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Ethics and values in business: principles and practices

August 10, 2023
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As a consumer, you consider a broad range of factors when you shop for products and services, such as the brand, packaging, and price. If you’re like many Americans, you might also research a company’s business ethics and values before making purchasing decisions. According to a 2022 Harris Poll study, 82% of United States shoppers prefer to support brands that reflect their own ethics, and 75% have stopped buying from companies that don’t align with their values.

This growing emphasis on ethical business practices has led many companies to prioritize corporate social responsibility (CSR). This term refers to ethical policies and practices businesses develop to benefit the environment, employees, and society. Because corporate social responsibility and business ethics aren't mandated by laws or regulations, companies voluntarily engage in ethical CSR methods.2 This article explores the principles of corporate social responsibility and related business ethics.  

An overview of corporate social responsibility 

The main goal of CSR is to maximize the benefits a business provides society and minimize harm. The concept of CSR began in the 1930s and 1940s, but it received widespread recognition in the 2000s when many companies began strategically using CSR to advance their brand.2

According to management researcher David Chandler, modern CSR involves five components:

  • Comprehensive Implementation: Companies incorporate ethical practices at every stage of their strategic planning process
  • Connectivity: All actions that a business undertakes should reflect its central goals and ethical values
  • Stakeholders’ Needs: Companies should prioritize the well-being of their stakeholders, which include clients, employees, and shareholders 
  • Longevity: CSR shapes companies’ mid- and long-term planning and management of resources
  • Value: Companies should optimize the value they create for society 

Ethical behavior has many benefits for companies beyond giving them the satisfaction of doing the right thing. For example, this framework boosts employee engagement, helps businesses stand out from their competitors, and leads to higher profits.3 

Ethical principles of business 

There’s not a single right way to practice corporate social responsibility. However, many CSR initiatives follow a set of ethical principles, including: 

Ethical decision-making

CSR starts with ethical decision-making. Many businesses use the PrOACT framework to ensure they make choices that positively impact society. This model involves five steps:4 

  • Define the problem 
  • Consider environmental, financial, and social objectives 
  • Imagine alternative solutions
  • Identify potential short- and long-term solutions 
  • Weigh the pros and cons of each decision 


Companies act with integrity when they consistently maintain high standards. These organizations develop a corporate culture that encourages all employees and vendors to participate in business ethics and promote corporate responsibility. Businesses that value integrity also prioritize their commitment to social responsibility over profit.5 


Transparency is an essential component of CSR. Companies practice transparency by intentionally disclosing information about their decisions, products, and services. According to a 2023 study published by Business Horizons, companies with a high level of transparency inspire customers to participate in sustainable and socially responsible behavior. The study also reports that transparency makes companies’ CSR initiatives seem more sincere.6 


Corporate social responsibility isn’t required by law, so companies must hold themselves accountable for engaging in ethical behavior. Some businesses demonstrate their accountability to the public by earning CSR certifications from third-party organizations. For example, companies can earn a seal of approval from the ISEAL Alliance (“the global membership organisation for credible sustainability standards”) if they prove they engage in sustainable business practices.7 


Sustainability is another core ethical principle related to CSR. Companies promote sustainability by taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment. Examples of sustainable business practices include buying electric vehicles for the company fleet, working with environmentally conscious suppliers, and using recyclable packaging materials. Businesses that embrace sustainability may get positive media coverage and enhance their brand reputation.8  

Business ethics examples

Businesses apply ethical principles in numerous ways, including these:

Go beyond compliance 

Business ethics go beyond external compliance requirements, such as laws and regulations.2 Businesses embrace CSR by voluntarily embracing ethical policies and practices that help society. For example, Google has become a leader in CSR by adopting many sustainability measures. In 2020, the company neutralized its entire carbon footprint since its founding. Google has also helped conserve endangered egrets and restore native oak ecosystems in California.9  

Prioritize stakeholder management

Businesses can demonstrate a commitment to business ethics by collaborating with stakeholders to develop CSR initiatives. For instance, Newmont Ahafo Limited (NAL) is a mining company that has built healthcare clinics, classrooms, and sanitation systems for impoverished communities in Ghana. The involvement of local stakeholders–including farmers, the Ghana Education Service, and community members–in the decision-making and planning process has contributed to the success of these CSR endeavors.10  

Embrace external governance

Another way businesses can demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility is by following external business ethics. For example, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board provides environmental, social, and governance frameworks for 77 industries. These frameworks require participating businesses to voluntarily disclose information about their finances and environmental impact to stakeholders.11 

Use brand reputation to promote social causes

Many prominent companies use their brand reputation to raise awareness of social issues. For instance, in 2020, Nike released an anti-racism commercial that played on its famous slogan, “Just Do It.” The company began the powerful advertisement with the words, “For once, don’t do it” and urged viewers to not turn their backs on a systemic issue and to help stop racism.12 This commercial highlights how companies can use their credibility to promote ethical values that benefit society.

Lead with integrity

Organizations of all types increasingly consider ethics and their responsibility to society when making decisions. An online MBA from Marquette University can help you develop a personal code of ethics for your career, fill in knowledge gaps about how a business operates and help you expand your knowledge of business ethics and how to make ethically sound decisions. Whether your priority is environmental protection and sustainable success, technology ethics and transparent communication, or simply fair wages and corporate responsibility within business operations, an online MBA from Marquette University can help you achieve your goals.

Featuring the same curriculum as the in-person offering, the online MBA includes advanced business classes, including Concepts for Ethical Business Practice, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Leading People and Change. These courses help you develop valuable skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and ethical leadership. You’ll also get a better understanding of how corporations can help solve emerging social issues related to business ethics. Contact an admissions outreach advisor today to learn more about how an online MBA can help you transform your career. 

  1. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from consumergoods.com/new-research-shows-consumers-more-interested-brands-values-ever
  2. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from jcsr.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40991-018-0039-y?
  3. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from greenbusinessbureau.com/business-function/executive/the-csr-pyramid-economic-legal-ethical-and-philanthropic-responsibility/
  4. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from ised-isde.canada.ca/site/corporate-social-responsibility/en/csr-toolkit/decision-making-sustainability
  5. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0959652620309240
  6. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0007681322001306
  7. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from isealalliance.org/about-iseal/iseal-membership
  8. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from smallbusiness.chron.com/social-responsibilities-company-its-stakeholders-24841.html
  9. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from thecsrjournal.in/global-sustainability-report-google-carbon-neutral/
  10. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from jcsr.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40991-020-00054-2
  11. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from sasb.org/
  12. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/sethcohen/2020/05/30/for-once-dont-do-it---the-powerful-idea-behind-nikes-new-anti-racism-ad/