Business ethics is the study of appropriate business policies and practices regarding potentially controversial subjects such as corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, corporate social responsibility, and fiduciary responsibilities. While the law often guides business ethics, business ethics provide a basic guideline for businesses to follow to gain public approval.

The development of business ethics in the 1960’s was motivated by consumers who were concerned about how companies were responding to creating a balance between profit generation and answering environmental and social concerns. Business ethics is designed make businesses answerable to the public, improve transparency and ensure that businesses adhere to legal frameworks that protect the rights of consumers and other vested interests.

How to Establish Company Ethics

The benefits of announcing a company’s commitment to business ethics does allow that company to solidify customer confidence if the company adheres to those ethics. However, any observed unethical behaviour by the company or its employees also means that trust can quickly be destroyed.

Deciding what standards to set should be informed by the law/s governing the industry. However, there are basic guiding principles of ethical behaviour that should form the foundation of an ethical approach to business.

  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Caring
  • Citizenship

These basic concepts help to inform all staff of the expectations of the business when dealing with internal and external matters. It is not enough that as a company you expect that your employees understand basic respect and manners. As on online business you might have people from various regions of the world who interpret these standards differently. As a company, it is important that you communicate your expectations so that people know what is expected.

Added to these basic, everyday expectations, it is also important to expand on those expectations and let staff know that as a company you also expect:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Promise-Keeping & Trustworthiness
  • Loyalty
  • Fairness
  • Concern for Others
  • Respect for Others
  • Law Abiding
  • Commitment to Excellence
  • Leadership
  • Reputation & Morale
  • Accountability

While these ethical behaviours seem obvious, for many people they are often forgotten in the heat of the moment. When you as a business set the tone for how you wish employees to interact with customers and each other, you also create a culture, and identity and committed workforce who know the expectations of the company they work with.