It appears ‘don’t talk politics or religion’ has faded into insignificance as businesses take more of a public position on social issues and clearly define their values. Questionable behaviour in both government and business is scrutinised on the basis of if it passes the ‘pub test’.
Large corporations can face harsh public criticism when they do what is seen as the wrong thing. But smaller operators can also face consequences when their ethics and integrity is questioned.
We’re considering the broader themes around how businesses express their values, morals and ethics and operate to high standards of integrity in a highly competitive and challenging business environment.
Do you struggle with reconciling conflicts around your personal morals with the demands of your business? When profitability or business viability is at stake, do you hold to your values or put profit over purpose? How much are consumers prepared to pay for their moral convictions? Do you have practices in place to deal with ethical dilemmas? Are you optimising your potential in representing your values to your customers? What value do you place on integrity in your own behaviour and in those you work and interact with in business?
These issues are becoming mainstream business considerations and while not offering specific solutions, we hope to draw you in to explore what is the most appropriate position for your operation.
The Moral Voice of Business
Through history there are many examples of business people taking a stance on social issues. But it seems like this has increased significantly, especially during the marriage equality debate and around environmental and climate change issues and religion in the workplace is also a consideration.
Whether you are ‘of faith’ or not, everyone holds personal morals and values and businesses are increasingly considering how these fit into their operations. Whether you’re a business owner or an employee, do you leave personal values at the door when you arrive at work? How do you reconcile the expectations of stakeholders, customers and the community with your own personal values in delivering your products and services? Do you consider the values of a company before applying for a job?
You might be thinking, it’s OK for big business to speak out, but small business can risk alienating potential customers and possibly their own viability if they appear too strongly opinionated on divisive social issues. Can issues that divide the country also divide your customer base? Alienation versus acceptance is an ethical dilemma which can have us evaluating our own authenticity.
If it assists your thinking, in 2019 the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) conducted a survey of 3000 people which revealed that “more than three-quarters of survey respondents supported business leaders speaking out on issues of national importance, including social and environmental issues”*
Shades of Right and Wrong
There is what is legal and illegal under the law. Then there is what is morally and ethically right or wrong and it depends on the individual, where that line is drawn. Numerous government enquiries have highlighted instances of questionable ethical behaviour and integrity in different sectors.
Most of us dismiss the little white lies such as the classic ‘the cheque’s in the mail’, calling in sick with food poisoning on a great beach day and the myriad of less than truthful explanations we offer to customers for delayed deliveries, as just part of doing business.
I once had a client, who, after I had written the content for his website, asked me to write a number of ‘reviews’. Being that he was a US business and offering the type of services that I would never use, what he was asking me was to write ‘fake reviews’ – lies or at least untruths. The request went against my personal values and I immediately said NO.
That’s probably a simplistic example, but consider what dilemmas you face and whether or not you have the procedures in place to deal with them. The explanations ready to get out of tricky situations or the logical ‘working it through’ thought processes to arrive at the decision which is right for you.
Purpose versus Profit
Ethical behaviour is not just a new business trend or marketing strategy, but an essential business practice for those seeking to genuinely engage with astute consumers, customers and buyers. It goes well beyond window dressing and spin and involves integration and transparency through the entire supply chain and manufacturing process.
It goes to the very heart of ‘purpose versus profit’. Choosing ethically sourced suppliers who have acceptable labour conditions and other issues, may be a more expensive than the unethical alternative and eats into your bottom line – what do you do?
If you question whether your ethics are costing you or not, refer to a report which was commissioned by The Ethics Centre which quantifies the economic benefits of ethics. www.ethics.org.au
Consumers are increasingly wanting to know more about the products they’re purchasing and there is an interest by investment vehicles such as superannuation funds, to invest only in companies with ethical standards and practices on key social issues. Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is utilised to measure the ethical impact and sustainability of companies prior to investment.
Ensuring you can genuinely claim ‘ethically sourced’ on your products and services is becoming a nonnegotiable for business. But it may take work to fully research your supply chain and your materials and processes.
Expressing Your Values
For businesses looking to strengthen their ethical and value-based profile, there are a number of options, but genuine and authentic are key. Many companies have been caught out ‘greenwashing’ which is the term for making false or misleading claims about the environmentally friendly nature of their product or service. ‘Going green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ have been around for so long, so in many cases the Expressing Your Values For businesses looking to strengthen their ethical and value-based profile, there are a number of options, but genuine and authentic are key. Many companies have been caught out ‘greenwashing’ which is the term for making false or misleading claims about the environmentally friendly nature of their product or service. ‘Going green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ have been around for so long, so in many cases the attributes have become more of an expected feature than a point of difference for many products and services. The move is on for companies to do more in establishing genuine claims in regard to more than just these issues but going further and being more transparent in respect to many aspects of their operations.
Some businesses clearly state there Code of Ethics or adopt their industry or association standards while others go further, such as Certified B Corporations. According to their website, “Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”** Review their assessment process to see if it is an option for your business.
More than a Conversation
While businesses don’t usually have to front up to ICAC to account for their integrity and issues that don’t pass the pub test, they do have to face up to their customers. With social media calling the shots in many areas of our lives, businesses and individuals are being ‘called out’ for questionable behaviour in a very public forum. Increasingly tech platforms are calling the validity of posts into question around untruths.
This is a very broad area and we’ve only managed to touch lightly on a few aspects. But hopefully it’s enough to spark your interest and consider how you express your authenticity through your business and behave ethically and with integrity.