Business Ethics in the News 2022

Publication type: Business ethics briefing
12 January 2023

Tags: Diversity, Treatment of Employees

This resource provides an analysis of the year’s news trends and the issues and sectors that featured the most.

The IBE monitors the media throughout each year to record stories that focus on business ethics issues. It gives a sense of what the media is covering – without making any judgement as to whether the coverage is good or bad.

This coverage reflects media interest in different topics as much as it reflects what is happening across sectors. It is worth understanding what the media is saying because it informs broader public debate and perception about business ethics.

Overall, diversity and discrimination, treatment of employees and sustainability are the big issues that came up in our media monitoring, with bribery and corruption, and fraud and theft next. This year, the cost of living crisis had a major impact on the business news agenda, as did significant reporting of sustainability initiatives in the year of the UK’s Presidency of COP 26. Diversity and discrimination coverage is mostly of individual stories of discrimination by employers and reflects an ongoing media interest in tribunal cases or complaints made by individuals.

Behaviour and culture has dropped so low - it only appears under “other” – because so many of the stories that relate to organisational culture come under other categories, such as diversity and discrimination – although that “other” category disguises one of the biggest news stories of the year, namely partygate and ethical issues in Downing Street. In addition to that high-profile ethical story, diversity and discrimination and treatment of employees were the main issues the media covered in the public sector, alongside recent coverage of investigations into the procurement of PPE.

Retailers have come up the rankings of sectors covered this year to the top position, having previously been third, with the cost of living crisis leading to a significant range of stories about their treatment of employees and of customers in response to food and goods price rises. They have also garnered significant coverage about sustainability, and diversity and discrimination.

Banking and finance are next, and the highest number of stories covering this sector were about sustainability, reflecting ongoing media interest in initiatives in this area, followed by stories about diversity and discrimination, fraud and theft and treatment of employees, followed by fraud and data protection.

Technology had significant coverage of sustainability issues, followed by substantial coverage of diversity and discrimination and treatment of employees, with fraud and theft and data protection coming next.

The main issues faced by professional services related to diversity and discrimination.

Most of the more positive stories were about sustainability, which appears to be because new initiatives or projects are more likely to be covered by the media than their equivalents in other areas such as diversity or anti-corruption.

The media is just one lens through which your customers and clients will get to know you as a business, and coverage reflects what journalists think their readers are interested in. The most significant shift this year is retail moving up our table displacing banking and finance, and technology. will the cost of living crisis see this trend accelerate next year, or will a broader public debate about the regulation of financial services or technology and data privacy see those sectors regain their place at the top?

Research method

Researchers at the IBE monitored various major news outlets over the course of the year to record all stories that featured business ethics issues in both a positive and negative light. These stories were categorised according to the sector within which the company cooperates and the specific issue the story is about. We then analysed this data to determine which are the year’s most prevalent sectors and issues. We only count each story once, regardless of how many times it features in the same media outlet or across various outlets.