Does being ethical make real commercial sense?

This week the board asked me what I could do to pump up our score in an upcoming corporate responsibility league table. Last year, we did OK, but we want to better it this time.

Luckily, like a Formula 1 racing driver analysing his track times, we know where we scored less well and what we need to do to improve. So a week ensued of publishing our code of ethics on our website, updating our corporate lobbying policy and ensuring the team are up-to-date with registering what corporate hospitality they have received.

It got me thinking about the role of ethics in business today. Some businesses have made a virtue of it; others claim it is essential to do business. But being ethical is not always a straightforward track. One part of my brand provides products and services for other businesses. How scrupulously should we police what they do? For example, we claim we want our employees to be healthy, so are we being two-faced if we provide services to a tobacco manufacturer?

We also do some work for defence contractors – companies that no doubt supply weapons to our frontline troops. While not illegal – in fact, our soldiers are some of the most revered members of society – are we being ethical if it is our services that enable the death of humans, even if it is in a war situation?

There are people who campaign against banks investing in certain regimes, supermarkets stocking specific brands of tuna, and oil companies exploring controversial parts of the world yet I still see customers flocking to the said banks, grocery stores and petrol pumps. Do they really care about a business’s ethics or do most just accept these things as a consequence of modern commercial life?

Does being truly ethical make a business more successful? And with the economy the way it is, can we afford to put conscience before contracts?

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here