Ethics concern an individual’s moral judgements about right and wrong. Decisions taken within an organisation may be made by individuals or groups, but whoever makes them will be influenced by the culture of the company. The decision to behave ethically is a moral one; employees must decide what they think is the right course of action. This may involve rejecting the route that would lead to the biggest short-term profit.
Ethical behaviour and corporate social responsibility can bring significant benefits to a business. For example, they may:
- Attract customers to the firm’s products, which means boosting sales and profits
- Make employees want to stay with the business, reduce labour turnover and therefore increase productivity
- Attract more employees wanting to work for the business, reduce recruitment costs and enable the company to get the most talented employees
- Attract investors and keep the company’s share price high, thereby protecting the business from takeover.
Knowing that the company they deal with has stated their morals and made a promise to work in an ethical and responsible manner allows investors’ peace of mind that their money is being used in a way that arranges with their own moral standing. When working for a company with strong business ethics, employees are comfortable in the knowledge that they are not by their own action allowing unethical practices to continue. Customers are at ease buying products or services from a company they know to source their materials and labour in an ethical and responsible way.
For example, a coffee company which states all their raw beans are picked from sustainable plants where no deforestation has occurred, by people paid a good living wage, in an area where investments have been made to ensure that producing the coffee for a foreign market has not damaged the local way of life, will find that all these elements of their buying strategy becomes a selling point for their final product.
A company which sets out to work within its own ethical guidelines is also less at risk of being fined for poor behaviour, and less likely to find themselves in breach of one of a large number of laws concerning required behaviour.
Reputation is one of a company’s most important assets, and one of the most difficult to rebuild should it be lost. Maintaining the promises it has made is crucial to maintaining that reputation.
Businesses not following any kind of ethical code or carrying out their social responsibility leads to wider consequences. Unethical behaviour may damage a firm’s reputation and make it less appealing to stakeholders. This means that profits could fall as a result.
The natural world can be affected by a lack of business ethics. For example, a business which does not show care for where it disposes its waste products, or fails to take a long-term view when buying up land for development, is damaging the world in which every human being lives, and damaging the future prospects of all companies.
Ethics is important to businesses for many reasons. Businesses can increase sales or increase their reputation.