The Only Way is Ethics

Drink more tea. That is all the advice you need.

A recent post by a fellow Tea Trader has got me thinking about issues like standards of behaviour, conflict of interest and business ethics generally.

Now, let’s firstly dissect the phrase “business ethics”. As far as I’m concern that means ethical considerations in relation to running a business. It does not imply that “business ethics” is somehow different to “personal ethics”. And by that. that somehow one can be less ethical in business dealings than in their personal relationships.

When you are running a business, there are ethical boundaries. But of course, they are not clear cut.

All sorts of considerations come into play . Your moral compass and whatever influences it, the rules of the society you live in and even the subset or sector you belong to.

I noticed recently a senior figure in one of the world’s most enduring businesses – The Catholic Church – described the systematic abuse of 0ver 100,000 children as “troubling” and yet the decision of an aging, infirm 85 year old to retire as “shocking”. Where the hell’s that guy’s ethical compass?

Once I spent a few weeks putting together a confidential proposal full of ideas to overcome an issue in South Australia and applied for (state) government funding to run a programme. The public servants loved it, and promptly, and promptly handed over our confidential document to several competitors and asked for a quote.

I accused them of being unethical – they were adamant it would have been unethical NOT to. This does demonstrate that ethics is a movable feast, although I’m clearly right in this.

I’ve spent plenty of time in the recruitment business, and it’s pretty cut-throat. I’ve seen people do things that would astound you, but you have a context, of course. A consultant might be starting down the barrel of no income for two months work – often as a result of someone else’s ethical compass going astray – and so can feel compelled to fight fire with fire.

And we can wrap ethics around other, possibly less desirable qualities, like anger, jealousy, humiliation, desperation, schadenfreude .

In addition to ‘business ethics’ we might add “blogging ethics’. Although, once again, it’a all ethics. And it’s not etiquette, though they often go together.

There was an incident a few years ago, of which I am not altogether proud.

There was a tea person acting in a totally unethical way. I think illegal is also a correct term, though the technicalities of differing jurisdictions and legal codes mean I may be incorrect. I reacted by grandstanding and getting on my high horse, attempting to force others around me to come around to my way of thinking.

And they did.

And they were right to. Because I was right.

But there were better ways to deal with this that could have achieved the same outcome. And whilst the ethics of the situation was beyond dispute, the ethics of the approach could have been much better.

This points to the impossibility of ethics. As in this example

Australia has two huge supermarket chains that control what we buy and what we pay. Luckily for us, they hate each other.

One decided to sell milk under its own label for $2 for 2 litres. The other matched them. To do so, they have both used their market power to force down the price they pay, resulting in some dairy farmers becoming uneconomic, and having to also cut costs. So when I’m paying $5.59 for pure jersey from happy cows at my local old-fashioned dairy, I’m being really ethical, aren’t I? Not supporting market bullying. Not supporting unhappy cows. Good on me! So, if you want to be ethical, but the good stuff.

But wait.

What if you are on unemployment benefit? Or what if you run a government funded orphanage, or a breakfast for disadvantaged kids programme? Don’t you need eke the most out of your taxpayer dollar! Stuff the dairy farmers, they’ve had it good for a long time. Stuff the cows, what’s a cows unhappiness to the fiscally-responsible filling of a hungry child’s belly? It’s unethical for you to squander an extra $3.49 just because the milk tastes better and you can feel all smug and self-righteous.

A moveable feast indeed.

So, to get back to the point – if I was ever there in the first place – there was a suggestion that you cannot be a tea blogger AND tea seller. Or if you do, you have to stick to one particular person’s view of how that blog should be written.

In ethical terms, the technical term for this is “bollocks”.

And yet a blogger / retailer felt compelled to blog about it. Obviously feeling the pressure.

There’s always a conflict of interest. It’s more about how you work with it, and think about it.

The only ethical compass you have is your own. You should use it and stick to it. If you feel you’ve overstepped it, correct it or apologise – even if others don’t think you have. If others offend your moral/ethical sensibilities to a significant degree, use your own conscience to guide you.

But a useful suggestion is this:

Have a cup of tea before reacting to something irksome.You can always lash out afterwards.

8 thoughts on “The Only Way is Ethics

  1. An excellent post as always and you are 100% correct ethics should guide you in everything you do. Your ethics should be the same whether in your personal and/or business life. I’d like to think my bar is very high and perhaps higher than the average person. It is probably because of my higher standards I often feel dissapointment in the ways others conduct themselves. On the same token I still have some much more to learn. I am a passionate person and sometimes I react before stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture. However, at least I am aware of it and I don’t let pride get in the way of this one and only downfall of mine. It is something I am conscientiously working on everyday.

    Still, it’s not my fault. I am an Aries, which makes me right!

  2. I’ll get back to your post Robert, but I just have to ask @lazyliteratus what he means by prostrate here? I had to look it up, lie down/to reduce to incapacitation but I’m not sure what you’re saying Geoff? I hate to miss out on your – no doubt – insightful comment!

  3. Really interesting post.
    I do agree with the “have a break, have a tea” thing (and @iheartteas I am supposed to be worst than an Aries regarding spontaneity).

    Regarding ethics, I do agree that you should have the same in your personal life and in business.
    If only because you can’t be two people.
    This is even more true when you are running your own business.

    And @thedevotea those public servants should have been sued, what they did was illegal.

    But knowing who is right and wrong is quite complex.

  4. Being a tea blogger and a tea seller is a good idea particularly if your business is still small. It helps spread the word about you and builds trust. Personally, I think there are limits. If you happen to specialize in “Herbal teas” it’s probably best not to blog about how idiotic herbals are and that you’re only doing it because blockheads seem to want to sip that stuff.
    Then again…maybe that works as a sort of (anti) sales pitch for some.

  5. @xavier You would be surprised at how many people, each with its own ethics can be stored into one person. A lot of people seem to behave as different persons under different circumstances. Sometimes this makes the person quite twisted…

    1. @bram I know but this is not the way I see it or the way it should be.
      And in the end, you cannot really be one person at work and then a completely different one home (from an ethics point of view).

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