Only people can have ethics

Two days ago we were reached by the news that an 11-year old girl had been dismissed from a train because she didn’t have a ticket, while her sister (with the ticket) were in the bathroom. The 11-year old was left on an empty station halfway, and was luckily taken care of by an older woman who saw her crying. The story has spurred an outrage on twitter and blogs in Sweden. See for example För några få kronor ensam i Kumla. The conductor’s excuse was that the girl seemed to be older than 11 years, and the initial response from SJ was that it was a big mistake, but is in fact a criminal act to ride the train without a ticket. The girl was lost more than half a day, but to make a long story short, the girl was found and the older sister is now forgiving the conductor.

This story raises the issue of personal responsibility – something Seth Godin has written about a lot before and Deepedition writes about in relation to this story (in Swedish). As Seth writes in another post

It comes down to this: only people can have ethics. Ethics, as in, doing the right thing for the community even though it might not benefit you or your company financially….


…I worry that we absolve ourselves of responsibility when we talk about business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Corporations are collections of people, and we ought to insist that those people (that would be us) do the right thing. Business is too powerful for us to leave our humanity at the door of the office. It’s not business, it’s personal.

There are no rules nor corporate policies that can excuse dismissing an 11 year old from the train and leaving her on the station in an unknown town. I have a small grudge against SJ after my own experiences this summer (see below) and I believe they have a lot of problems and a culture that isn’t very healthy right now, but the responsibility for actions taken are in the end always personal, no matter what policies say.


I really wanted to take the trip to Oslo, Norway this summer. But after an hour on the train, without even leaving the station, I gave up. There was no driver. For some reason, the driver didn’t make it and the swedish railroad company, SJ, wasn’t able to get him/her replaced. And, they couldn’t tell me when I would arrive, since I would miss my connecting train. So, no driver, no info, no nothing.

That was my third experience with SJ this summer. The first was also to Oslo – I arrived more than an hour late and had to go by bus part of the way due to some problems with the tracks that they discovered halfway. The return trip was without problems.

Fail ratio for SJ: 67%.

Kristofer Mencák has a M.Sc. in Business Administration from Stockholm School of Economics. He is a consultant, author and lecturer on social media, viral marketing and word of mouth. He has also recently been travelling the world teaching the dance kizomba.

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