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Employers - ethical or socially responsible?

Corporate social responsibility and ethics are two popular topics among businesses and consumers that play a game-changing role in the life of current students as well. Within four years, most students will choose to work for an employer, whether it be for an internship or a full-time position. When contemplating which company is a good fit for you, should you pay attention to corporate social responsibility and ethics?

What Does It All Mean?

When researching how a company handles corporate social responsibility and ethics, there are many definitions you will encounter. Without proper definition of these words, it would be hard to comprehend the situation of the business. For example, many people use ethics and corporate social responsibility interchangeably; however, they are quite different.

  • Ethics: a branch of philosophy dealing with moral problems and moral judgments. By evaluating human actions, we assign judgments to behavior as “right” or “wrong” and “good” or “bad” according to the perspective of a moral principle or ethical guideline.

An example of good ethics: Verizon upholds core values of integrity, respect, performance excellence and accountability. Their code of ethics outlines how employees can handle situations, such as violence or alcohol abuse in the workplace, in compliance with these values.

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): how a business handles every situation from community, environmental, social, workplace, and governance practices.

An example of social responsibility: IBM has a program called Corporate Service Corps that sends employees oversees to assist organizations with critical local projects that improve water quality, disaster preparedness and project management.

Other important definitions include:

  • Triple Bottom Line Reporting: measures economic, social, and environmental performance of a company

  • Sustainability: meeting today’s needs while keeping the needs of the future in mind

  • Global Citizenship: commitment to implement good CSR practices across the board, not just in the United States

  • Enlightened Self-interest: CSR ultimately benefits the business itself by increasing its sustainability

What You Can Do Now?

  1. Establish your own standards. Know what aspects are important to you. Do you care about helping the environment? Do you want to work for a company that treats all employees with respect? Through answering questions about the aspects of environment, community, workplace practices, internal and external business conduct, and ethical governance, you will be able to determine if a company is a good fit for you.

  2. Research the company’s mission, purpose, sustainability reports, and workplace practices. You can compare your findings to how other companies in similar industries handle these topics.

  3. Talk to employers.

When talking to employers, there are some key questions that can help you gauge the emphasis they place on CSR and ethics. David Myers, the former controller of WorldCom, which was responsible for one of the biggest corporate scandals in the history of the United States, suggests the following questions:

  • If an employee comes to you with a situation he/she believes to be problematic, what procedures do you have in place to deal with that?

  • How can you anonymously report unethical behavior?

  • Is ethical behavior encouraged among your employees? How so?

  • What is the ethics policy? Is it monitored regularly?

Why Does It Matter?

Choosing an ethically sound and socially responsible employer matters because once you lose your integrity it is very hard to recover, especially in the age of technology. As David Myers said, when you start to perform insignificant tasks that may be unethical, you will become desensitized slowly. The path of unethical decisions that ruin your reputation starts with seemingly small decisions. If you choose a company that you know emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and ethics, you may be able to protect your reputation.


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