Beyond Appearances – What REALLY Makes a Company ‘Ethical’?

Beyond Appearances - What REALLY Makes a Company 'Ethical'?
Sue Ellam explores the meaning behind the word ‘ethical’ in this day and age, and how some companies invalidly earn the label via superficial marketing tactics.

Recently I received an email article praising companies who are considered the most ethical. It showed a list of these illustrious and successful business ventures of 2013, 2014, etc., holding them up as the benchmark for the rest of us. I opened the list in anticipation of seeing estimable companies mentioned, but was horrified to see a number of corporations who are known to create products that compromise health or are involved in deforestation or child labour – to name but a few crimes against humanity.

In my opinion, even if a company is taking some steps to become more ethical, surely they shouldn’t be allowed on such a list until they have a substantial history in ethical practice.

The inevitable questions spring to mind: who on earth compiles these lists, and what is their agenda? Are they genuinely ignorant of the practices of these companies, or is profit the only criterion? Or – even worse – is ethical practice now being judged by the 80/20 rule?

So what exactly are the criteria for calling a company ‘ethical’ in this day and age?

Giving the Appearance of Treating People Well

Fair treatment of employees is one common criterion. But is this enough? If the people that work for them are treated well, getting decent salaries and benefits, does that make the company ethical?

If their employees wear protective clothing while they are spraying the planet with toxic chemicals, does that make the company ethical because it is looking after its own?

If employees are given the benefit of cheap food and clothing in the form of company discounts, is the company ethical if the food is the end product of compromised ingredients and tortured animals?

If job opportunities and helping the economy are held as valid reasons for companies to poison the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat, I have to ask – who benefits?

Creating Adverts that Make Us Feel Good

Or maybe being seen as ethical is all about having a brilliant marketing campaign – one that makes the general public feel all ‘warm and fuzzy’. You know the types: full of cute animals, young children or a celebrity or two (or maybe all of the above, if the company has unlimited finance to throw at it). These adverts send us on an emotional rollercoaster ride which dulls the senses and convinces people of its sincerity and authenticity because it’s just so darn pretty!

For example, the food and drink industries are money machines that can employ the most brilliant of marketers, capable of blindsiding the uninformed into believing every word they say. Many of them churn out addictive products which lack nutrition and create severe health problems through the addition of ingredients which kill brain cells and generally attack the organs of the body. However, that seems to be acceptable because their marketing campaigns bring people together in ‘happy’ food-and-drink-related ways, and their packaging is so bright and colourful and the wording so reassuring – natural, farm fresh, and so on – it’s got to be true, yes?

Looking Beautiful on the Surface

Some of the most successful confidence tricksters and serial killers in history came in very pleasing physical packages. It is because they were good looking that they were able to get close to their victims, but beautiful on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean beautiful on the inside. I think this rule applies to companies and their marketing campaigns as well.

We are surrounded by marketing images which promote ‘beauty’. These images not only corrupt and destroy people’s self-confidence, but they also establish that beauty is best. Therefore, in our subconscious, we link beauty to all that is good, and we dismiss all that is not beautiful according to the current standards set by the media and marketing industry.

In contrast, I lived in the Algarve, Portugal, for a couple of years. While I was there, I knew people who had orange trees on their land. They were the sweetest oranges I’d ever tasted in my life, yet none of those oranges would have reached supermarket shelves. The reason is that they were all ‘ugly’ fruit; they weren’t tampered with to make them visually pleasing. I was told by the owner of the orange grove that the ugly fruit were the sweetest, and that is something I think is worth remembering, because it opens our minds. We won’t so easily be seduced by beauty if we know there is a viable alternative.

Making Charitable Donations

If a cosmetics company donates money to eradicate skin cancer, they have to be ethical, right? People will think that they are wonderful and more readily buy their products. However, what if that same company includes ingredients in its products which can cause cancer?

If a food or drink company gives donations to schools in the form of IT or sports equipment, is it really an altruistic act? They often get returns in the form of advertising on the premises and massive hikes in sales as the word spreads about their good deeds. And, of course, they are creating a new generation of people who will be addicted to their products.

I read something the other day which I thought was highly ethical – that the patents for Nikola Tesla’s electric car had been removed and anyone could make the cars in order to benefit the planet. I see that as a charitable donation of a different kind. Someone wrote in the comments on the page that the company wasn’t being completely altruistic, because it would still provide all the car batteries. I think this person missed the point. Giving everything away for free isn’t the mark of an ethical company, it’s the mark of business collapse. It wouldn’t be a win/win situation in that scenario. There has to be some sort of exchange in order to create balance.

Charitable donations also need to be win/win situations. The people needing help are not lesser beings than the people giving it just because they don’t have financial wealth. They shouldn’t be exploited in the name of profit.

I think we need to remember that the companies that give lots of money to charity are usually companies that can easily afford it. It doesn’t hurt them at all. In fact, it often benefits them. There are many companies that give money openheartedly and genuinely help everyone they touch, and there are those that give money in order to gain goodwill and a rise in sales. It is our job to find out which is which.

So what percentage between donations and damage constitutes ethical by today’s standards? Is it 25%/75% or does it need to be 50%/50%? I ask again: who makes these decisions and what is their agenda? It doesn’t seem to be the health and wellbeing of the planet, that’s for sure.

Closing Thoughts

I suggest that before we decide that a company is ethical, we look more deeply into its face. We need to look into its eyes and see its soul. A beautiful face is no indicator of a beautiful soul.

My father was a magician, a member of the Inner Magic Circle, and when I was growing up I used to watch him practice. He told me to always watch the hand that seemed to be doing nothing – and that has taught me a valuable life lesson. So when a company or institution of any sort puts forth a spectacular display which draws my attention, I drag my eyes away from where the lights are shining and look into the shadows to see what they are hiding, what it is they don’t want me to see. If after careful scrutiny and research I find there is nothing being hidden, then I deem that company ethical and sit back and enjoy the show!

I am not for one minute telling anyone what to think, or what to do. What I humbly suggest is that everyone look carefully at the decisions they make and the companies they support by either using their services or buying their products. Then each of us will know that we aren’t being led by the nose into compromising our own set of values and what we personally believe in.

The bottom line is that if people, animals and the planet are being negatively impacted by a company’s products or services, that company is not ethical – no matter how much they give to charity or how many heart-warming marketing campaigns they launch. They are shirking their responsibility towards all living things in the name of profit. That is the truth!

I would love to hear your thoughts and what the word ‘ethical’ means to you personally. Please feel free to use the comments box below. Let’s get a dialogue going on this issue.

Sue Ellam
24th June 2014

Sue-EllamSUE ELLAM is fascinated by the power of mind over matter and was initially guided towards spiritual healing and medium-ship. She is a professionally trained graphologist of 21 years standing and has travelled extensively using this skill, as well as that of tarot reading, participating in many festivals worldwide. Currently she is developing Soulfully Connecting which is a global website dedicated to the healing of mind, body, soul and planet. Her vision is to connect like-minded individuals around the world through the sharing of knowledge, providing a platform so that the change-makers can be seen, appreciated and supported.

Sue is a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing course.

Twitter: @soulfullysue

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.

Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

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