Business E.T.H.I.C.S

“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” Douglas Adams

Ask anyone in the world of business whether corporate ethics is an oxymoron and you are likely to get a somewhat awkward answer, full of platititudes and guff. Of course everyone believes that businesses should operate in an ethical manner, but the sad truth is that many people are willing to sacrifice their morals if it means adding a few extra zeros to their pay cheques. Some people call it “pushing the envelope”, and seem to think that if it isn’t strictly against the law, then it’s okay.

Nowadays, it seems that every few weeks a business scandal makes the headlines.  Whilst you would assume that only large corporations could be at the centre of such a scandal, today even the little guys are having their business ethics questioned. We have looked at a few recent case studies, large and small.

Vloggers pushing the envelope

Vloggers can attract a huge number of followers, some are genuinely passionate about their interests, some are cashing in on their popularity, and advertisers are more than willing to help them. A recent example is when a whole host of Vloggers suddenly developed a taste for Oreos. It was a paid for campaign sponsored by Oreo biscuits, and it featured a whole host of famous YouTube stars. The problem wasn’t the content of the advertisements but the fact that the content hadn’t been clearly labeled as promotional or sponsored, the Advertising Standards Authority banned the campaign.

The UK advertising watchdog has now ruled that vloggers (also known as video bloggers and YouTubers) are breaking the law if they fail to tell their subscribers that they are being paid to promote products and services.

And this wasn’t an isolated incident.  Over the last few years, brands have really cottoned onto the fact that YouTube stars (with their huge fan bases of loyal followers, that seem to hang on their every word) are the perfect ambassadors for their products. What’s even more appealing than their huge followings is the fact that many vloggers are willing to slip the products into their videos without so much of a mention that they have been sent it for free, or paid to promote it, making it seem like an organic recommendation.

The ethics of these vloggers is right to be questioned, especially since many of them have young fan bases that may not even realise that sponsored content exists.  They need to decide what’s more important – their bank balance or their credibility.

Vloggers who upload their videos to YouTube and other websites are now required by law to state if they have been paid to advertise a product.


 Vloggers have to state if they are advertising a product.
Image – CC Some rights reserved 

Let’s not just pick on the little guys.  

The big guys

Whilst vloggers’ ethical practices have only recently been questioned, something that we are all tired of hearing about is large corporations and their ethical questionability.  Business scandals crop up in the news on a regular basis, and whilst you would think these corporations would have learnt their lesson by now, they still seem willing to risk their reputation with unethical practices in the hopes that they won’t get caught.

Image – CC Some rights reserved 

Recently the Serious Fraud Office launched a formal criminal investigation into the accounting practices of Tesco, which led to a £263m profit overstatement. Many analysts are speculating that desperate executives had been pulling forward payments in order to create a healthier image of the supermarket’s finances.

The investigation couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tesco, which is allegedly struggling to cope with tough competition from discount chains like Aldi and Lidl.

Your Data

We couldn’t talk about business ethics without mentioning the internet and how businesses are using your data. In the UK, the Data Protection Act requires businesses to use their site visitors’ data responsibly and ask permission before using cookies to gather information. But once you have given permission, that’s when the question of ethics comes to the fore, and there are a number of businesses out there that seem to think that it gives them the right to do whatever they want.

One such business is online dating website OKCupid, who back in August admitted to intentionally deceiving their users by using the data they had provided as part of an experiment – without obtaining their consent.

Basically they told users that they were a 90% match with other members of the site, when in reality they were only 30% compatible with (or even less). In addition to this, they told some couples they were good matches for each other when they were the absolute opposite. This ultimately led to people going on dates when they simply weren’t a good match and, what might be even worse, others missing out on the chance to connect with people when they could have been loves young dream.

One of the founders of OKCupid Christian Rudder said that they never considered letting users opt-in to the experiment because it would have affected the results of it. He basically stated that by using the internet, people should just accept that companies are going to use their data and use them for experiments without giving them an informed choice.

Surely, internet users have a right to know how their information is being collected online, who it is being used by and for what purpose, making OKCupid’s actions very unethical.

With so many cases of businesses conducting unethical practice in 2014 alone, it begs the question whether business ethics really is an oxymoron.

Why ethics?

Is an ethical choice a rational choice?


You can read more Oxymorons here.