Business Ethics

An organisation's approach to business ethics is the foundation upon which its brands are built. This approach can shape business investors' and customers’ perceptions of a business. Therefore, developing the right set of business ethics is essential for business growth and can only be achieved by understanding the fundamentals of the concept.

Business Ethics Business Ethics

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Table of contents

    Business Ethics Definition

    Our morals and character play a huge role in how we are perceived by others, and the same thing applies to businesses. Business ethics can create a unique perception in the mind of a company's customers, employees, investors, and the general public.

    The term business ethics refers to a set of moral standards and practices that guides business organisations based on principles like respect, fairness, trust, and responsibility.

    You can see the practice of business ethics in all departments of a company. A company's ethics reflect generally accepted principles laid down by the founders of the business and its governing body. It encompasses the business's morals in relation to the policies and practices that guide the business's decisions and actions. It also comprises the business's interaction with the customers, the treatment of its employees, how it interacts with other businesses and the government, and how it deals with negative publicity.

    Business ethics help businesses make sound and ethical decisions and also help them to build trust with their customers.

    Importance of Business Ethics

    The importance of business ethics is apparent in business operations. Business ethics guide an organisation in these operations and keep them in line with laws and regulations. This guidance helps the business maintain a positive public image and reputation of respectability.

    Businesses with great employee welfare attract the best talent. Business ethics lay the foundation for proper employee care. In addition, providing great welfare for employees improves employee productivity and encourages them to stay loyal to a business's vision in the long term.

    Business ethics are also important in building relationships between a business and its customers. A business with a defined and transparent operational system that treats its customers well usually develops a long-standing relationship with customers. This makes it easier for customers to trust the business and its products or services.

    Business ethics also help to maintain a business's reputation among investors, who look for transparency in a company's dealings. In other words, they like to know exactly what their money is being used for.

    Principles of Business Ethics

    There are seven principles of business ethics that guide the code of conduct of businesses. These business ethics principles include:

    Accountability means businesses taking full responsibility for their actions or practices. This includes any bad decisions taken or unethical business practices followed during the course of business operations.

    Mutual respect must be maintained between business owners, employees, and customers. Businesses need to ensure a safe working space for the employees and encourage a respectful relationship between all stakeholders.

    Transparent communication between business owners and employees is much desired. This characteristic helps build trust and establish a relationship between employees and the business. Transparency is also applicable to business relationships with its customers.

    Businesses should encourage healthy competition in their workforce and reduce conflicts of interest to a minimum among employees.

    All disagreements between businesses and their employees should be resolved internally away from the eyes of the public. Employees are to stay faithful to upholding the business vision and promoting business brands. Businesses are also to stay faithful to agreements with employees. Businesses unreasonably interpreting agreements or not respecting commitments is considered unethical in business practice.

    Important information disseminated among a business's customers, employees, or partners is to be provided comprehensively. This includes both positive and negative information, terms and conditions, or any other crucial information, as it is against business ethics to withhold or hide relevant facts.

    Corporate laws, rules, and regulations guiding business practices are to be respected and abided by, as any flouting of such law is considered unethical.

    Types of Business Ethics

    There are various types of business ethics adopted by businesses depending on the nature or location of the business. Here are some standard ethics practices adopted by different businesses:

    A level of personal responsibility is expected from business employees. This responsibility may be in completing an assigned task, reporting to work at the expected time, or being honest in the workplace. Employees are also expected to own up to their mistakes and work towards correcting them.

    Businesses should honor their responsibilities to their employees, partners, and customers. They need to respect the interests of all parties involved with the business. These interests may take the form of written contracts, verbal agreements, or legal obligations.

    Businesses have a responsibility to the environment where their operations are sited. Therefore, businesses are to work towards ensuring environmental protection and giving back to the community through empowerment or investments.

    One way businesses have been able to achieve this is through a practice called corporate social responsibility (CSR) which has geared corporations towards environmental protection, community development, and improving the working environment by focusing on people. Figure 1 below outlines the four pillars of CSR.

    Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to a management concept whereby businesses factor economic, social, and environmental concerns into their business activities while simultaneously looking to achieve their aims and objectives.

    Business ethics, Four pillars of corporate social responsibility, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The four pillars of corporate social responsibility

    With businesses now moving their operations to the digital space through the adoption of e-commerce practices, technology business ethics are necessary. These ethics include customer data protection, customer privacy, customer personal information protection, fair intellectual property practices, etc.

    Trust and transparency need to be maintained with stakeholders, including customers, investors, and employees. Businesses must maintain transparency in financial reports to partners and not conceal relevant information from customers.

    Biases and personal beliefs are to be avoided in business decision-making processes. The business must ensure a fair chance for everyone and boost their growth and empowerment.

    Examples of Business Ethics

    Business ethics are shown in different ways by different businesses. Some businesses show ethics through their code of conduct, while others are seen in the business value statement. Here are some examples of business ethics practices:

    • Diversity in the workplace

    • Prioritising customer's needs

    • Customer data protection

    • Community empowerment

    A business can display its unbiased view and drive for equality by employing workers of different backgrounds, genders, social groups, and races. This also provides a diversity of thinking and a varied pool of knowledge.

