ACAMS Today had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Christoph Stückelberger, executive director and founder of Globethics.net Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland.
Stückelberger is also the professor of Ethics at the University of Basel, Switzerland and has a Ph.D. in theological ethics (peace ethics) and habilitation in environmental ethics. He was the founder (1995) and first president of Transparency International Switzerland and for 15 years he was the director of the development organization “Bread for all.” He has published hundreds of articles and dozens of books on ethics, among others on corruption such as “Corruption-free Churches are possible” (2010).
ACAMS Today: Why did you choose to study ethics?
Dr. Christoph Stückelberger: Ethics is a way to find an answer to the question what is good and what is bad? Ethics is also a way to find criteria in a fast moving world where former, ancient moral norms are often not giving an appropriate answer to current challenges. I also wanted to be more precise in developing the methodology and scientific approach, with the practical goal of implementing justice, transparency and freedom in the different sectors of society.
In addition, I was also studying theology so I studied ethics from a philosophical and theological standpoint. The question for me was how to implement Christian faith and values in the modern globalized world and in personal life in a responsible, transparent and inclusive way. In the end that was my motivation.
AT: In brief what is applied ethics?
CS: Fundamental ethics is the methodology of what are the basic values such as peace, sustainability, participation and justice. Applied ethics tries to apply these fundamental values to specific fields or questions. For example: “How to implement transparency in financial transactions?” or “How to manage a company based on honesty and responsibility?” these are questions of applied ethics. This is how ethics is applied to specific activities either professional, family or community life or law.
Ethics is something that deals with all aspects of life, not just with human resources, social or philanthropic activities. Each decision includes an ethical question because one has to decide between two or more options. What are the reasons or values behind deciding between one option or the other option? A crucial conflict is between a decision for personal benefit or for public interest. You can make a decision where you decide to defend the public interest even if this ethical decision has personal cost e.g., for your career.
AT: What led to the founding of Globethics.net ?
CS: Globethics.net is based on three pillars: Development through access to information, ethics through the sharing of values as a network and the importance of online communication in a globalized world.
Development through access of information: Through my experience in working with many developing countries I noticed the limitation of access to information that many people have. The desire for these countries to have access to digital information is what led me to launch Globethics.net . Globethics.net provides the leading digital ethics library to everyone free of charge.
Ethics through the sharing of values: In an international-globalized world we need the interaction between value systems, between different world views and religions. Each of us has our own values, but in order to interact with each other we need to find common ground (global ethics) between the value systems. This is something AML professionals deal with on a daily basis because they are dealing with an international financial system.
Importance of online communication (internet): The goal of founding Globethics.net was to position it as a global online network, to access information and sharing of values. Globethics.net is a growing community with over 60,000 registered participants from over 200 countries. The membership is comprised of specialists from different business and political sectors. Registered members have access to over one million documents online. Registration is free.
AT: What are the largest ethical challenges facing the global marketplace?
CS: 1) On a macro-economic level, the largest ethical challenge today is how to regulate the financial markets in a way that they serve the real economy by implementing stronger legal mechanisms, regulations and reducing purely speculative transactions. AML specialists help strengthen the financial-transaction control by implementing the financial laws.
2) On an individual level, the average person in many countries tends to live in a world that is corrupt. Many people therefore say if my neighbor can get away with it why shouldn’t I do it. As a result corruption is still increasing despite the efforts of companies, governments and civil society to mitigate corruption. There are manifold individual and structural reasons for this as I explain in my books on corruption (e.g., “Corruption-free Churches are Possible”, download for free from www.globethics.net, library).
AT: What ethical challenges should AML professionals be mindful of in the course of their daily activities?
CS: I have a high respect for AML professionals because they play an important role in reminding a company, professionals, the public sector and society of their obligation of honesty, transparency and for fair play in business and financial transactions. Ethical challenges are complex. For example, how to trust in society and in business transactions. If there is no trust, we need all sorts of control mechanisms, leading to more control and in the end we are over controlled and still do not find healthy business transactions because trust is missing.
How to balance trust and control is an ethical challenge. We need control and AML professionals have a noble and important task in controlling as closely and as detailed as possible, but we also need the balance of trust in other people and not to see a criminal behind each person. This leads us to individual ethics and structural ethics. Individual ethics would call on the individual and appeal to them to behave in a good way. Structural ethics is more to prevent – by laws, sanctions, organizational measures media pressure – an individual from doing wrong or doing evil and to stop destroying others through criminal activities. Both are needed as a means to strengthen the legal framework and to have strong sanction mechanisms, but on the other hand we also need the individual’s responsibility and consciousness. So how can the legal system help the individual not solely rely on the letter of the law by saying well I have complied with the law so I am fine. Behind each law the individual also has their professional and individual responsibility. Even if the law allows something within reason, if my values tell me it is not right to do it we shouldn’t do it.
Ethics allows us to reflect on the values that we defend
Also, AML professionals can’t only deal with AML issues in a technical way; it is a form of art because you need a deep understanding of human behavior. For example, what are the drivers of criminal mechanisms in society? This makes it fascinating and there is a lot of ethics involved. Ethics requires, at the end of the day, a profound understanding of human behavior, weaknesses and how we deal with temptations. Many criminal activities come about because of temptation or peer pressure. Criminals see an opportunity to satisfy their greed and addiction. So the question is how to deal with addiction, greed and dependency from peers? People who have this addiction are not controlling themselves.
AT: How can an increased knowledge of ethics be a benefit to the AML professionals?
CS: One of the key elements that ethics can contribute is to show the benchmarks of behavior. To remind ourselves and society what are the basic values we need to maintain; for example, fairness, same fundamental rights, freedom of decision, mutual respect for the dignity of all human and non-human beings. Ethics allows us to reflect on the values that we defend. AML is an instrument for a more fair and transparent society.
You can get concrete instruments from ethics on how to make decisions. For example, how to deal with dilemma? Some people are helpless when dealing with dilemma because a dilemma means you have to decide between two good solutions or two bad solutions. How can you decide which is the better of the two bad options? Ethics can help by framing it in a way to know that one is not perfect but accepting the fact that one has a dilemma is trying their best to base their decision on their values—it is a moral compass. Ethics should not just create bad conscience but should also offer relief and release. We can mutually encourage each other to be faithful to our professional values.
Also, after my keynote address at the ACAMS conference in Amsterdam, many compliance professionals came and told me that they now see their AML activities in a broader perspective and how it is meaningful for society and what are the key values we have and can defend. The strength of AML professionals is that they have the knowledge of new technical and legal developments; however, one of the dangers with having these strengths is that AML professionals may be too technically detailed. What is all that about? It is necessary for AML professionals to find a balance by stepping back and looking at what they are doing. Ethics can motivate and orient professional activities and help them keep the vision of a just and open society. AML professionals often deal with the negative, criminal energies in society, but it is important to remember that there are also a lot of positive energies in society by resisting and overcoming destructive tendencies. If law and ethics complement each other and if ACAMS and Globethics.net cooperate, both sides will be strengthened in their services for a more humane and fair society.
Globethics.net Foundation is a global ethics network based in Geneva with a global leading online library on ethics (one million full text documents) and over 60,000 registered participants from 200 countries. A cooperation agreement between Globethics.net and ACAMS is in preparation.