Jemma Smith, Editor
October, 2015

Environmental and social values in the workplace have never been more important as an increasing number of graduates choose ethical careers

If you are looking for a career that makes a contribution to more than just your bank balance then a job with an ethical employer might be for you.

Ethical businesses do right by both people and planet, and impact positively on the environment, society and communities.

What is an ethical employer?

An ethical employer is an organisation that is concerned with having a positive effect on society and the environment. This can be demonstrated by how a company:

  • invests its profits;
  • treats its staff, customers and clients;
  • approaches environmental issues.

So, for example, a company with links to third-world sweatshops won't win any ethical awards but an organisation that gathers its electricity using solar panels or donates a percentage of its profits to charitable causes ticks the box.

'All companies are designed to make a profit but ethical companies align those goals with a mission to create value for society, the communities they operate in and for their employees, rather than just making money at everyone else's expense,' explains Sodexo UK and Ireland's corporate responsibility manager Edwina Hughes.

Defining an ethical career is difficult when the idea of ethics means different things to different people. It's best therefore to define an ethical career on your own terms by thinking about the issues and values that concern you.

You will spend a lot of time at work so it's important that you find something that you enjoy. For some people knowing that their job makes a difference is important

Who are the ethical companies?

There are lots of different ways of assessing and measuring an organisations ethical value, one such tool being the Business in the Community Corporate Responsibility (CR) Index.

'We produce the CR Index to help companies measure and manage how they integrate responsible business into their core operations. People are now considering the social and environmental impact of a company alongside other benefits when looking for work so the CR Index could a be a useful tool for graduates,' says Ochuko Adekoya, head of PR, Business in the Community.

In 2015, 68 companies made up the Index, which ranks participating organisations on corporate strategy, integration, management areas, performance and impact.

High ranking companies include:

  • Dairy Crest Group plc (food and beverage);
  • Fujitsu Services Limited (technology);
  • Gentoo Group Limited (real estate);
  • Kelda Group Limited (utilities);
  • Manchester Airports Group (travel and leisure);
  • Marks & Spencer (retail);
  • Morgan Sindall plc (construction and materials);
  • Nationwide Building Society (banks);
  • PwC (professional, scientific and technical services);
  • Unipart Group (industrial goods and services).

'There are ways you can check whether companies are taking their corporate responsibility seriously,' states Edwina. 'Ethical companies usually have a clear mission and are open about what they want to achieve. However, a really good way to test the mettle of a company is to look at how they manage a crisis. All organisations face issues but it is vital that they make fair and appropriate decisions in order to rectify these.'

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

For ethical employers CSR is the practice of managing the social, environmental and economic impact of their business. It involves looking beyond profits and money making and focuses instead on how companies can, and should, be interested in helping society and the environment.

There are a number of ways an organisation can make a positive contribution to the world we live in; be that through responsible business practices or other activities on a local or international scale, such as funding local charities or building schools in less developed countries.

High-profile examples of activities companies undertake in an attempt to be seen as socially responsible include:

  • McDonalds group of Ronald McDonald Houses, which support families with children in hospital.
  • Tesco's Computers for Schools and Sainsbury's Active Kids voucher schemes.
  • Nestle Healthy Kids Global Programme which raises awareness of health and nutrition issues as well as physical activity among school age children.

Why should I choose an ethical career?

'Choosing the right company whose values align with personal values is increasingly relevant for graduates,' says Ochuko. But if you think that choosing to pursue this kind of career means passing up on exciting or well-paid positions then you should think again.

'Regardless of what stage you are at in your career it is important to think about what it is you want to do with your life and the role that work plays within this,' adds Edwina. 'You will spend a lot of time at work so it's important that you find something that you enjoy. For some people knowing that their role is ethical and that their job makes a difference is important.'

You may also want to look into social enterprises - businesses that trade to improve communities, social problems and the environment. Created by entrepreneurs these companies invest their profits back into the business and local communities.

Recently there has been a growth in the number of social enterprises which can range from coffee shops and leisure centres to banks and bus companies. Examples include:

  • The Big Issue;
  • Jamie Oliver's Fifteen;
  • Divine Chocolate;
  • The Co-op;
  • Eden Project.

If you feel an ethical career is for you it is important to do your research before applying for jobs.

How do I start my ethical job search?

Follow Edwina's top tips to find a job which aligns with your ethical values and beliefs:

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions about the company's corporate responsibility policies either before submitting your application or during the interview process.
  • Get experience. Look for voluntary or internship opportunities within your sector of interest to better understand the field.
  • Don't compromise on your inner moral compass. If your gut feels there is something wrong with a company or decision then walk away.

Find out more