ethical crossroads
13Feb

The Biggest Ethical Business Issues in 2019

All over the world, different industries are facing similar ethical dilemmas. In 2019, computers assist us with much of our day-to-day work, but ethical choices remain in the hands of people. And sometimes, being people, they get it wrong.

Workplace ethics form the foundation of long-term relationships between employers and their employees – not to mention wider society. Embracing an ethical approach to business is not always easy, and it may not always yield the most lucrative profit margins (in the short-term). But it’s worth it.

Ultimately, companies who make a choice to confront ethical dilemmas responsibly cultivate a better reputation and a happier workforce. What’s more, being publicly committed to ethical business practices will encourage a higher level of trust and loyalty from your customers.

Money

Oh, money. Still the root of all evil, huh? You never thought about finding a different calling?

Unethical accounting practices continue to be one of the biggest ethical problems in the business world, and in publicly traded companies in particular. When a company tinkers about with its balance sheets to reap financial benefit, capitalising expenses and withholding details, this is often referred to as ‘cooking the books’.

Back in 2001, oil company Enron withheld huge debts from its balance sheets, before being turned in by an internal whistleblower. Its shareholders lost $74 billion, many employees lost their jobs, thousands lost their retirement accounts. Up until that point, it’d been named ‘America’s Most Innovative Company’ for six years in a row by Fortune Magazine. But all the accolades in the world won’t save you if you let your people down.

Whatever the size of your business, keeping accurate financial records is the ethical and responsible thing to do.

Deception

Even today, there are some industries that knowingly deceive the public through their packaging, advertising and omission of details. This Bored Panda article shows more than 50 examples of misleading packaging design where customers thought they were getting more for their money. Others take part in controversial practices like animal testing or sweatshop labour, while keeping very quiet about it.

Another form of deception is planned obsolescence – products that are designed to slow down or stop working after a time to ensure demand for future products. This is particularly prevalent in the tech industries. Apple is not the only culprit.

Needless to say, deception is an ethical issue. And in the long-term, it can hurt your relationships with your customers. People do not like to feel cheated. Practicing honesty, integrity and transparency over deceptive advertising and high-pressure sales tactics is the route to a more trusting and productive relationship with consumers that will breed loyalty and improve your reputation.

Discrimination

There are many forms of discrimination that are sadly still prevalent in the workplace, from racial discrimination and sexual harassment to wage inequality. These issues are not only unethical, they can also be costly. Despite laws that require workers to receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of age, ethnicity or gender, the problem still persists in some industries.

On top of that, a new form of discrimination known as Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) has risen dramatically over the past decade, affecting those with family commitments such as caregiving and pregnancy.

Employees deserve to have their differences respected and their contributions valued in the workplace. An ethical response begins with hiring a diverse workforce and ensuring equal opportunities for all with fair pay, appropriate training and respectful behaviour.

Environment

Growing environmental awareness has encouraged many companies to change the way they design and produce products, from where materials are sourced to overall product quality and workplace safety. In recent history, a number of companies have been responsible for accidents and/or poor procedures that have led to pollution or other forms of environmental damage: oil spills, hazardous waste materials, river pollution, even nuclear accidents. Just look at this list of environmental lawsuits – you get the picture.

When businesses focus only on profits and production and ignore the surrounding environment and community, ultimately we all lose out. Thousands, perhaps millions of people may be affected by the irresponsible decisions of those more concerned with financial gain than protecting the planet we all share.

As discussed in a previous post, it’s virtually impossible to call yourself an ethical company without considering the full impact of your business on the environment and society.

Health

According to the International Labour Organization, 6,300 people die every day from occupational accidents or work-related diseases. Occupational violations include things like fall protection, hazard communication, and respiratory protection, as well as psychological factors like job insecurity, extreme demands, and low autonomy. Plenty of well-known brands have been found to employ workers in sweatshop conditions that do not comply with basic health and safety standards.

Here’s what the main health and safety regulations in the UK look like. Providing workers with information and training. Adequate lighting, heating and ventilation. Personal protective equipment. Properly maintained equipment. A 48-hour maximum working week. The list goes on. A healthy workplace is a happy workplace is a productive workplace.

Surveillance

With developments in technological security, employers now have the option to monitor their employees’ digital activity. This sort of electronic surveillance is supposedly intended to maximise efficiency and productivity. But when does it cross the line?

According to these statistics on workplace monitoring and surveillance, employers are primarily concerned about inappropriate web surfing. Today, 66% of employers are monitoring internet connections and 45% are tracking content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard. Some also monitor employees through video cameras.

The widespread nature of social media has also become an issue, with much discussion around whether it’s ethical for companies to fire or punish an employee for what they post about on their personal accounts in their own time. The line is complicated: this Guardian article goes into more detail about the nature of this ‘Big Brother’ style surveillance and its pros and cons.

Most companies will find themselves dealing with ethical choices or problems from time to time, whether it’s a matter of health, safety, finances, advertising or environment. By showing yourself to be a transparent and trustworthy business that cares about the environment and its employees, you will cultivate a good reputation as a socially responsible company, which in time will generate its own rewards. Every choice we make is an opportunity to be better.