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The age of the ethical corporation

Judging by how much effort corporations are putting into their image, we’re living in a golden age of corporate do-gooding. From social media campaigns to branding and advertising, businesses are keener than ever to prove that they’re having a positive impact on the world. But are they actually getting more ethical, or is it all for show?

Written by Chris Zacharia |

Office meeting
Many corporations are taking their responsibilities to society more seriously than ever before.

Social media has made corporations more vulnerable to the opinions of their stakeholders, including the general public. In response, the vast majority of the world’s biggest companies have developed refined social media strategies to manage their image.

At the same time, corporations are also being prompted into changing their behaviours by law. New regulations around data, the environment, and gender equality have created a zero-tolerance atmosphere. With the internet’s everlasting record of public misdemeanours, the price for falling foul of these regulations has never been so high. It’s conspired to make corporations work harder than ever to appear responsible, generous, and moral.

For business leaders, corporate ethics is no longer a luxury, but essential to their success.

As corporations continue to evolve, their impact on society grows correspondingly. With the rise of the technology giants like Facebook and Google, we appear to be entering a new era. By revolutionising our lifestyles, digital innovation and the data that powers it has given these corporations great power. These upheavals change how we think of corporations, and how they should be governed.

To understand these shifts, it is vital to have knowledge of the growing public expectations of today’s corporations. The University of London’s Global MBA is designed to give you the most comprehensive perspective on today’s business landscape. Our set of law modules offers a rigorous understanding of the rules and regulations governing regulations and the environment in which they operate.

“From activist shareholders to socially conscious consumers, corporations are more than ever under pressure to be ethical,” says Dr Constantino Grasso, author of the programme’s Corporate Governance and Ethics module. “For business leaders, corporate ethics is no longer a luxury, but essential to their success.”

The Corporate Governance and Ethics module offers both theoretical and practical insights into how corporations manage their social obligations. Starting with an in-depth analysis of the origins of the corporation, the module contextualises corporate governance and the legal issues organisations encounter.

“This module gives you a thorough understanding of how different corporate governance theories influenced the development of corporations, and how new challenges will continue to shape how organisations operate,” Dr Grasso explains. “It’s designed to make you better at identifying, confronting, and solving ethical issues in the corporate world.”

Students will also examine case studies of unethical corporate behaviour, from the spectacular collapse of Enron to the financial crisis, which are used to demonstrate the effects of malpractice on both society and the corporation.

The good news is that many corporations are taking their responsibilities to society more seriously than ever before. Racism, gender inequality, and mental health are now issues that businesses are expected to help tackle. Meanwhile, people are quickly becoming adept at telling the difference between genuine change and PR whitewashing.

In light of our growing awareness about climate change and the environment, corporations are facing more scrutiny than ever. Consumers are becoming ever more aware of the potential impact of the products they buy on the environment. It influences how people shop, making sustainability a genuine contributor to the bottom line. Companies that fail to demonstrate positive action on climate are likely to fall behind, as Harvard Business Review warns.

From activist shareholders to socially conscious consumers, corporations are more than ever under pressure to be ethical.

However, not all companies are changing just because they’re being forced to. Many are led by executives who are just as concerned about the future of the planet as anyone else. In 2018, over 50 top CEOs submitted a joint letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urging for more to be done to meet climate goals and the CEOs’ willingness to work towards them. As young executives get promoted into positions of power, the next generation of leaders is likely to be more responsible.

Nonetheless, there’s still a long way to go. For those who want to reach the top, however, it’s clear that having a strong understanding of corporate ethics and the legal framework governing them is a huge asset. By equipping yourself with the insights from our Global MBA, you’ll graduate with the awareness necessary to steer your organisation in the right direction - and win respect for doing so.

Empower yourself with an in-depth understanding of business and its social responsibilities - apply to study for University of London’s Global MBA.