The meaning of empathy

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 July, 2023 at 1:03 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last week I wrote an article about the S in ESG. Among other social aspects, the article referred to the safety at the place of work. When I prepared the article I had no clue that its publication would coincide with the vote in Parliament on a motion presented by the Opposition to call for a public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia. We all know the outcome and certainly I do not need to recount it.

The public has the right to be informed about the pros and cons of a public inquiry. Indeed, Prime Minister Robert Abela explained the difference between a magisterial inquiry and a public inquiry. Obviously, I would be presumptuous to discuss the legal technical matters of a magisterial and a public inquiry, as my profession is distinct from that of lawyers. However, in such a delicate situation we must distinguish between the legal, political and moral side of things. Nonetheless, taking over seven months to conclude a magisterial inquiry is quite frustrating.

During last Monday’s press conference, Prime Minister Abela reaffirmed the Labour Party’s principles of defending workers’ rights. Positively, I was glad to listen to this reaffirmation. Just like my father, when I was 17, I was engaged in blue-collar jobs. A case in point was at Methode Electronics; a factory that I drive past every single day to commute to my office. Of course, I am proud of my past and the work I performed. Those who know my family in Bormla, know well, who my grandmother and her family politically sided with. Notwithstanding that I spent most of my time with them, it was actually my grandfather Salvu from il-Biċċieni Ħaż-Żabbar and my late father Dominic, who somehow predisposed my political conviction. My grandfather used to tell me that the Labour Party was founded to protect workers’ rights (iż-żgħir). He always mentioned Dom Mintoff and Sir Paul Boffa with a smile. Nonetheless, I am not prejudiced against hardworking entrepreneurs, and I actually encourage investments.

Next week I will be turning 42. My difficult childhood taught me important lessons. What I certainly learned from my family is how to empathise and show care. Clearly, I was pleased to listen to the prime minister apologising to the family of Jean Paul Sofia for the prolongation of the magisterial inquiry. Surely, no compensation can bring Jean Paul Sofia back to life. However, his family needs closure. And the public inquiry, distinct from the magisterial inquiry, might give them the required comfort. Sadly, the tragic death of Jean Paul Sofia can teach us a lot of lessons.

Personally, I can sense his mother’s pain. She is still grieving the loss of her son. Without doubt, I feel shattered when I see the emotional reaction of his parents, as well as that of his relatives. We need to rise above partisan politics, regardless of who Jean Paul Sofia sided with. He was full of life and with a bright future. Sadly, his life was cut short at a very young age. Truly, Jean Pauls’ photos, uploaded by his mother on social media, resonate virtue and positivity. His infectious smile reminds me of my happy, yet difficult childhood. And this is why I chose this topic, today. I was touched by his mother’s grief and strength. Jean Paul’s mum signifies perseverance, courage and strength. Undoubtedly, pain is expressed differently by every human being. And Jean Paul’s mother, Isabelle Bonnici, deserves empathy and admiration. Nothing else!

If you may recall, a few weeks ago, I wrote about my allergy to unfettered capitalism. Fortunately, my appointment in the Political and Security Committee equipped me with the necessary experience and insight to see economic theory clearer. In 2018 I started voicing my concern on the social media and writing about the need to protect natural capital, as well as workers’ rights, irrespective of their nationality. When I decided to leave Brussels, my colleagues were asking me about my future. I told them that I want to retrain myself in my former profession. The idea was to return to economics and finance with a difference. I was eying ESG. And there it came the opportunity to work in the private sector to influence economic policy. Indeed, ESG will bring a complete transformation when it comes to the provision of credit. Unquestionably, without the provision of credit, businesses cannot exist or expand their operations.

Presently, banks are mostly focused on implementing the environmental side of ESG. Those sectors that are aiding in the acceleration of climate change are either being excluded or else gradually weaned off a bank’s balance sheet. The same will apply under the social. Those companies, registered under the name of individuals with a non-transparent record, eventually, will be either excluded or else put in a really strict monitoring framework. In truth, those companies that will not respect human rights, workers’ rights, safety at the place of work and the proper legal governance structures will be excluded by banks, as they pose a very high reputational risk similar to the AML.

Therefore, due diligence will not stop at screening clients for money laundering and terrorist financing, only. It will extend to the perimeter of climate and environmental, social, as well as governance risks. And this is why we need ESG and the private industry as the enablers of the democratisation of our financial system. ESG regulations, even from a prudential perspective, were designed in a way that the financial and banking sector assumes an oversight role. The EU understood quite well the oversight functions of the financial and banking industry, thereby creating an additional layer of oversight. Truly, the 1LODs will be equipped with the necessary due diligence tools. Those economic operators with poor social and governance structures in place, as well as bad reputation will be excluded from the market. And this will come for the benefit of blue-collar workers.

To conclude, just like I voiced my concern about the tragic loss of others, obviously it would have been a dereliction of duty to not write anything about the tragic death of one of us. Several people texted me to express my opinion. Nevertheless, I always take time to express my views, and this is because I allow the dust to settle first to be able to see reality clearer and ideally produce an informed opinion. Let’s accelerate the implementation of the benefits found in the S of ESG to reinforce a stricter  oversight framework.

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