Ethically challenged companies be warned. Today's virtuous consumers want business to be good. Recent research by the Co-operative Wholesale Society says that three out of five consumers would boycott firms or stores with poor ethical standards. Helping the morally moribund is therefore proving a profitable niche for business schools and consultants. A gleaming ethical reputation is a highly valuable asset, but can it actually be taught?
Teaching individual employees to behave ethically is fraught with problems, insists Reverend Michael Roberts, principal of Westcott House Theological College. 'People can't be taught to act in an ethical way. Ethics are best learned by watching people be moral. In business, that means learning from the example set by management.' David Matthews, director of the London-based New Academy of Business, agrees, but believes 'business schools can do much to raise awareness of ethical issues and promote the agenda of socially enlightened business'. The academy offers a MA in responsibility in business practice where students debate real case studies with senior managers from leading UK companies and tackle problems in their own organisations.
'We help companies explore what their values are and increase awareness of those values,' says Matthews. Having explored their values, Stanley Kiaer, director of the Institute of Business Ethics, thinks a good starting point is to formalise their ethical policies in writing. 'At the basic level, this means drawing up a code of practice which provides all employees with guidelines on how to make decisions,' he says.