Recently, I was involved in a long discussion with a gentleman who claimed that companies only exist to make a profit. His stance was that since any company’s single aim is to make as much profit as possible, they can’t therefore be ethical. In fact, they must be ethics free.
This gentleman was wrong.
Before we examine why, let us first define what is means to be ethical. According to the Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary, being ethical is to be connected with beliefs and principles about what is right and what is wrong. An implication of this definition, is that being ethical is a subjective choice. This means that what is ethical for me, might not be the case for you or the other way round.
It’s true that companies don’t need to be ethical. Their main goal is, as the gentleman above pointed out, to make profit. However, this makes them far from ethics free. Any decisions about how to make this profit, are per definition ethical choices. Will you use ingredients that are sustainable and ethically sourced for your manufacturing process? Do your products pollute the environment, or contribute to climate change? Are they tested on animals, or otherwise impact on animal rights? Do your products or services directly or indirectly involve people whose worker’s and human rights are suppressed?
There are various dimensions in which a company can define its ethical stance, and people tend to give more or less emphasis on some of them depending on their values and beliefs. The magazine Ethical Consumer provides guidance that some people might find helpful. Based on its research, it lists four main categories in their ethical ratings: environment, animals, people and politics. In addition, they have a fifth positive ratings dimension which includes company ethos and product sustainability.
As the owner of a small company, it’s important that you not only establish your own identity, but also communicate it clearly and effectively to the outside world. It’s not enough to know that your values and beliefs reflect your ethical stance; you need to be perceived doing what you preach. Your mission statement and positioning should reflect that identity, as well as make clear what is important for you. You should use words that you would like people to associate with your business, and your statement should contain information about what makes you different than other companies out there which operate in the same field. Furthermore, it’s crucial that not only you, but also all staff associated with your business consistently bring across the same message. If you are doing all of the above right, chances are that your transparency and authenticity are seen by your customers as great virtues, leading them to rate your company highly and spread the word, increasing your client base.
Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
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