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Guide to Ethical Careers

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Increasing numbers of people are turning to ethical jobs – working roles that allow them to pursue a fulfilling career while contributing to something they consider morally sound.

The average person works for 70,000 hours in their life, so if you can invest some of that time in an ethical job there is a good chance you will help make a change for the better.

Many people don’t feel entirely comfortable with their employer because of the business’s links to GM farming or sweatshop labour, or because it has a proven record of environmental pollution. That is why some people are allowing personal principles to overtake traditional professional motivations, such as money and status.

Morals over money

This is especially true of graduates, about half of whom claim they would rather take an ethical position than a better-paid non-ethical role, despite having large debts to pay off. In fact, nearly 80 per cent of graduates say they would not work for a company with a poor ethical record.

There are thousands of opportunities to work in the non-profit sector and for sustainable, renewable industries, and companies like People and Planet – which runs its own ethical careers service – can help you find vacancies.

Examine your company’s ethics

While many companies’ policies will be in line with your own, you should assume that just because a company promoted one set of values that it will comply with others.

For example, several major charities have investments in the arms industry, while human rights organisations may not have much concern for “green” issues and some medical charities might condone animal testing.

On the other side of the ethical coin, there are corporate giants that have a public perception – ill-founded or not – for ruthless capitalism, but in fact these very industries often lead the way in corporate social responsibility (CSR), charity-giving and welfare support policies.

Microsoft, for example, is the world’s largest software company and also frequently tops league tables on workers’ rights and gay friendliness. The group’s chairman, Bill Gates, donates more cash to HIV and Aids charities than any other individual on the planet, and received a KBE from the Queen in recognition of his work to reduce world poverty.

Websites including the Ethical Investment Research Service, the Ethical Consumer Research Association and Corporate Watch offer you the chance to make up your mind about your employer.

Don’t be ‘greenwashed’

Some companies have been accused of what ethical rights groups call “greenwash”. They offer a sophisticated CSR policy with lots of glossy literature and incisive PR, but deliver no actual substance or genuine commitment to social improvement.

Think about what you want to achieve when choosing an ethical career. Set your own standards, but be realistic. For the sake of the greater good, you might have to put up with a disagreeable line on the environment or the fact that the office tea bags aren’t fair trade.

Like any job, you will have to begin in a position suited to your skills – which could be at the bottom or somewhere near it. And be aware that many ethical organisations and charities don’t have the resources to train members of staff. So experience at a corporate level first might be the solution.

Alternatively, you could strive to improve the CSR practices at your current place of employment. Around 65 per cent of companies say they would change their policies if pushed by employees.


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