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There are an increasing number of organisations (and individuals) that are becoming subject to cancel culture and/or boycotts. Whether it’s the Spotify boycott initiated by singer-songwriter Neil Young in response to the streamer’s star podcaster, Joe Rogan, spreading vaccine misinformation on his show, or the recent Sydney Festival boycott. Now more than ever, organisations need to be socially conscious and clear on their ethical standpoints.

Ethical nuances

The Sydney Festival organisers and artists had already been tasked with pulling off a festival at the height of the Omicron wave when a funding controversy caused a significant backlash. Dee Jefferson at the ABC gives an excellent run down of what occurred here.

Essentially, dozens of acts cancelled their Sydney Festival performances in solidarity with Palestinians after a $20,000 donation from the Israeli embassy towards a Sydney Dance Company performance (by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin) came to light. Sydney Festival’s funding is typically derived 30 per cent from NSW and City of Sydney and the rest from partnerships and donations. 

This is a nuanced and divisive situation that was difficult for the organisation to navigate. The festival director Olivia Ansell gave a considered and polite response to the boycott stating “we [the festival] support all opinions and viewpoints and respect artists that want to make a stand and have a viewpoint”.

The Sydney Festival example illustrates complicated ethical challenges that organisations face and the difficulties of respectfully navigating a diversity of views. By contrast, there are more straightforward examples of wrongdoings that organisations with high social standards will avoid being implicated in. Such as the glasses chain Oscar Wylee who were fined $3.5 million by the Federal Court after misleading consumers about the extent of its charitable activities. The Court found that Oscar Wylee “improperly exploited the good nature of consumers” after it falsely claimed that for every pair of glasses bought by customers another pair of glasses would be donated to someone in need. 

Raising standards

It may seem almost counterintuitive but there are numerous examples of organisations raising their ethical standards and also thriving or even increasing profit. For instance, Seattle CEO Dan Price raised the minimum wage of all his workers to $70,000 (taking a million dollar pay cut to do so) and six years later his company has tripled in size. Price told CBS news “our turnover rate was cut in half, so when you have employees staying twice as long, their knowledge of how to help our customers skyrocketed over time and that’s really what paid for the raise more so than my pay cut.” 

Tips on how to raise the social and ethical standards of your organisation

There is a growing expectation among employees that their workplace has values that align with theirs. 

  • If you don’t have one already, create a clearly defined code of conduct in addition to a mission/values statement whereby your company objectives and ethical standards are clearly laid out.
  • Set aside time and money for staff professional training to ensure they’re able to understand and fulfill the expectations of the company’s code of conduct. This could include courses on unconscious bias and diversity.
  • Have employees contribute well-considered feedback and innovative ideas.
  • Look to match or exceed the efforts of high-performance competitors who are committed to high social and ethical objectives. 
  • Be a good role-mode and reward ethical behaviour and initiatives.