germany, the other in São Paulo, Brazil. The Executive Committee chose São Paolo.xxi Cecilia Arruda presented the Brazilian offer. The official host was Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) – São Paulo School of Business Administration (EAESP), through the CENE ‑ Center of Studies for Ethics in Organizations. In 1995 Thomas Hodel, Switzerland, brought the Society to the Web, and served as the web master for the Society until 2011. Arruda organized the ISBEE sponsored First International Conference of Business, Economics and Ethics in Latin America in July, 1998, in São Paolo, and at that time the Latin American Business Ethics Network (ALENE) was established. In preparation for the ISBEE Congress, she also helped plan two conferences in Porto Alegre, run by FEDERASUL (Federation of Commercial and Services Associations of Rio Grande do Sul). Georges Enderle acted once again as the Chair of the ISBEE Program Committee.

An ISBEE meeting was held on August 13, 1998, at the 20th World Congress of Philosophy in Boston in 1998.xxii Two sessions were devoted to the topic of “Ethics, Human Rights and International Business.”

The Second ISBEE World Congress took place July 19-23, 2000 in São Paolo.xxiii The program was diverse, with 370 participants from 41 countries. Again, all papers were posted in advance on the ISBEE website. At the Business Meeting three members were proposed for the position of Vice President (President-Elect): Cecilia Arruda, Peter Koslowski, and Patricia Werhane. Cecilia Arruda was elected. Georges Enderle assumed the position of President at the end of the Congress. The keynote speeches of the Congress were published in Improving Globalization, edited by Arruda and Enderle, the session papers on “Religious Resources for Business Ethics in Latin America” in the Latin American Business Review, and the Portuguese and Spanish papers in The Ethical Challenges of Globalization: Proceedings–Latin America. A number of European contributions were collected in Moral Leadership in Action: Building and Sustaining Moral Competence in European Organizations, edited by Heidi von Weltzien Hoivik.

The first issue of the ISBEE Newsletter appeared in February 2002 and became a regular source of information. The logo stayed the same, but the French name of the Society was dropped in recognition of the fact that English had become the de facto language of the Society. Among the Newsletter‘s first announcements was the formation in 2001 of the Business Ethics Network-Africa (known as BEN-Africa). Gedeon Rossouw, a member of the ISBEE Executive Committee, was elected the Society’s first President. The Newsletter also announced that the Third World Congress of Business, Economics and Ethics would be hosted by the University of Melbourne, Australia, July 15-19, 2004.

In 1999 business ethics started emerging in China.xiv The Center for Business Ethics was established as part of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, with Xiaohe Lu, a member of the ISBEE Executive Committee, as one of its leaders.  In May, 2002, it held an International Conference on “Developing Business Ethics in China.” Also in 2002 Stephan Rothlin and eight other founding members started the Macau Association of Business Ethics. In 2002 ISBEE and the Caux Round Table entered into a formal affiliation. In the same year an ISBEE Business Executive Advisory Committee was started with an initial group of eight business executives.

The Call for Papers for the Third ISBEE World Congress appeared in the February 2003 issue of the Newsletter. The general theme was “Freedoms and Responsibilities in Business.” It was again a truly global congress.

A crisis of succession took place when Cecilia Arruda was unable for health reasons to assume the Presidency.  In the next election Deon Rossouw was elected the new President. In a special election held in the spring of 2005 Prakash Sethi was elected Vice-President. The June 2005 issue of the ISBEE Newsletter announced that the Executive Committee accepted the Team Africa bid to host the 2008 ISBEE World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa.

When the World Congress took place in 2008 the future of ISBEE seemed secure. Membership was at least stable. Succession of officers was established, as was the succession of Congresses. The truly global tone of the Congress had been successfully continued.  Interest in hosting future Congresses remained strong. Most importantly, in the first decade of its existence the Society had realized its goal of fostering business ethics and business ethics societies in countries and regions where they had not existed before. This assessment was reinforced by the success of the Fifth ISBEE World Congress held in Warsaw, 11-14 July, 2012.

*  *  *

At the end of the São Paolo Congress my role in the Society reverted to that of an ordinary member and my files no longer contain minutes of the Executive Committee. Georges Enderle succeeded me as President, and was a member of the original organizing trio. So it is appropriate that he take up the narrative with his story of  ISBEE’s early years and with more details about its later years than I am able to supply. (Part II forthcoming.)



i The title of the Round Table was “Ethics, Economics and International Business,” and it took place on August 22, 1988.

ii Details come from Henk van Luijk’s minutes, dated Sept. 1988.

iii I sent the first draft, dated Sept. 9, 1988, to Henk and Georges on Sept 9.  I sent out a second draft on Jan. 9, 1989, and a third draft on Sept. 14, 1989.

iv From minutes of the meeting, dated Sept. 29, 1989.

v This title may sound strange to some.  The title is used by FISP for what in the United States might be called the position of Executive Director. The title is held by the chief administrative officer of the UN, among other international organizations.  As someone who had written extensively on Soviet and East European Marxism, I saw some irony in choosing a title that Stalin had adopted as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  But in the absence of a president of FISP at the time, it designated the chief administrative officer of the ISBEE in a way that “Secretary” would not have.

vi Letter from Donaldson to De George, Nov. 21, 1989.

vii Other variants of the French we considered were “Société internationale commerciale d’éthique, d’économie et d’entreprise,” “Société internationale d’entreprise, d’économie, et d’éthique,” and “Société internationale commerciale d’éthique et d’économie.”  After van Luijk rejected the term “Société commercial”  (letter to              De George, dated January 14, 1990), the final version we adopted was Enderle’s suggestion (based on his discussion of the most appropriate French title with professors at the University of Fribourg).

viii Minutes, August 11, 1990.

ix  Letter of De George to the Organizing Committee, together with draft version of the Objectives of the Society and a Proposed Ten Year Plan.

x Minutes, August 19, 1991.

xi Minutes, March 27, 1992.

xii Constitution and By-Laws, adopted March 27, 1992, at Columbus, Ohio.

xiii Letter to members from De George, May 25, 1993.

xiv De George had sent Father D’Souza, organizer of the meeting, detailed  suggestions for the proposed conference (letter from De George to D’Souza, dated April 5, 1992), but by March 1993 civil unrest had broken out in New Delhi and Professor D’Souza had been transferred to Goa.  His successor in New Delhi decided against holding the conference.

xv Letter of De George to Nagayasu, July 27, 1993.

xvi Letter of De George to Members, September 22, 1994.

xii  Minutes, May 30, 1995.

xviii Details supplied by Georges Enderle.

xix Minutes of the General Assembly, July 27, 1992.

xx Memo to members from De George, dated January 25, 1997.

xxi Letter of De George and Enderle to Cecilia Arruda, dated June 28, 1997.

xxii  A letter to De George from Mark Gedney, dated 6 April 1998, confirmed approval by the Organizing Committee.

xxiii Minutes of the General Assembly, July 22, 2000.

xxiv From the ISBEE Newsletter, v.1, n.2 (June 2002).