Words-worth

Ethical. In the era of the ‘ethical’ business, it’s no longer sensible to see ‘ethics’ as the name of an English county.

In the era of the 'ethical' business, it's no longer sensible to see 'ethics' as the name of an English county. The word comes from the Greek for character and acquired its current meaning – the professional morality of individuals, organisations or trades – only in the 18th century. 'Ethical' originally meant 'concerning ethics', and only later 'well-behaved'. The first 'ethical' trade was in drugs: 'ethical pharmaceuticals' are those that are available only on prescription. 'Ethical investment' arrived in 1980, followed by 'ethical funds' and 'ethical trading', serving 'ethical consumers'. Recently, an 'ethical housebuilder' was in the news. And now Bono of U2 has launched a range of 'ethical clothing' – so you can wear your heart on your sleeve. But ethics are not just for the shop window: increasingly, they're inside the organisation. In future, you may still be able to have an affair with a colleague, but you'll have to clear it with the organisation's ethics officer first.

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