Ethics—Who’s Job is it Anyway?

We’re only human, but we know the difference between right and wrong, don’t we? It is an internal or “gut feeling” that we feel deep down which helps guide our choices in our daily lives. But what do we do about ethics in the workplace? Who takes on that responsibility? Ethical behavior is easier for an individual than it is for a company. Companies have many individuals with differing opinions, values, and ideals. So, who’s job is it to ensure a company is ethical?

The answer is—everyone.

Ethics—It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

So, what’s wrong with business ethics? And more importantly, what can we all do to make it right?

Highly visible ethics violations in large companies have brought the issue of ethics to the forefront, but there are positive trends that show ethical behavior and corporate social responsibility are not only on the upswing but bringing significant benefits to business in the process.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, University of Toronto professor, Dr. Kirsty Duncan, who teaches corporate citizenship, said that the real demand for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives comes from the population—you, me, everyone. Corporations recognize it helps their bottom line.  These days, companies who lack strong ethics and ignore CSR, will begin to find it can be very costly and can hurt a company’s reputation.

Shifting Ideals

Consumers are driving the shift in ethics, by demanding more transparency and responsibility from businesses. Leading the charge is the millennial generation who David Jones, author of Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business is Better Business, said are “the most socially responsible generation that has ever existed.” Millennials, the largest generation in history—92 million strong—are poised to reshape the economy and how companies do business. They also make up 30 percent of the current workforce and many are moving into leadership positions. CSR has been a growing demand from not only consumers, but employees—especially millennials—and investors alike with, according to Forbes, more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies now publishing sustainability reports to publicize their ethical standards and responsibility efforts.

Future trends in Business Ethics

So how can your company start winning in ethics, sustainability and CSR?

  • Develop applications and processes that go beyond basic customer relationship management to analyze data and consumer analytics, while utilizing social listening to engage new corporate social responsibility programs that matter to your stakeholders.
  • Develop a well-designed CSR program that includes measurement methodologies to examine the progress and effectiveness of your company’s initiatives.
  • Market your CSR initiatives and progress both internally and externally. Be transparent when there are ethical issues and not only recognize the issue, but address it and show stakeholders your organization’s response and outcome.
  • Review the framework of some of the top ethical companies in the world and model your ethics and CSR initiatives in a similar fashion to meet your company’s goals.

“I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community.I want something to believe in.”Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop

Need some inspiration? Here is a case study. The Body Shop—highly recognized for its ethical and CSR standards, was purchased in 2006 by L’Oreal, a company who activists believed had very questionable practices. The purchase outraged many consumers. However, if L’Oreal was trying to improve its ethics and CSR, adopting practices modeled by The Body Shop may have been a smart move and their donation to the Environmental Protection Agency to develop chemical testing methods that do not require the use of animals would seem a step in the right direction.

Here’s some of the goals from The Body Shop, a top ethical company.

  • Enrich our People—with community trade programs, jobs for economically vulnerable people, fair pay, and invest in the biodiversity of local communities
  • Enrich our Products—protect natural resources with sustainably sources ingredients, transparency, reduction of environmental footprint and enrich areas of biodiversity
  • Enrich our Planet—protect and regenerate habitats, reduce the environmental footprint of stores/buildings, reduce energy consumption via sustainable packaging and renewable power sources

Ethics and responsibility in the workplace will only continue to be a major focus in the business world. Companies can get ahead of the game by developing a strong ethics training program as well as empowering leaders and employees to champion the company’s CSR initiatives. Try KnowledgeCity’s Business Ethics course to get started.

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