In recent years, investigative journalism, documentaries and podcasts have shone light on unethical business practices at large companies, in turn costing them customers, revenue and market capitalization.
For smaller businesses, however, this type of negative exposure can come from something as simple as a Yelp review resulting from a bad decision made by a single employee. And unlike their larger counterparts, they often do not have the infrastructure to appropriately react to – or better yet, prevent – the reputational harm.
To help these small and mid-size businesses, the Center for Ethics in Practice at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business in Minnesota is launching the Business Ethics Resource Center (BERC), a new website with free materials to help owners integrate ethical practices into their businesses. U.S. Bank is the founding sponsor.
“The University of St. Thomas understands that smaller organizations are not just big businesses in miniature,” said Dawn Elm, executive director of Center for Ethics in Practice and a professor of business ethics and leadership in at the University of St. Thomas. “They have distinct entrepreneurial cultures, operate with less outside oversight, and give employees more decision-making authority.”
The BERC website gives business owners the tools they need to ensure those decisions are made ethically. The website includes easy-to-use guides on how to write a code of ethics and implement employee training programs, for example. It will also provide individualized support in which owners can ask for and receive free advice from business ethics experts.
According to Elm, practicality was the driving consideration when developing resources for the BERC, saying, “These are real-world tools, grounded in actual business reality and ready to use. They’re essential guardrails that can keep a small business on track with their performance goals.”
U.S. Bank extends billions of dollars in loans to help business owners expand operations, start companies and create jobs. It also has a 12-person division solely focused on maintaining a culture of ethics across the company.
For those reasons, U.S. Bank Chief Ethics Officer Katie Lawler said that sponsoring the BERC was a natural fit.
“Our business is to help other businesses succeed by providing access to capital and other financial services and products. And we know operating with ethics and integrity helps drive business growth,” said Lawler, who regularly speaks publicly about business ethics, in venues such as The Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Bank Podcast and LinkedIn. “By sponsoring the BERC, we’re helping the University of St. Thomas give business owners the ability to prioritize ethical decision-making and intentionally build a culture of integrity, reinforcing their success.”
Lawler added that the tools in the BERC will become increasingly important, especially as younger generations who emphasize social responsibility continue to gain buying power.
“This is not just about helping businesses do the right thing today,” she said. “It is about helping them build ethical reputations that will power their success tomorrow.”
Written by Pat Swanson of U.S. Bank, which was named in 2019 as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the fifth year in a row.