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The Financial Express

Ethics in retailing

The attention it requires


The attention it requires

We all are well aware of the terms morality and ethics. Ethic is a set of rules which influence day-to-day human behaviour, actions, and decisions and form the choice of what should be done. We got the word 'ethics' from the Greek word ethos meaning character, and from the Latin word 'mores' which means custom. This helps human beings with morality to make decisions about whether an action is right or wrong, how people should live, and choose happiness or morality. Ethics and morality are deeply connected and the idea of ethics came from the establishment of moral conduct. It is stated in the dialogue Protagoras by Plato (428/427-348/347 BCE) that Zeus felt pity for the humans for not having the physical strength and qualities like beats and so he gifted humans with a moral sense and the capability of choosing between right and wrong. Besides this mythological belief, we humans are taking credit for ethics and ethical decisions in almost every detail of our life. Ethics in business play a vital role in decision making and the concept is not new. People think about right and wrong from the beginning of business history but ethics evolved with the passage of time depending on surroundings. Business ethics saw a drastic shift in the 1960s and another transition in the 1970s and 1980s. Depending on the philosophical updated words, business ethics can be changed as it affects the customer's mind. Likewise, cosmetics testing on animals has been an old culture for the beauty industry but nowadays, people are heavily aware of animal rights and brands are keeping their distance from walking in that way, rather they are trying to establish their brand like Kylie, Zayn, and Myza as cruelty-free to attract customers.
The retail industry is not small to ignore from the business aspect as it works as a bridge between manufacturers and customers. In this case, having an ethical sense is important. In this modern world, people are always aware of their rights as well as what is happening around them. Also, digitalization made everything just one click away. Therefore, unethical practices can be disclosed at any time. If an organization or company wants to be sustainable and run from a long-term perspective, it must operate ethically. Because customers do care about the business being fair and ethical nowadays. According to Forbes, more than six in ten youths who belong to Gen Z, do consider a company's ethical value before purchasing their products. Whenever a company is establishing itself as an ethical one, it automatically increases the brand image. Again, the decision-making process becomes easier when a retail business chooses to become an ethical one. Being ethical for a retailing business indicates being fair to both customers and its employees. Like, not deceiving customers with wrong descriptions of products is as important as paying proper wages according to the labour hour. It is also important to make a balance in society.
Being ethical does bring lots of ascendancy like attracting more investors with a clear brand image, satisfied employees, being safe from legal and political clashes, and customer satisfaction. Being ethical does proper justice to investors and their money since they can trust from a business and also a moral perspective. Again, proper employee management, paying according to the work on time, not targeting any particular employee, or creating political problems inside the office make the employees happy. As a result, happy employees bring the best out of them to benefit the company. Moreover, unethical practices may cause the company heavy penalties lawfully if someone complains about it. The story of Best Buy promising sustainability and its decision is a remarkable story of being ethical. CEO Huber Joly promised to reduce the negative environmental effect due to his company's waste in retailing in 2019. Their service team drives Toyota Prius hybrid cars, On the following decision, Best Buy claimed that they saved 140,000 gallons of gas, the carbon equivalent to taking 263 cars off the road for a year. Though being ethical seems the best way to adopt but from a business perspective, one needs to give up some things by adopting this method. Most of the time, for small businesses it is difficult to always be ethical as they lack capital, resources, and human skills. Furthermore, if a company decides to go ethical retailing, it might need to reduce profits. For instance, Amazon is accused of not paying taxes properly. If they want to be ethical and fulfill all the duties here, they need to reduce the profit line and pay the tax charges.
It is not always possible to make decisions being completely ethical in a retail business as it may face some challenges. Recognising the circumstances and reacting according to that situation becomes difficult sometimes and not all decisions are easy to take in a business. A company needs to observe inside and outside organisations, and analyze markets to make decisions. Also, maintaining proper transparency becomes difficult in some cases. Likewise, ways of importing or exporting a good cannot always be shared with the customers as there might be some confidential information. Being ethical to the employees and letting go of some of the profit are the most challenging situation a company may face. Here the dilemma arises that if they want to become ethical toward the employee their company will be gaining less profit. As giving 4 employees sick leave at a time reduces transferring 4 trucks less which is a loss for the company. Here in such cases, companies need to think thoroughly about alternative options and then take decisions rather than rushing into a harsh one.
Ethics are the principles that give a strength to be loyal and establish the image of the brand. In business ethics are considered widely but being ethical in retailing business often gets ignored. Ethics are equally important for retailers to be in operation and sustain in business.

Dr. Mohammad Shahidul Islam is Assistant Professor, BRAC Business School, BRAC University.
[email protected]
Rahnuma Masud is Independent Researcher.
[email protected]

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