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March 16, 2012, Friday

New Turkish constitution could promote socially responsible entrepreneurs

A truly civilian-inspired constitution cannot be drafted without seeking the opinions of citizens, including, of course, those of Turkish entrepreneurs.

Issues at stake are not only absolutely justified demands like the freedom to open up private businesses or the right to accumulate personal wealth but other items such as protecting ones workforce against accidents or, in general terms, to give back to society, too.

Can we strike a chord between a businessperson’s economic rights and her or his role as a hopefully socially motivated citizen vis-à-vis the community, the nation state? In this context let me raise the issue of whether having a functioning market economy implies offering unlimited economic freedoms or whether somewhere inherent in this terminology perhaps the word “social” could be hidden, too?

Although the new constitution is first and foremost a -- if not “the” -- cornerstone for Turkish civil society en route to establishing an irrevocable and full democracy, we detect of course a certain EU dimension. The good news is that Turkey could soon be another vital step ahead of one of the European Union’s very own policies: in this case, related to plans at adding a social dimension into the mostly economically motivated concept that makes for the single market. By “social dimension” I do not only refer to the rights of association or forming trade unions but principally to how a country (or the EU indeed) defines the relation between entrepreneur and employee, between government and business, between public and private sphere and if things go awry about who would pick up the tab -- think Spain, Greece.

The debate is all about how much social democracy a mostly mainstream conservative nation such as Turkey is willing to take on-board. Should there be a social net that protects citizens in economic troubles from disappearing off the social benefits radar altogether? Should economic policies thus become an integral part of a new constitution -- why not by means of an article along the lines of “the annual minimum wage increases in line with inflation, if not more?”

A new civilian constitution should promote at least three “social” dimensions -- public, business and individual. First, the overarching responsibility of the government is to protect the welfare of its citizens by, for example, adopting laws that dramatically improve health and safety standards at the workplace. The role of the state is to adopt laws in this regard. Second, the role of the individual citizen as a social being: think establishing a fair and transparent judicial framework where violence versus a fellow individual results in appropriate punishment yet without ever resorting to the death penalty. And third, the social function of those of us who have become businesspeople. This final social dimension could then be split even further into on the one hand the need to guarantee safe and healthy work environments with fair and adequate pay, and on the other hand into the wider context of a company having to give back to society not just by means of annual charity but for example via corporate social responsibility.

Earlier this week and interested in learning from an expert on this topic I met Ali Ercan Özgür, secretary-general of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Turkey. Himself about to suggest a new article to the Turkish constitution, Mr. Özgür told me that “the formation and practices of businesses can significantly affect environmental issues, climate change, health, education, human rights and labor rights. The practice of CSR is to engage business sectors voluntarily with these factors in mind, seeking to create a new paradigm.” As a result his NGO proposes this article: “Every individual and corporate citizen has the right to establish a free enterprise. However, all enterprises should act in compliance with social, environmental, human rights and ethical responsibilities that are framed via legal, voluntary and international CSR standards.”

Whereas Turkish civil society, including entrepreneurs, seem to have understood the relevance of contributing to the constitutional drafting process whenever possible, let us all hope that elected politicians follow suit and ultimately find a compromise that allows for a speedy adoption as without it the house that bears the name Turkish Democracy would be without a roof regardless of whether we live under it as employer or employee.

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