“The good, the bad and the ugly” may remind some readers of the 1966 Western starring Clint Eastwood in which, despite the title, arguably all three gunslingers were bad. This is also often the impression created when the term is applied to ethics.
There is a great deal of evidence of bad and ugly unethical behaviour and there seems to be so little good, which warrants exploring who and what constitute the good, the bad and ugly.
“The ugly” can be viewed as the worst category of ethical offences, eclipsing mere bad deeds. The main criterion that would define it as really ugly is the extent of the impact of the misconduct. Unethical conduct by governments or large multinational corporations falls within this category because, unlike the average company with a few 100 employees, they impact many more people. When there is, for example, widespread national corruption it affects the country’s citizens, its businesses and institutions, its neighbours, its trading partners, its visitors, and all who deal with it. A consequence of extensive fraud, bribery and corruption is that it adds to the cost of living for citizens or to the cost of doing business – but, crucially, without adding corresponding value. Citizens often pay additional fees to public officials for services to which they are entitled. In business, instead of the full contract amount going towards the delivery of the product or service, only a portion is productively employed. KPMG’s Africa Fraud Barometer quantifies the cost of fraud in Africa in 2011 as amounting to a staggering R88 billion.
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