Letters and Tweets — March 2016

CPA Magazine readers respond to the October and December 2015 issues, as well as the January-February 2016 issue.

Only one way to spread the wealth

Re: "Gouging hurts the economy" (December 2015, by David Descôteaux). I have been working in the business industry for 29 years and not once have I heard that because the government has lowered taxes we will give bigger raises next year or lower prices to our customers. Every discussion has been about profit before tax. When you try to compete with less than 10¢ on the dollar in wages from Third World countries you cannot lower taxes enough to incent investment; it is impossible.

Companies do not redistribute wealth because taxes are lower; taxes are the only way to redistribute wealth.

The top-10 CEOs in America have a retirement package worth $1.4 billion. Why don’t we talk about how the transfer of wealth to the few who cannot possibly spend it all hurts the economy.

James Knopf, Toronto

Conscious — un or sub?

"A head for numbers?" (December 2015, by Mary Teresa Bitti) is a thought-provoking and interesting discussion about our inner accountant’s secrets.

I am a bit confused about the first sentence though. Did Paul Foster really think about the workings of the unconscious brain; perhaps it was subconscious?

Joseph Zamuda, Calgary

Controversial but ethical

In her column "It’s Lawfully Unethical" (October 2015), Karen Wensley raises important questions that have been at the heart of the tobacco debate in Canada for decades.

The fundamental one is: can a tobacco company operate ethically? I understand that tobacco is a controversial industry. However, I would strongly argue the answer is yes and that Imperial Tobacco Canada does.

Wensley has a decidedly narrow view of ethical business practices and limits her arguments to our product. Our products pose real and serious health risks and the only way to avoid these risks is not to use them. Despite this knowledge, many adults choose to smoke.

If she had consulted our website (or that of our parent company, British American Tobacco), Wensley would have learned that harm reduction is at the heart of our business strategy. Imperial Tobacco and BAT have invested billions of dollars for decades in R&D to better understand the harm caused by tobacco use and to develop potentially less-harmful products.

In fact, our top priority continues to be working toward reducing the risks associated with smoking and making available a range of less risky tobacco and nicotine-based alternatives. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also makes business sense.

I have a broader view of ethical business practices. Not only do Imperial Tobacco and BAT, in all markets they operate in, continue to work toward developing potentially less harmful alternatives to cigarettes, we offer clear risk information about our products, we market our products responsibly, we work with retailers to stop children from buying our products, we engage openly with regulators, we treat our employees fairly, we limit our impact on the environment and we fight the trafficking of illegal products.

By any standard, Imperial Tobacco is not only lawful — we are ethical.

Eric Thauvette, CFO Imperial Tobacco Canada, Montreal

More ethics

Re: "Teaching ethics" (January/February 2016). I remembered one of my university courses having a component that addressed business ethics and recalled that it got down to a rather simple guiding principle — do no harm. The concept seemed straightforward enough. Surely not doing any harm would be agreeable to any reasonable person. So we can do pretty much anything so long as we do not hurt anyone or anything. We can even do nothing if we so choose. And we must of course conduct ourselves within the limits and requirements of the law. (Some may even argue that businesses have a social responsibility. I feel that social responsibilities placed upon businesses are already encapsulated within our laws.)

Is the concept of do no harm good enough? Consider this example. A man falls into a ditch, is injured and unable to help himself. As a passerby would it be ethical to do nothing? By doing nothing you would not have made the situation any worse, and thus not have caused any harm. It would not be nice, but ethical, at least according to this guiding principle. Compare this to the Christian principle of doing unto others as you would have done unto you. Not helping the injured man is now obviously unethical.

These two principles can be compared. The first is passive and undemanding. The latter is active and demanding. If you were to ask people which they prefer, which they believe our society should conform to, I think it would be the latter.

It is one thing to say, "I would help the injured man." But is this being honest? Consider how you have behaved in past situations. Do you sell your old stuff or do you donate it to charity? When you vacation in an underdeveloped country do you bring notebooks, pencils and erasers to give to a local school or do you just pack a book? These are personal examples, but consider examples from your business. Businesses exist for whatever purpose the owners say, and almost always this is to make a profit. But does making a profit require us to limit ourselves to doing no harm or can we still do unto others as we would have done unto us? Can we find a way to live and work that is compliant with the preferred ethics while not compromising on the profit purpose of our businesses?

Allan M. Pearson, Owen Sound, Ont.