The supplies of even highly essential goods such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), water and petroleum have been frequently disrupted by business people to fulfill their interest even when it means paralyzing the daily life of the general populace.
Reports of wide-spread contamination in essential food items and even revelations of rampant adulteration in gold as well as manipulation of weighing machines sent shockwaves through the country raising questions about the sincerity of the business people and business ethics.
With people’s trust of business people reaching big lows, the business community came up with a code of conduct earlier this week as an attempt to mend negative perceptions about them.
The code of conduct seeks to make business people more responsible by upholding the interest of the consumers, society and nation.
The attitude shown by some sections of business community by challenging the law of the land in fulfilling business interest at the cost of consumers’ interests have made people and consumers´ rights groups express doubts about possibility of sincere implementation of the code of conduct.
“In a country like ours where business people are frequently violating even the sovereign laws, it would be quick to be optimistic that they will abide by the newly released business code of conduct, which is not a law but something they would follow on their own free will only on ethical grounds,” said Jyoti Baniya, the general secretary of Consumers´ Rights Protection Forum.
Different business organizations have already individually said they will use the code of conduct to self-regulate themselves but the implementation part was very weak.
“In contradiction to their commitment to respect consumers´ rights, business people are not even putting price lists in shops. If business people maintain double standards, we can´t expect this code of conduct will ensure the rights of consumers,” added Baniya.
The National Business Initiative (NBI) had supported the process of formulating the code of conduct which has been taken ownership by more than three dozen business associations representing Nepal´s private sector.
After all, the spontaneous initiation by business people to improve the business modus operandi is a welcome step.
It has raised the hopes among the people that ethical values will be restored in the country at a time when the government mechanism has failed to safeguard the interest of the people as some unscrupulous businessmen are ruling the roost.
Commitments in cooperating with the government by timely payment of taxes, considering the environmental impact, responsibility toward consumers, upholding the spirit of market competition, maintaining good labor relations and playing a role in reducing corruption in the country no doubt would help in the self-purification process among business people -- if implemented.
It is an umbrella code of conduct ever being unveiled in the country even though different business associations have already put in place their individual codes of conduct.
Business people are more optimistic about implementing the code of conduct. As it has been owned by representative bodies of business people including the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, implementation of it is expected to be easier.
“To end the negative perception against the business community associating them with black marketeering, bribery and unethical business activities, a common code of conduct has been issued to mend the behavior by the business people themselves,” said Surendra Bir Malakar, NBI general secretary.
NBI has also made arrangements for effective implementation of the code of conduct, mechanisms have also been set up.
“We will go as far as recommending revoking operating licenses of those business outlets that violate the code of conduct and draw increasing complaints from consumers,” Malakar added.
As the past record has it, bringing out a code of conduct is not the end task.
Sincerity of the business community and a business-friendly environment in the country can play a critical role for effective implementation of the code of conduct.
Saroj Pandey, the coordinator of the code of conduct campaign, said the newly-formulated code of conduct could not be implemented without the support of political parties and the government.
“Political parties should shun the politics of strike and extortion, and the government should improve transparency in revenue collection to pave the way for a cleaner business environment,” said Pandey.
Rampant extortion and forced ‘donation’ demands from political parties as well as other different groups, and the opaque system of revenue collection have discourage business people from believing in fair practices.
The dominance of the informal economy in the country has been hampering fair business practices too.
The code of conduct has put consumers at high priority recognizing their rights and concept of open and liberal economic principles. Sincerity, transparency and responsible business practices are the key areas which are highly emphasized by the code of conduct.
The code has also made attempts to make government and political parties more responsible and denounced influencing of government officials and political leaders by giving them under-the-table ‘donations’.
"We will not provide any kind of donation, gift or do any form of favor for any political leader or party to secure gains from them,” says the code of conduct.
The business code of conduct has set ethics in six different areas such as consumer protection, tax and financial accountability, labor, environment, anti-corruption, and competition and market protection.
Similarly, the code of conduct also states that the business community would not support monopoly and unhealthy business practices.
"We will be mindful of ´the sovereignty of consumers´," reads the code of conduct.
Bhaskar Raj Rajkarnikar, a vice-president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), said the entire business community is ready to follow the code of conduct for fair and good practices in the business sector.
“The time has come for us to change the way we operate our business. For long-term success, there is no alternative than fair practice in our business,” Rajkarnikar said.
Recognizing the ‘sovereignty of consumers’ the code of conduct has expressed commitment to uphold the rights of consumers which includes the rights of consumers´ safety and consumer education and facility of multiple choices in the market through competition among suppliers.
At a time when cartels, syndicate and unfair dealings are rife in the market this code will support in making the business people more responsible.
“We uphold the business norms that we must not bribe, give gifts, donations and presents directly or indirectly for our advantage,” says the code of conduct.
However, the high dependence of political parties on the business people for their party and individual funds and the nexus of government officials with some entrepreneurs are still big challenges.
“Code of conduct or even laws can do nothing to bring business people into adopting fair practices if their intention is wrong,” said Baniya.