Marketing and marketers play an important part in the development of corporate strategy and in the responding to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda. Indeed from a sustainability perspective, the boundaries between what was traditionally considered to be “corporate” strategy and “marketing” strategy become blurred. This is because conventional marketing theory views the customer as being interested in the marketing mix of the company (the product, its price, its availability, how it is promoted and customer service) but in little else about it. Sustainability concerns have demonstrated that the customer can also be influenced by the company behind the products and brands they buy. The social and environmental impacts of production processes, and the degree of social responsibility with which companies treat their workers, invest their money and conduct their affairs are now all potentially significant on both the marketing and corporate agenda.
Ethics refers to the study of moral principles, or “right and wrong”, therefore marketing ethics is all about marketers doing the “right thing”. Exactly what the right thing is, is not always completely clear-cut since what is “right” may vary depending on whether you are looking at it from the perspective of the company, its customers or the society in which they both exist. There are however several basic principles involved in ethical marketing :
- Taking responsibility : marketers need to take responsibility for their products and their decisions. In the past marketers have often responded to social concern about particular products by defending them on the basis of “It was what the customer wanted”;
- Dealing fairly : marketers need to be honest and fair in their dealings with all stakeholders. This means that products must be fit for use and accurately described, and contracts (both formal and implicit) should be drawn up in good faith and honoured;
- Respecting consumer rights : including the right of redress, the right to information and the right to privacy;
In marketing ethics particular emphasis is given to safeguarding the interests of vulnerable consumers, such as children and the elderly.
In practice many companies and organisations have attempted to deal with issues of marketing ethics by developing codes of conducts. A good example of a clear code of marketing conduct is the Canadian Marketing Association’s code on information-based marketing.
There are a number of ways to check whether a given marketing strategy or activity is ethical or not. Try and imagine whether or not you would feel comfortable giving an honest explanation of it on Newsnight, to your family or at a marketing conference.
UK consumer organisation examining the social and environmental records of the companies behind the brands.
Major survey on trends in ethical consumerism in the UK.
Information on ethical business principles.
Background information on the Ethical Trading Initiative
The site provides a variety of information on fair trade.
The Fairtrade Foundation exists to ensure a better deal for marginalised and disadvantaged third world producers.
Worker-owned co-operation dedicated to fair trade with small-scale coffee farmers in the developing world.
Ethical Junction is a one-stop shop for ethical trading.
Details of current UK consumer boycotts.
Gateway to the ethical sector for people in the UK and Ireland