Last year I was asked to talk about business ethics to a group of students at Newcastle College. This was on the back of me being involved in the North East initiative on Business Ethics. I blogged about it back in May and must have done a reasonable job as I was asked back again.
To get ready, I looked through the presentation I had given in 2021 and found that most of it was as relevant today as it was then. I suppose ethics don’t change that quickly. 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? All of these stories are still as relevant now as then, indeed with the release of the Colston four, perhaps even more so.
As for business ethics i talked 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]. Again, all still relevant.
There was a good interaction from the students this time, with lots of comments that showed how complicated ethics is. For each point I raised some felt it was ethical while others did not and this is the reaction I had hoped for. Whatever opinion they have, at least it is an opinion and they have given it some thought.
Finally I was asked if ethics had become more relevant since the COVID pandemic. If anything the virus has shown us how unfair and unethical society can be and so the answer I gave was that it was of even greater importance.
To sum up, I reminded the students that ultimate power lay with them, in that they had the ability to choose whether or not to deal with businesses that did not meet their own values.
I wonder if I will be asked back next year?