BUSINESS ETHICS

Introduced by Jill Beavis, Ethical Investment Adviser, Alan Seward Financial Services, Bath, on 8 January 1998

This subject has been a growing area of concern; the Royal Society of Arts has set up a Forum for Ethics in the Workplace, which the Institute of Directors supports. Yet within the wider community there are different ideas on what these ethical standards should be.
Increasingly, individuals seek to influence ethical standards in the companies in which they invest or the pension fund they choose. The speaker gives professional advice in this field. Suggestions are made depending upon the activities that give concern - the arms trade, tobacco manufacture, pollution, the use of child labour, are some such concerns. Much research is required,and regular reviews because company policy changes through the pressure of public opinion. With careful choice, investors need not accept significantly lower returns on their investments.
Many aspects of the subject arose during the discussion. What was ethical varied with different religions; the Quakers have a long history of high standards whilst still running profitable firms. Several members had worked overseas and drew attention to the widely different standards in different countries.
There was a growing move by the public to seek out products coming from abroad where, for example, child labour was not exploited, but at the same time, shoppers were less inclined to pay a higher price for so-called ‘green’ products.
Some members were concerned at the ethics of some advertisements; yet some areas, once of major concern, such as gambling, were now seldom mentioned.
The group recognised that public opinion was often volatile, with single-issue pressure groups using the media skilfully to have an activity regarded as unethical made illegal. There was some unease at this development.
An important lecture on markets and morality had recently been given by Lord Plant of Highfield. He concluded:- “We live with the freedom of choice of a market and we should treasure that. But part of treasuring that is to keep the market embedded in a framework of values”. Our meeting agreed.

Rodney Tye