The Minnesota Principles go global

Minnesota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

A business ethics code launched in Minnesota is fast becoming a model for global standards of business behavior.

Developed last year by members of the Minnesota Center for Corporate Responsibility, an affiliate of the University of St. Thomas, the Minnesota Principles are aimed at business owners and investors, suppliers, employees, customers, competitors and the communities in which companies do business. For example, one principle encourages businesses to collaborate with less-advantaged countries in raising their standards of health, education and workplace safety; another asks businesses to respect the integrity of the cultures of its customers.

The principles were formulated by 17 corporate and university members of the center to help businesses understand how to operate in different cultures worldwide.

First presented in 1992 to the Caux Roundtable, a group of international business leaders who meet each year in Switzerland, the principles were enthusiastically received. And as a result of the Caux presentation, the Minnesota group made a publicly televised presentation in Japan. "They now know more about the Minnesota Principles in Japan than they do here," says Robert MacGregor, president of the Center for Corporate Responsibility and a primary spokesperson on behalf of the principles.

The Minnesota Principles have another Japanese connection by virtue of their kinship with the Kyosei Principles. Roughly translated, "Kyosei" means working together for the common good in harmony with fair competition.

Ryuzaburo Kaku, chairman of Japan's Canon Corp. and an avid proponent of Kyosei, has led his company to outperform most competitors during his 22 years as chairman. Charles Denny, chairman of ADC Telecommunications, Minneapolis, and one of the Principles' authors says Canon's success is proof that "you don't have to run a company into the ground to be fair and principled."

Over the past year, the Minnesota Principles have been printed in Japanese, Spanish and German and distributed worldwide. In addition, the principles have caught the attention of some people at the United Nations, and plans for a conference in Russia are under way.

The popularity of guidelines like the principles and Kyosei is growing "because the world has shrunk and issues are interconnected," MacGregor says. "So many companies are global in nature and compete against each other that the time is right to establish a level playing field of behavior," MacGregor says. Denny adds, "There's a reluctance to invest in environments where the rules of the game are unknown or ever-shifting."

Denny says also says because of sophisticated global communications, "The corporate sin committed yesterday in Zaire is up on the front page of The Wall Street Journal today."

To be truly effective, the principles need to be accepted worldwide, Denny says. But he doesn't expect that to happen any time soon. Denny says the reaction he received from the leader of an undeveloped nation to adopting the principles was probably typical: "As soon as we're as wealthy as you, we will adopt these principles."

Kathy Cobb