The law is not enough

The law is not enough

Organisations used to be ‘ethical enough’ if they simply avoided false advertising and didn’t smear the competition, but no more. Doing good in a pro-active way – and then talking about it – is becoming the new baseline.

For 10 years, Ethisphere has produced a list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. In 2016, 131 countries were honoured, from all around the world and from sectors as varied as banking, health and beauty, electronics, property, manufacturing, retail and more.

Many of the companies on the list are big and well-known businesses. Companies such as Capgemini, L'Oréal, Tata Steel and Allstate Insurance already have significant clout and well-established reputations. In the past, they might have concentrated on fulfilling customer demands – as well as complying with relevant regulations – but to get on the Ethisphere list they have clearly invested a lot of time and effort in ethical business practices and marketing.

Why make that change?

Regulations and legal responsibilities are now the starting point rather than the end goal. An ethical approach is fast becoming part of customer service – many consumers now expect the businesses they buy from to be producing their products in a sustainable way, and are disappointed to find out otherwise.

Ethics is especially important for the marketing department. Responsible for the ‘public face’ of the organisation, marketers have to give consumers information about the company’s ethical policies. It’s hard to make much noise about the fact that an organisation is merely fulfilling its legal obligations.

For those working with companies that are already working on ethical issues, it’s simply a matter of tactics; how to present the work in a positive light, to the right people, at the right time. In other words, classic marketing.

But for others, it means finding a suitable ethical angle for the organisation, then pushing for appropriate practices to become embedded in day-to-day operations – either at the executive level or with more senior colleagues.

The angle should fit seamlessly with what it does and is known for – this could be anything from responsible sourcing to going beyond the call of duty to help employees, customers and partner organisations.

It’s a challenging job, and there is something important to remember when going about it.

It’s the duty of marketers to let companies know that the aim is not simply to abide by the letter of the law. Businesses need to go the extra mile. If a company isn’t making an extra effort on these issues, marketers shouldn’t give consumers the impression that they are. After all, the core of ethics is honesty.

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