How to Develop an Ethical Trading Policy for Your Small Business

The need to trade ethically is recognized widely and many small businesses are considering showing customers the ways in which they are trying to meet this requirement. In developing an ethical trading policy for your small business, you can direct the future ethos for your company and staff, as well as making it clear to customers and clients that you do business within the bounds of ethical considerations to the best of your ability.


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    Understand the purpose of an ethical trading policy. It is about being prepared to look beyond economic objectives to consider the wider implications of your business decisions. From an international perspective, it is becoming increasingly more important, so if you're trading overseas (importing and/or exporting), it's important to bear this in mind.
    • Treat an ethical trading policy as essential, not as a luxury. Your business will be ahead of many others by considering the need for an ethical trading policy early on.
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    Consider involving key staff, or maybe all the staff, in developing your policy. Ask them what they consider are the pressing ethical issues that your business should be concerned about and taking a keen interest in meeting.
    • As the policy develops, you might also want to include customers in updates or revisions to your policy through surveys, comments, round table discussions, etc.
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    Consider combining your ethical trading policy with ecologically sustainable practices as well; for most businesses with an ethical trading policy this is a must. This makes sense because the two issues frequently align and interweave with one another, so the more of a focus you have on both, the better your business ethos will be.
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    Check out the resources available at the Ethical Trading Initiative website. This is found at: You will get lots of inspiration and information from here that can be directly applied to your business.
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    Draw up a map or chart of the ethical and ecologically sustainable issues your business will be focused on. Some examples include:
    • Fair Trade practices, goods, and services
    • Sourcing your office and sales products from sustainable sources
    • Using forest products that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
    • Looking after the welfare of all staff in the supply chain
    • Keeping customers well informed of your business practices
    • Not using bribery or supporting corruption in your business dealings overseas
    • Ensuring animal welfare, against animal testing or vivisection
    • Having a willingness to help suppliers improve the quality control of their produce and to improve their own practices (through knowledge transfer)
    • Making health and safety of all staff and suppliers a top priority
    • Respecting the environment.
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    Write up your business' ethical trading policy. Put it where anyone can find it, especially on your website. Be prepared to post out copies to customers who ask for it. Transparency of your approach to trading is an essential part of ethical trading.
    • It can be helpful to look at existing ethical trading policies online to see the sorts of issues they cover and the manner of wording used. Don't copy them slavishly though; your policy must reflect what your company cares about and it must demonstrate your own original approach.


  • On all printed materials, place your ethical trading policy there for people to see and read.
  • Seek to operate above minimum standards to ensure the best outcomes for all persons involved.
  • Customer knowledge of your ethical trading policy is extremely beneficial. You can charge premium prices for products that have been sourced ethically and with a transparent chain of supply that the customer can see and appreciate. Make sure you spend time clarifying this aspect of your business and promoting it, through brochures, online information, logos, and explanatory material on the products themselves, to inform the customer.
  • Check your government business websites for information about ethical trading policies. Many government business departments provide information and even help for developing ethical trading processes and policies, and they may even have funds you can draw on.
  • By helping your suppliers improve their practices you improve your product. Initial investment in this should be outweighed by the increased quality (and therefore increased prices) obtained.

Things You'll Need

  • Samples of existing ethical trading policies (do an online search)

Article Info

Categories: Business | Social Activism