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What to look for in an ethical employer

The global pandemic has forced a lot of change, and for many people job satisfaction and working conditions have become more important. 

With more revelations of poor conditions for Amazon staff and garment workers for Boohoo, we discuss what to look for in an ethical employer and how to find an ethical job.

When desk-based workers were sent home to work in March 2020, many began to question their work-life balance, whether they really enjoyed their job and if the organisation was prioritising their wellbeing enough. 

Meanwhile, for manufacturing and retail jobs, the pandemic has exposed poor working conditions for workers at Amazon, garment workers in the Boohoo supply chain and fears over job security.

The workforce feels worn out, with one survey finding that 40% of the UK workforce say they have experienced burnout at work during the last 12 months.

These and other changes have led people to re-evaluate their jobs, and along with a rise in ethical consumption, more people are looking for ethical employment.

But what should you look for if you want to work for an ethical employer? 

What makes an ethical employer?

Everybody has their own set of ethics and beliefs, and what they consider important. For many ethical consumers and ethical job seekers this might include things like fairness, equality, specific employment practices, and commitment to the environment. 

We’ve come up with a list of issues to consider when looking for an ethical employer. 

These are also great questions to ask your current employer, which might prompt them to change to more ethical and environmental options in the future.

Structure and values - corporate social responsibility 

If you’re a dedicated ethical consumer, you don’t want to be working for a company that may be using tax avoidance schemes, has values that are very different from your own, or doesn’t consider the ethics in its supply chain. 

Some things to consider include:

  • Is it a charity, third sector organisation, or other non-profit organisation? Although not always free of controversies, these sorts of organisations are generally doing good in society and giving something back.
  • Is it a co-operative? Co-operatives are owned by their workforce and members and are more invested in creating a supportive workplace. Several of our recommended brands and best buys are co-operatives . 
  • Is it a Fair Tax Mark employer?
  • Do its values align with what matters to you?
  • Does it put ethics into practice with its supply chain e.g:
Women sitting in wheelchair working at desk

Employment policies 

How an employer treats its staff raises a number of ethical issues, as displayed by Amazon’s union-busting techniques and the conditions facing workers in specific industries such as the agricultural workers in Almeria in southern Spain.

Relevant issues to consider are:

  • Is it a Living Wage employer?
  • What is the pay gap between the highest paid and lowest paid employees? For example, in the banking sector some directors are paid £11 million.
  • Are policies around working hours fair? Does it guarantee working hours, or cancel shifts and use zero hour contracts? Amazon has a poor track record on this, not only in the UK but also within its global supply chain.
  • Is it committed to staff wellbeing e.g. trained mental health first aiders, volunteer policy to allow employees time off for voluntary activities, sabbatical option? 
  • Is it committed to equal opportunities and diversity? If there is a senior management team, how diverse are they?
  • Is union membership allowed? Amazon has been exposed for employing union-busting techniques.

Sustainability and commitment to the environment 

Ethical employers can show their commitment to the environment through their decisions on banking, energy suppliers and supporting diets that have a lower impact on climate change.

Things to look for in an ethical employer include:

  • Have they divested their pension scheme from climate change?
  • Do they bank with an ethical bank? Many of the high street banks are still funding climate change.
  • Is the workplace powered by 100% renewable energy by a company that invests in renewable electricity?
  • Do they encourage public transport use and active travel for employees? Do they support the cycle to work scheme for bikes?
  • Do they support ethical and environmental diets with vegan and vegetarian food in canteens and implement meat-free Mondays to help address climate change and food
  • Do they have a policy to reduce-reuse-recycle? Do they buy only 100% recycled office paper and toilet paper?

The answers to some of these questions might be found on the company website or in a published annual review. 

You can also find our ethiscore rating for companies: search for the company name on our site to find their score. Some companies have a more detailed review, for example Primark, Amazon and Nestlé

Some information about a company’s ethics and policies may only be known at the point you apply for a job and receive documentation about the company. 

How to search for an ethical job in the UK

In a recent Inside View article, Simon Birch talked to two UK ethical job search platforms, Environment Jobs and Ethical Job Seeker.

These sites specialise in jobs with a positive environmental or social purpose and have seen a growth in interest in usage in recent years. For green/environment jobs there are also Green Jobs and Green Jobs Online. However, just because it may be a renewable energy company, does not always mean it is an ethical employer.

There are other sites available such as Goodmoves for jobs in the charity and voluntary sector in Scotland, and Charity Job and the smaller Elevator Cafe featuring jobs across the UK.

Other ideas include Diversity Dashboard, Inclusive Jobs  and for creative industries Creative Access - while they might not all be ethical jobs, they may be good sites for those who are BAME and are looking for a workplace actively seeking to address equity in recruitment and the workplace.

Another tip is to make a list of companies that you admire or respect, check their ethiscore rating and then see if they have any vacancies.