Guide to Ethical Values in Business

Businesses and corporations deal with consumers, private parties, and other business entities on a regular basis. In doing so, they are often faced with decisions and actions that can have negative consequences for their customers or themselves if they behave unethically. These consequences may include lowering consumer trust in a company, opening them up to lawsuits, diminishing the morale of employees, and/or damaging the reputation of the business. To ensure that companies will do the right or ethical thing, they often follow certain ethical guidelines that are based on values. These ethical values are generally based on basic standards of human decency.


A business that is trustworthy is one that can credibly meet the expectations of the people who turn to it for its services, products, or skills. Through its practices and policies, the business should strive to conduct itself with integrity and honesty and hire people who espouse those values as well. Trustworthy businesses are reliable in that they keep their promises and perform in a consistent manner. A business that is loyal to its customers or clients and its staff is one that is not only seen as being trustworthy but also inspires loyalty in return.


Respect is an important ethical value for businesses to have. When a company embraces this value, it strives to treat its clients, employees, and any entity with which it does business with respect. Respect manifests itself in how one speaks and otherwise interacts with others. This means being open, thoughtful, and considerate of others' differences, dignity, privacy, and culture. It should extend to everyone regardless of their race, gender, or nationality. A company that includes respect as one of its core values will also garner the respect of its employees and the people they do business with.

  • Making Ethical Decisions (PDF): This is a lengthy document that explores ethical decision-making and includes the six pillars of character that are frequently used as ethical values. In addition to thoroughly discussing these six pillars, the document also explains ethics, how to make ethical decisions, and what hinders ethical decisions.


When a business holds responsibility as one of their ethical values, they are creating an atmosphere of accountability. Responsibility has an element of trust that involves starting and completing an action to the best of the business's ability. Additionally, responsibility for a company starts at the top with executives who are responsible and accountable for the actions, decisions, and rules that govern their company. But employees must also conduct themselves responsibly in all of their company-related actions.

  • Ethics Glossary: On this page, readers interested in business ethics will find an ethics glossary. The lengthy glossary is alphabetized for easy use and includes definitions of ethics and dynamic and static responsibility, for example.


Fairness is a critical part of ethical behavior in business. A company must employ policies and practices that allow for equal and impartial action ranging from decision-making to the treatment of clients and employees. Action should be made without preference or prejudice. Businesses should also conduct themselves in a way that does not seek an advantage or any type of gain over the failings or weaknesses of other companies or clients.

  • Three Pillars of Ethical Choice: On the Ethics 101 page of the Carnegie Council website, readers will find the three pillars of ethical choice, which include fairness, rights and responsibilities, and pluralism.
  • The Four Pillars of Ethical Enterprises: Anyone who clicks on this link may read about the four pillars of ethical businesses or enterprises. The pillars that are listed are fairness, integrity, decency, and sustainability.


Caring is a key ethical value. Executives and management should create an environment that cares for people and their welfare. This can manifest itself in the policies that they have in effect for their employees. Companies may demonstrate caring by creating a safe work environment as well as a safe environment for people who patronize the business.

  • The Corporate Character Ethical Value Matrix (PDF): This is a lengthy document that explores ethical values, particularly the six basic values that many businesses frequently use in their code of ethics. Some of the other information on this page includes a definition of ethical values, the corporate ethical value matrix, and a outline of each of the values as well.


Businesses should also endeavor to be good citizens. Citizenship involves a business's contribution to society and the environment. This includes activities and procedures that take place both internally and externally. Acts of citizenship may involve community activities such as a food drive for the holidays.

  • Ethics and Leadership (PDF): This document is from the University of Miami Leadership Institute. When people read the document, they will see what the six pillars of character are and how they are may be applied to business.
  • Workplace Ethics (PDF): The information on this page is part of an instructor's packet that provides information about ethics in business and the workplace. As people read down the document, they will find detailed information on each of the pillars.

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