Let’s talk about ethics

I’ve been asked to speak in front of students and school children, who I must admit I find terrifying, but never to that in-between age group, covered by the colleges. That all changed last week, when I was approached by Newcastle College to talk to a group of students about business ethics, and in particular the role of the North East Initiative on Business Ethics. I’ve been involved with NIBE for a few years now yet the last few months since the turn of the year have been the busiest I have known. 

The launch of the Ethical Business Toolkit has given us a great story to tell, something positive that people can get their teeth into with tangible results. I have taken every opportunity to mention it, hence the talk to the Newcastle College students. 

I must admit that I was a bit nervous as I had planned an interactive session and  I wasn’t sure how the audience would react, partly as it was online and partly due to the likely age of the students. Fortunately their tutor was there, as well as some more mature students. I need not have worried as after the first few minutes we were well into it.

To start off, I wanted to talk about what ethics mean and how they are different to different people. I asked questions about whether it was ethical for Greta Thunberg to refuse to go to school and persuade others to join her in her strike for the climate. In a similar vein I asked about Extinction Rebellion, are they ethical to block the streets of major cities to make their point and finally, was it ethical to throw the statue of Edward Colston into the harbour?

I then moved one to business ethics by talking about the attempted setting up of the European Super League [capitalism, ownership, finance, fans], the issues with personal protective clothing during the early stages of the pandemic [Free market, crisis times, ethics vary with circumstances], whether Amazon is an ethical company [Overworking staff, drivers using the toilet, developing cages for safety, non-unionization, aggressive tax avoidance, undermining of high street, low wages, nomadland], and the same for Deliveroo? [Delivery agents earning as little as £2 per hour, no holiday, no sick pay, no pension, not made a profit, no assets]. 

FInally I talked about the Coop. Its website says ‘Truly ethical trading. We champion the best labour standards in our supply chains, acting responsibly towards the workers who make our products and being proud of how we behave towards the people we do business with.’ [Why do they use Deliveroo?]

This left us with the questions:

  • Is being ethical (good) important?
  • What makes an ethical business?
  • How can you tell?
  • What can you do about it?

Which is where NIBE comes in. At the end I was asked where my interest in ethics came from and I described my interest in a fairer society but above all I saw it as a possible way for the North East to differentiate itself as a good place to do business rather than a cheap one.

You can find out more about NIBE here.

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