Skip to main content

Emily Elkas

The way you spend your money can change the world. Purchasing goods and services from ethical companies is a great way to make a difference. Sometimes, as a college student, it can be hard to find the time, resources, and knowledge required to choose where to buy. Purchasing products labeled “fair trade”, “organic” and “sustainable” can be expensive and hard to find on college campuses. Despite what you may think, you do not need to break the bank at high-end grocery stores to buy ethically.

Areas for being an ethical company
The areas shown above are some of the qualifications The Ethisphere has identified for what it means to be an ethical company.
  • Ownership Information regarding fraud and manipulation means companies should not engage in corrupt financial practices, insider trading, and bribery. Corporate scandals like fraud at Wells Fargo and sexual harassment allegations at Fox News would put companies lower on the ethics totem pole.
  • Environmental Performance means being sustainable, respecting the environment, choosing renewable forms of energy, and decreasing pollutants.
  • Human Rights and Labor Conditions refers to the environments in which employees work. Large companies have a bad habit of taking advantage of developing countries to reduce labor costs and utilize tax loopholes. Tragedies such as the manufacturing facility in Bangladesh that burned down killing more than 100 people, which supplied Walmart and Sears, has raised greater awareness about the poor workers’ welfare that is exploited because of the loose laws in Bangladesh.
  • Policy Documentation mainly refers to diversity and inclusion efforts. To increase diversity, companies create leadership roles that promote inclusion, supplier codes of conduct, and decrease gender pay gaps.
  • Cybersecurity Ethics is an up and coming area in many companies because it is increasingly harder to manage valuable digital information. Cybersecurity practices primarily protect the integrity, functionality, and reliability of data systems to safe-keep valuable information from hackers. Cybersecurity professionals protect students, voters, customers, patients, and credit card users.

Being an ethical company means being well rounded environmentally and socially. Taking into account worker’s rights, pollution, tax avoidance, corporate lobbying, and animal welfare is vital for companies to align with their customers’ personal values. Supporting an ethical company is not only important from a customer standpoint, but also for employees. In a study by Forbes, 65% of employees said they would strongly consider leaving their job if the company was harming the environment. 83% would strongly consider leaving if the company used child labor. Nowadays, to stack up against the competition, companies must also implement a culture that aligns with their employees’ values, and not just offer the best salary.

Best Buy released a Code of Ethics outlining principles and expectations for them to maintain integrity at every company level. Best Buy emphasized the importance of having an updated Code of Ethics as a foundational document for the company’s values. They spent a lot of time researching benchmark codes across multiple industries to understand what content is essential.

In previous years the apparel brand H&M has come under heat for their negative impact on the environment and their underpaid workers. Now, H&M has pledged to become 100% climate positive by 2040 and use 100% recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. They are taking steps to live up to their promises by receiving an A+ for their supplier code of conduct and transparency. H&M serves as a model for fast fashion brands under heat for their unethical practices showing that it is possible to transform into a company that upholds ethical conduct.

Kimberly-Clark is the number one maker of personal paper products and a famous brand for college students who own apartments and buy cleaning supplies weekly. The three core values for their company are fair dealing, quality, and service. All renewable wind energy powers their mills in North America. Kurt Drake, Kimberly-Clark’s Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, stated, “We take pride in conducting business with the highest ethics and an unwavering commitment to doing the right thing in all that we do.” They are an excellent example of how a dominating corporation can balance ethical practices and be accessible to all economic backgrounds.

PepsiCo is one of the world’s largest food and beverage brands currently holding 36% of the total snack food market share in the U.S. and 25% of the market share of the refreshment beverage industry. PepsiCo provides annual ethics training programs for employees and noted a 49% increase in employee ethics training from 2008 to 2009. Although it has a long way to go before its snacks can be considered healthy or its manufacturing processes truly sustainable, PepsiCo has demonstrated a willingness to invest in innovative solutions for these problems. They have been praised for having a 100% on Corporate Equality Index, CDP Water Security Score of A-, CDP Climate Change Score of A-, and CDP Forest Score of A-. By doing this, PepsiCo is a dominant leader in the sustainability and social responsibility movement.

Companies Making an Active Difference to Improve Their Ethical Standards and Procedures
Food & Beverage Retail Apparel Technology Industrial Manufacturing Consumer Products Payment Services Lodging & Hospitality
illy Best Buy H&M LinkedIn Honeywell Kimberly Clark MasterCard Hilton
Kellogg’s Kohls Microsoft Milliken Colgate-Palmolive Company Visa Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
PepsiCo HP

If you want to find more information on where and what to shop, these websites are great resources:

  • The Ethisphere is one of the more popular and referenced place to find companies that hold high ethical and integrity standards. The Ethisphere is a company that dedicates itself to advancing and defining ethical business practices. Companies are compared to others within their category, and the panel updates and refines the selection process annually to ensure it stays relevant.
  • Ethical Consumer is a website where users can search both companies and products to get a rating that determines how ethical they are. It is updated daily, displays detailed research of over 40,000 companies, and not-for-profits. It allows you to search for any company or product and get a rating based on the environment, animals, people, politics, and sustainability.
  • Good on You is a website that focuses on ethical fashion and beauty brands. They provide tips and guides, research different clothing materials, explain the impact toxic clothing chemicals have on our bodies, and have a brand directory with ratings.

Does shopping ethically really make a difference? Supporting ethical companies not only improves the conditions of the world around us, but also empowers the consumer. Being a conscious consumer is an alternative way to support a range of issues instead of donating your time and money to just one cause. Increasing demand for ethical products will naturally increase their supply and accessibility for consumers everywhere. Companies are starting to realize the commercial value of being ethical and how ethical behavior contributes to being known as a standout brand. Ethical brands are transparent about their practices, credentials, behaviors, and most importantly expressing the intention to improve. Next time you are out for your weekly shopping trip, make the choice to buy as ethically as possible.

Things you can do to make shopping ethically easier:

  • Make a list of brands that you know are ethical so when you are at the store you can easily spot them.
  • Use free apps like Good On You and DoneGood to easily look up brands when you are out shopping.
  • Sign up for newsletters of ethical brands to know of special sales.
  • Pay better attention to labels.
  • Support local businesses who pay better attention to their suppliers.

*UNC-Chapel Hill does not endorse any of these brands

Comments are closed.