Written by Gracie Ratterree
Ethics. What does this word mean to you? According to the Oxford dictionary, ethics are a set of “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conduct of an activity.” Yet, what does that really mean? As simple as adhering to a set of values may seem, ethics look different to everyone and may hold more weight to some individuals than others. In some industries, such as the field of public relations, knowing what you stand for and acting ethically is absolutely critical, especially when considering the pursuit of a job, role, or campaign.
In the past few years, the focus on ethical corporate behavior has increased exponentially. The nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), lists six values in its code of ethics in which most practitioners adhere to. These include: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness. While there are many companies that abide by these values, it is important to recognize how a company’s reputation and expectations can be affected when the public deems an action to be unethical.
In 2007, the personal care brand company Dove produced a video called “Onslaught” to promote the Dove Self-Esteem Fund. The video was part of a campaign designed to promote beauty in all women, despite media and society’s beauty standards. It provided raw exposure to pressure put on women and on the youth as they grow up, using the line, “Talk to your daughter before the industry does.” One might watch this video and be inspired by Dove’s message, but this is only one side of the story.
After Dove released “Onslaught,” the environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace released a video called “Onslaughter.” This video exposed Dove’s use of palm oil, which has a negative impact on the environment. It showed the effects of using palm oil, such as deforestation and animal endangerment by using statements like, “98% of Indonesia’s lowland forest will be gone by the time Azizah is 25” and “Talk to Dove before it’s too late.” Greenpeace’s rebuttal put the pressure on Dove to support a moratorium on rainforest destruction in Indonesia in 2008. You can still find Dove using palm oil in their product, but now the company faces an expectation to aid in the fight against deforestation.
There’s usually more than one side to a story. Who is right and who is wrong? What’s the correct answer? It depends on who you ask. That’s why it is critical to know your values, to know what you would and would not be willing to partake in. Listening to yourself and doing your research is crucial to your success and reputation as a public relations professional.
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