'BDF: babies, dolphins and forests' was how one (enlightened) business figure once characterised corporate social responsibility. CSR, and ethics in business, tend to provoke a 'yadda yadda yadda', fingers in the ears, 'not listening!' response from many business leaders. With reason: a lot of that talk has got boring and predictable and ignores business reality. But the debate over ethics is now going to reach new levels of intensity. Look at Twitter-enabled citizens taking to the streets. See corporations struggle to contain protest movements unleashed on social media. If your ethics are not tip-top and blemish-free, you should be worried.
Where did it come from?
It's almost as if business has been toying with the concept of ethics and sustainability until now. In fairness, there has been dramatic progress. Coca-Cola, for example, which used to have no idea how much water it consumed in making its product, found out in a hurry when protesters pointed out how damaging its processes could be for water tables. But, in general, business has been grudgingly slow to embrace a more ethical approach. Even Unilever's Paul Polman is viewed as a maverick for daring to promote sustainability.
Where is it going?
At the World Economic Forum's Davos gathering a few weeks ago, the president of Colombia set out his conditions for accepting foreign direct investment into his country. One: businesses had to be environmentally friendly. Two: they had to be socially responsible. 'That's it!' he declared. Behaving properly is increasingly going to be the entry fee for the right to do business. So those MT readers who think that ethics is just a county in the east of England need to think again.
Gradient: A steep and challenging climb.