Business ethics involves being able to run a money-making enterprise while being considerate of the values and morals that your business represents. This might sometimes sound conflicting, because profit-making might sound like the opposite of being ethical. However, the important thing to remember here is to keep things in balance. Being ethical does not necessarily mean you give things out for free, as this is actually not beneficial to society. Doing business in an ethical manner means earning a fair profit, while providing useful and beneficial services, and at the same time giving people a chance to make a living.
Schools and higher learning institutions usually offer courses on business ethics, and this is particularly useful for those who are taking up degrees in management and entrepreneurship. There are other ways of learning the ethics of business, though. You can go through various certificate programs. You can even learn these best practices by going through apprenticeships.
- Formal schooling. Business ethics is usually a concept taught in business-related and management degrees. Apart from making profit and managing a company, it’s also important for future business leaders to know how to be socially responsible. However, other fields of study also include business ethics in their curriculum, such as Philosophy, International Studies, human resources, and even mass media. This is because ethics, in general, should be a concept applied in any profession or trade.
- Apprenticeships. Another means of learning ethics, particularly in specialized businesses and trades, is apprenticeship. Some businesses, especially those that involve artistic work and craftsmanship, are not taught through formal schooling, but by practice. These take years to learn, and one usually has to study under a very experienced master or practitioner. Along with the skills of the trade, an apprentice usually also learns how to handle the trade in a fair manner.
- Stakeholder consultations. Another way to delve more deeply into the ethics of any business enterprise is by conducting regular consultations with the concerned stakeholders. By stakeholders, we mean everyone involved in the business, project, or any activity. This includes the management, workers, even the customers and clients. Regular discussion and feedback helps you ensure that you are treating everyone fairly, and justly, and that you are not stepping on anyone’s toes just to make a profit.
- Follow the law and the prescribed principles. Another aspect of business ethics is the more formal grounds that are usually laid out by the law and by generally accepted accounting principles. It has become a big issue in recent years that companies sometimes pad their stock values, or do insider trading. Accounting and audit principles exist to prevent unscrupulous managers or investors from cheating their way into riches at the expense of everyone else. And so if you run a public corporation, you do have to learn to conform to these, and undertake regular audits with capable accounting firms or personnel.
Social responsibility comes with any business activity. And as a business owner or manager, it’s up to you to ensure your business is living up to these legal and ethical standards, and that you are being fair to all involved.