Thursday, 13 October 2011

How to be Ethical in Business

October 2011

I need you. One of the big challenges in starting this venture is decision making. It is like taking a journey and knowing the destination that you want, but not knowing if the path you pick will take you anywhere near. One of the big decisions from the outset is reconciling what you care about, what I care about and what is commercially viable; in other words business ethics.

So this post is a musing on all things ethical in business, DON'T tune out! I need your input. I promise you a little discussion, a space disaster and some questions to get your thoughts flowing.
What You Care About

Over the past five years I have made changes in the way that I shop. Telling you this isn’t intended to show off about how super I am, I am not. I know that I could do an awful lot more. I noticed myself becoming paralysed into not changing my shopping habits because our awareness has become cluttered with causes and campaigns. For instance I try to buy ‘happy’ chickens, free range eggs, fruit and vegetables that haven’t flown further than I have that week. We tend to pick a cause so that we can put a mental tick in the box saying that we are doing our part. Outside of our shopping habits, this may be a donation of money or time to charity, any way that you live to reinforce your ethical beliefs.

There is so much to consider as an informed shopper and we have more choice than ever. From food miles to use of pesticides, preservatives to artificial flavours, GM’s to MSG’s, Fairtrade to Rainforest Alliance, Organics to the brand ethics of your cholocate bar. Then of course there is your budget, how much money have you got? And how does this impact your choices? I am exhausted just thinking about it. We make choices all the time based on what we care about.

I would like to know what you care about, so please take 2 minutes to do my little survey!

What I Care About

I have had many bosses over the years who have had different principles. Staying true to your principles in business is a challenge. I believe doing this separates a good Manager from a great one. My dad is one of the greats and became respected in the building industry by following his moral compass and reconciling his beliefs with a good way of doing business. This is not the easy option and some people just could not understand why he would make decisions in the way that he did. It was the people who asked about his thought process who were amazed. You may not think there is a place for honesty in modern day business, if you under charge me for a delivery do I tell you? If you hand me too much money do I stop you? if I have the choice between sugar that has been fairly-traded or the same brand that hasn’t because it is cheaper do I buy it?

For my own business, I want to ensure that the things that I am passionate about are alive in all aspects of what I do and that importantly my team believe it too.

Challenger Disaster

If you are unfamiliar with how this disaster occurred please read on the link after this short clip.


Roger Boisjoly made a number of choices in the months leading up to the Challenger accident. He consistently took an ethical course of action, often risking his job. Nevertheless, he was unable to avert the January 28 launch. In 1988 Roger Boisjoly was given the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility for his extensive and well conceived efforts to avert the shuttle disaster.

This disaster always intrigued me. It was a horrible human tragedy and following the investigation it became clear that normal people with high ethical values made decisions that in retrospect seem utterly unethical. What made them change?

Ok ok so I am opening a tea room and not flying people into space (yet) but I find this fascinating and want to ensure that I make my business sustainable and responsible maybe not all in the first week of trading, but I have a plan and can develop these values as I go. Ensure that my business is safe and then work towards making it better and better and the best of the best. I am used to the concept of under promise and over deliver as a sales person, but again there has to be a balance.

My Choice

When you start your own business you get to bring into it the things that are important to you, it is one of the perks and many people use it as a tool for differentiation from large corporate companies. Take a look at Starbucks who use fair-trade coffee for the UK, they say they can’t worldwide because there is not enough supply for their demand. So are you glad that Starbucks use Fair-trade or does it make you angry that they have jumped on the bandwagon are you that cynical?

Things that I care about and want to bring into my business from day one include;
Where is Wales? There is Wales!

  • Welsh language 
  • Welsh culture and heritage
  • Local quality suppliers
  • Fairly-traded commodities 
  • Communication – there is nothing more exciting than sharing knowledge.
  • Cost control – successful business sense must underly everything that I do, or there is no business.

This is where I would really like to hear from you, now I have some people reading my words and joining me in this adventure I want to know what is important to you. 

What do you do to reinforce your principles & how does it make you feel? 

What more could you do? 

What makes you choose somewhere to go eat and drink? 

Is ethics important in business or do you just not care? 

Be honest and anonymous if you are shy.

