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Ethical Careers

Published: Friday, 29 May 2009   Category: Recruitment Feature Articles

As final exams loom, many students will be, or have been for quite some time, pondering about what they are going to do after university is all over. Some may be looking to go into 'ethical careers'. In fact, the number of graduates looking for more ethical employment is going to increase in the next 20 years, according to Mark Catchlove, director of design group Herman Miller. But what are ethical careers and why are they becoming more popular?

When thinking about being 'ethical', people may come up with things like donating money to charity, using a plastic bag more than once or eating less meat. These things do not reap direct benefits, but it puts the person's mind at rest that they are not ignoring people in third world countries, contributing to the negative effects of climate change or to the cruel treatment and killing of animals. However, there are many jobs available where graduates can incorporate different ethical practices into their work.

What kind of jobs?

Ethical careers can span a wide array of sectors, probably more than you think. There are the obvious ones - in listing eight of the top ethical jobs a graduate could go into, Oxfam included professions such as campaigner, charity fundraiser, civil servant, environmental consultant, housing worker, humanitarian worker and social worker.

One organisation, the Sustainable Development Committee (SDC), recently called upon the government to provide £30 billion of funding to create green jobs - positions that would help the UK to maintain its aim of achieving a low-carbon economy by 2020. This would provide environmentally-beneficial jobs within various industries - from engineering and construction to car manufacture and financial services - which the SDC's economics commissioner Tim Jackson said "will take the UK onto a globally-competitive low carbon pathway".

Graduates don't have to commit to working for a charity in order to be ethical in their employment. Companies in all sectors can simply make sure that they respond to their corporate social responsibility (CSR), which the University of Edinburgh describes as being about "how companies conduct their business in a way that is ethical". This means "taking account of their impact socially, environmentally, economically and in terms of human rights".

Corporate Social Responsibility

Private companies can have a profound effect on their environment if CSR is not taken care of. Fast food manufacturer McDonalds sued a pair of activists who had libelled the company in leaflets that they distributed, which accused it of ethical malpractice. Although McDonalds won the case, it was very public and the restaurant chain later launched a campaign to appear greener. Even BP, one of the world's largest suppliers of unsustainable energy, says that it has "a decade-long track record of advocating and taking precautionary action to address climate change" and employs lobbyists to advocate greener regulatory policies.

Many companies are concerned about the effect they have on the environment and society and many now publish transparent reports on how they do business ethically and meet CSR standards. Published in February this year, the Fourth Annual ACTE-KDS survey showed that 61 per cent of organisations now have a CSR charter, up from the 59 per cent in 2008. This is because businesses now realise that being ethical can actually be a profitable choice.

A recent survey by the Kenexa Research Institute showed that morale among employees in the UK is boosted when they know their company has environmentally-friendly policies in place, which improves productivity. At the same time, Margaret Hansen, global procurement director corporate travel at A T Kearney, told companies at the Business Travel Show that concentrating on CSR can help "create a competitive image".

With CSR becoming as popular as it is, graduates looking to make move towards a more ethical career choice have a vast array of options open to them, whether it be with a charity such as Oxfam, aiding poor families in developing nations, or helping global conglomerates like BP and McDonalds improve their business practices.

However, as Erin Brokovich, the famed environmental campaigner who was immortalised in the eponymous Julia Roberts film, addressed crowds at the recent British Insurance Brokers Association Conference, Eric Galbraith, chief executive of the group, reminded companies that CSR is now "part of our business and it's a part of our daily lives".


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