    One way businesses establish trust and relationships with customers is by prioritising customers’ needs and offering the best services to them. This may be done by, for example, offering a replacement or a refund for a faulty product purchased by a customer.

    During online transactions or services, customer information is usually collected by businesses for various reasons. Among these could be personal information, email address, home address, date of birth, financial information, or health status, depending on the services being rendered.

    Business ethics requires that this information be kept confidential and not shared with a third party unless permission is granted by the customer. Data protection also applies to a business's employees.

    Volunteer programmes organised by businesses are a way of giving back to the community. These volunteer programs may include skills teaching, financial assistance, environmental clean-up, etc. Such programs help businesses gain respect from the community and also aid in the community's growth.

    Examples of Ethical Businesses

    Since 2006, Ethisphere, the world's leader in defining the standards of ethical business, compiles a list of the most ethical businesses in the world. In 2022, the list included 136 companies around the world, and six of them appeared on the list of honorees every year1 :

    • Aflac

    • Ecolab

    • International Paper

    • Milliken & Company

    • Kao

    • PepsiCo

    Other worth mentioning examples are: Microsoft (12 times), Dell Technologies (10 times), Mastercard (7 times), Nokia (6 times), Apple (1st time)

    Examples of ethical businesses in the UK are:

    • ARM

    • Linde plc

    • Northumbrian Water Group

    Ethisphere evaluates companies based on five main criteria:

    - Ethics and compliance program

    - Culture of ethics

    - Corporate citizenship and responsibility

    - Governance

    - Leadership and reputation

    Benefits of Ethics in Business

    The benefits of business ethics include:

    1. Ethics in business provide competitive advantages for companies, as customers and investors would rather associate with businesses that are transparent.

    2. Being compliant with set business ethics improves a business's image, making it more attractive to talent, customers, and investors.

    3. Ethics in business help create a motivating work environment where employees love to be since their morals are aligned with the company's morals.

    4. Though complying with ethical practices is mostly voluntary, some ethical business practices are mandatory, such as obeying the rule of law. Early compliance saves businesses from future legal action, such as large fines or business failure resulting from non-compliance with rules and regulations.

    Drawbacks of Ethics in Business

    The drawbacks of business ethics include:

    1. Developing, implementing, adjusting, and maintaining ethics in business takes time, especially when a business is just recovering from a reputation scandal due to poor ethics. Ethics also need to be regularly updated by businesses due to changes in business laws and regulations.

    2. The possible trade-off between ethics and profit is another issue. Ethics in business can affect a business's ability to fully maximise profit-making opportunities. For example, an ethical business with a production factory in a developing country would not try to cut down on labour costs by unethical means. Such means could include increasing profits by paying low wages or making employees work overtime without compensation. Instead, an ethical business would make sure to create a nurturing work environment even if this leads to lower profits.

    In conclusion, ethics in business requires businesses to act in a way that stakeholders consider fair and honest. These ethics also guide owners, managers, and employees in making morally satisfying decisions and building trust with customers.

    Business Ethics - Key Takeaways

    • The term business ethics refers to a set of morals standards and practices that guides business organizations based on principles like respect, fairness, trust and responsibility.
    • Business ethics are important for operations, attracting new talent, building positive relationships with customers, and attracting new investors.
    • There are seven principles of business ethics including accountability, care and respect, honesty, healthy competition, loyalty, transparency, and respect for the rule of law.
    • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to a management concept whereby businesses factor economic, social, and environmental concerns into their business activities while simultaneously looking to achieve their aims and objectives.
    • The benefits of business ethics include gaining a competitive advantage, improving the brand image, motivating employees, and saving businesses from future legal action.
    • The drawbacks of business ethics include the trade-off between profit maximisation and ethics, and the time it may take to develop or adjust business ethics.

    References

    1. Ethisphere, The 2022 World’s Most Ethical Companies® Honoree List, https://worldsmostethicalcompanies.com/honorees/#
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Business Ethics

    What is business ethics?

    The term business ethics refers to a set of morals standards and practices that guides business organizations based on principles like respect, fairness, trust and responsibility.

    What are business ethics examples?

    Examples of business ethics:

    • Diversity in the workplace 
    • Prioritising customer needs 
    • Customer data protection
    • Community empowerment

    Why is ethics in business important?

    The importance of business ethics is apparent in business operations. Business ethics guide an organisation in these operations and keep them in line with laws and regulations. This guidance helps the business maintain a positive public image and reputation of respectability. 

    What are the forms of business ethics?

    Different forms of business ethics are:

    1. Personal responsibility
    2. Corporate responsibility
    3. Social responsibility 
    4. Technology ethics 
    5. Trust and transparency
    6. Fairness 

    What are the business ethics principles?

    The business ethics principles include:  

    • accountability, 
    • care and respect,
    •  honesty, 
    • healthy competition, 
    • loyalty, 
    • transparency, 
    • and respect for the rule of law.

    What does ethical mean in business?

    "Ethical" in business means to behave following moral principles and values, such as honesty, fairness, and responsibility. Ethical businesses consider the influence on all stakeholders, including customers, employees, society, and the environment. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Business ethics emphasizes generally accepted principles laid down by the ………..

     Business ethics helps businesses do all except

    According to business ethics principles, disagreements between businesses and its employees should be resolved 

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