BY THE time Jane Fiona Cummings finished her Hull University MBA in strategic marketing three years ago, she had discarded staid business theory and discovered a brave new world of ethics. "I was in advertising and I had applied for the MBA because I wanted to understand what my clients were thinking about and speak their language. But I ended up thinking more and more about sustainable development."
The reason for this Damascene conversion was an introduction to ethics from Professor Colin Gilligan of Sheffield Hallam University who taught the module on strategic marketing. Says Jane Fiona: "He was talking about ethics in relation to the external analysis of marketing and at the time we all looked at him as though he were mad. But it struck a chord. It's something I've come up against many times since in relation to shareholder value."
With consumer groups and investors prepared to stand up for principles such as ending animal testing, banning GM foods, or ending human rights abuse, it is hardly surprising that ethics has a high profile and that successful companies have clearly stated principles. Jane Fiona comments: "People regard a company with an ethical policy as a good employer. Ethics is something that establishes who you are and what you stand for."
The Body Shop's campaigns against animal testing and the Co- operative Bank's stand on ethical investment are well publicised; but there are many examples of companies across a wide range of businesses doing their bit for sustainability. Some are actively involved in supporting the community, the environment and education; and others will only buy supplies from renewable sources.
In spite of their importance, neither business ethics nor its close relative, sustainable development, are to be found on many MBA programmes. Says Jane Fiona: "I recently discovered that out of all the business schools who were members of the Association of MBAs only 10 were addressing the issue. And of those 10 only two had any ongoing course."
Jane Fiona now runs the ethical consultancy, Article 13, with her business partner Neela Bettridge. Their business is in helping big corporate blue chips develop their policies on sustainable development which they define as "being environmentally, socially and economically aware and managing your business to ensure you are being as friendly as possible in those areas". The basis for an effective ethical policy is to start by winning the argument with the chief executive who then commits to changing the company culture. Working downwards, all employees must take part in the process and help shape the policy so that they can take ownership of it.
Sustainable development is moving up the business agenda, fuelled by public opinion and a growing body of European legislation on issues like employment rights and ending discrimination. …