*N.B. CLICK HERE to join the Debate*

Thanks David

P.s. Here are ar few topical comments on the subject of whether fair trade is as good as it seems. What do you think?
4 November 2010 5:30PM
Fair trade isn't about 'workers' getting 'fair' wages. It's about big wealthy NGOs extorting money from the powerless in developing countries.
"Pay up to have our logo on your product, or we'll make sure the stupid middle class punters refuse to buy it," is a disgusting threat. Anyone who really wants to be an ethical consumer should avoid 'fair trade' like the plague.
4 November 2010 6:06PM
I'd like to send anyone who believes blindly in the pointlessness of Fairtrade abroad to work in plantations and clothes factories and for a year and discover what 'ordinary' wages and 'ordinary' terms of employment mean for millions of people. Then they can return and take up their cushioned seats as dons again, and we shall be most interested in their reports of all they've seen and heard.
4 November 2010 6:18PM
@LeeJones Fair Trade, you would see that there are some very valid arguments against the practice.
Yes, there are some arguments, yet you did not bother to tell us any? Main arguments against are about market ideology and do often originate from think-tanks, rather than from scientific studies.
Actual, scientific comparative studies and case studies have shown a lot of good effects to the communities.
There are some examples of these studies listed in wikipedia.
Before you say it, yes, the French study was done to an NGO.


  1. Interesting post!

    It is great that you are considering these things from the start and not just focusing on the bottom line, as in the long run I think good business ethics do make a more successful business.

    I am always a bit apprehensive of "fairtrade" products as I have read some articles about how fair it really is and the impact of fairtrade on the wider economy of the countries in question. I don't claim to be an expert though, but the fairtrade label doesn't necessarily make me buy.

    I do think locally sourced produce is a good idea, not only environmentally but also it helps built a community feel, I feel better knowing that the milk in my tea comes from a farm less than 10 miles away and is freshly delivered every morning.
    Also you are supporting your local farmers/businesses who could also be your customers!

    When I look for a place to have a coffee or tea with a friend, I tend to avoid the big chain places, as normally they are BUSY! I live in a city centre and the queues are unreal on weekends. I prefer the little independent places, and to be honest the coffee is almost always better (and cheaper)!

    Also, the regular cafes I go to have other community elements, from book clubs to knitting groups, host local charity things, and have a real sense of the local community, which I love.

    Anywhoo, hope some of these ramblings help in someway.

  2. @Nelly
    Thanks Nelly! Good to hear some thoughts. Knitting groups! Awesome x

  3. Hi David, as always an interesting post.
    What do you do to reinforce your principles & how does it make you feel?
    In financial services there is a set of principles from the financial services authority entitled 'treating customers fairly'. I believe in treating people fairly. Whether this is your staff or your suppliers I believe you should always try and be fair. It may not always be perceived as such so it's hard to stick to. For example, when I had my flower shops I used to buy ecuadorian roses. 1. they were stunning. 2. they were unusual. 3. they were bought directly from the grower's community and my purchase went towards helping them with various projects such as schools, clinics etc. My customers often commented these roses were expensive. I explained where they came from, why I paid more etc and they were usually OK with it. So I wrote little profiles of the growers next to the roses. I had less negative customer comments overall and in fact some sales went up. I read this that people believed and supported my values - otherwise they would have gone in the bin right? So basically I think what I am saying is that you will probably need to market your values actively at first to help people get them. Slowly though word does spread and people will come to you because of them.
    What more could you do?
    Loads but sometimes it just isn't practical to do the right thing or affordable. For example it would have been cheaper and environmentally better for me to travel by train around india over the summer but with only 3 weeks and 2 young children this was not practical. Get my point?

    What makes you choose somewhere to go eat and drink?
    I have to like the people. I have to FEEL the people care about what I want from them. One of the reasons I closed down my flower shops was because I could not be there every day and make sure my customers always felt this way.

    Hope this sparks some thoughts...Urvashi x

  4. You are quite right to worry about business ethics, too many cake shops nowadays are driven by pure profit, happy to take risks knowing all the while that if it goes wrong the British taxpayer will be there to bail them out. Meanwhile Bakers bonuses are sky high, while the rest of us are left struggling to pay our mortgages.

  5. You should look to express your personality in everything you do - there is no greater value you can add to your business than by offering your customers an authentic experience. What I mean is, don't be ethical in order to match your customer's expectations, be ethical because you are a human being, pick your battles according to what is important to you, not what is fashionable. This is what sets you apart from the franchise coffee shop, embrace it!

  6. Hi David,
    Here are my thoughts.From the outset you are putting alot of thought and effort into your business,and i feel you care passionately about what you are doing and not just in it for pure profit. There is alot to be said for that. Franchise coffee shops dont seem to care about you as a customer and neither do their staff half the time.If you offer you customers good homecooked food with friendly service people will come back for more. if i feel people care about me as a person that makes such a difference in my eyes. Its got to be good to be unique!Happy staff mean happy customers because you cant always be around at front of house if you know what i mean


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