What is the ethical issue?

‘Doing business ethically’ by definition means respecting human rights. Many organisations go further and seek to uphold a ‘positive duty’ in their operations, by taking steps to promote and fulfil human rights in the communities in which they operate.

Globalisation and the growing presence of multinational corporations, means there is an increasing risk to businesses of violating national and international legislation. Organisations at particular risk include international operations with complex supply chains, sectors which extract natural resources and those operating in difficult markets, such as countries with poorly developed infrastructure or political and social unrest. 

Despite being enshrined in international law, it is widely acknowledged that more work is needed to guarantee the respect of human rights worldwide. Reports of alleged and actual human rights abuses, human trafficking, unsafe working conditions and damage to local communities by business operations continues to be reported in the global media.

Business has a role to play in advancing human rights, by insisting on higher standards than those required by local laws and by offering access to decent, safe work and reliable income. Organisations can exercise the choice to promote higher living standards and quality of life. As a bare minimum, organisations should avoid exploiting workers or depriving communities of their rights.


IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice

An explicit human rights policy statement and framework outlines a commitment from the organisation to combat human rights violations. Incorporating these into a broader code of ethics demonstrates how the two are interlinked and their importance to operations.

Organisations can also safeguard against human rights abuses by:

  • Training employees to help build awareness of issues, as well as embed pro-human right practices into decision-making and corporate behaviours.
  • Collaborating with others on this, for example by joining the UN Global Compact.
  • Assessing human rights impacts will also aid companies in knowing where potential human rights abuses may occur.
  • Examining operations, engaging stakeholders and integrating considerations of due diligence into supplier and third party relationships is key in identifying potential risks.


Further resources

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2019

This briefing provides an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses that were recorded by the IBE in its monitoring of media coverage in 2019. It gives an overview of which sectors and issues related to business ethics were most covered in the news. For 2019, we have recorded a total of 361 different stories involving lapses of companies with a UK presence.

29 January 2020

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics: 2019

The 2019 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics.

17 December 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Modern Slavery

This briefing looks at modern slavery in the context of business and business ethics. It considers the different terms brought together under the umbrella of ‘modern slavery’; the ways in which it is a challenge for organisations, and what companies are doing to minimise their risks in this area.

18 October 2019


Global Ethics Day – why we still need it

The 16th of October 2019 marks the sixth anniversary of Carnegie Council’s annual Global Ethics Day. Inspired by Earth Day, Global Ethics Day provides an opportunity for organisations around the world to hold events on or around this day, exploring the meaning of ethics in international affairs.

16 October 2019


Changing attitudes to business - why millennials matter

Millennials have been a recurring theme in recent surveys on business ethics issues and they continue to have an impact on the business ethics agenda.

19 June 2019


What are the hot ethical topics E&C practitioners need to know?

03 June 2019

Publication type: Other

A Year In Review: Ethical Concerns and Lapses 2018

Read the IBE's annual analysis of business ethics news stories from the last year - which were the sectors and issues most in the news in 2018?

30 January 2019

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics: 2018

The 2018 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics

13 December 2018

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics: 2017

The 2017 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics

12 December 2017

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics and Human Rights

This briefing updates the scope of the challenge to business with more recent developments. It gives an overview of some practical tools and frameworks that organisations can use to minimise the risk of human rights abuses in all their operations, including some recent examples of good practice.

29 September 2015