Consumers can only make ethical decisions about which companies to do business with when they have access to accurate and complete information about the practices of different businesses. Any company that aims to be socially and ethically responsible must make a priority of ethical communication both inside the company and in its interactions with the public.

Advantages of Ethical Communication

Socially responsible business practices aim to benefit not only the owners of the company but the community and the natural environment in which the business operates. In theory, socially responsible business practices should be a market advantage, because many consumers would prefer to do business with companies they consider ethical. However, consumers often do not have access to reliable information about the business practices of different companies. This can lead customers to adopt a cynical mindset about all companies and give up on making ethical purchasing decisions. By committing to full and ethical communication both within the company and without, an organization cannot only set a good example of socially responsible business practice, but can also benefit by letting customers know about the practices that set the company apart from the competition.

Honest Communication

To be considered ethical, communication must be factually accurate, non-deceptive and complete. Some companies make advertising statements that are technically accurate but are presented in ways that are designed to confuse or mislead the consumer or leave out relevant information. This type of communication is not ethical even though it does not involve any outright lies. If the consumer found out all of the facts behind an advertisement of this type, he would have less trust in the product and the company. Ethical communication builds trust, while unethical communication abuses or damages it.

Code of Ethics

The International Association of Business Communicators has developed a code of ethics for business communication. The IABC code of ethics requires business communicators to be truthful and accurate and to personally correct any inaccuracies they have the opportunity to correct. They are also expected to support human rights, such as freedom of speech and to respect and understand the values of different cultures and belief systems. They must refuse to participate in any unethical business communication practices, follow all laws and regulations affecting their industry, avoid plagiarism in communication, maintain confidentiality except when it would be legally or ethically inappropriate to do so, avoid the appearance of bribery or conflict of interest, avoid promising unrealistic results or benefits to clients or customers and practice honesty with both self and others.

Aspects of Ethical Communication

The comprehensive ethical code promoted by the International Association of Business Communicators covers a number of topics that go beyond a narrow definition of ethical business communication, such as cultural sensitivity and free speech issues. While these issues are more complex and subjective than the basic ethical goal of accurate, non-deceptive and complete communication in business, they can contribute to the same purpose. Ethical business communication builds trust between all stakeholders including the company's employees, the owners, consumers or clients and the local community. Companies that demonstrate respect for human rights and the values of different cultures in their corporate communications can build trust with a wide range of stakeholders and improve their reputation for social responsibility.