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Business English – Ethics

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 @ 12:01 PM
posted by Jo

This is the preparation material for a Business English conversation topic about Ethics.  Businesses can choose to work in a way that profits only the owners or in ways that benefit the community. Working ethically means acting in ways that are both fair and honest.  A big business has a lot of power, which it can either use responsibly or not.  Ethics is about doing the right thing and considering the implications of every decision and the effect it might have on the community, the environment and individuals.

Video about Business Ethics

Listen out for the following expressions in the video. What do you think they mean?

  • The bottom line
  • Tough decisions
  • Ethical compass
  • In the long run
  • Paying the price
  • Veer off course
  • Stay on track


Nouns Adjectives Verbs






Corporate responsibility


Peer Pressure










Offer (a bribe)

Accept (a bribe)

Admit (to fraud)

Deny (wrongdoing)




Conversation Questions

  • What is the purpose of business, in your opinion? Is it just to make money?
  • Are some jobs more ethical than others?
  • How ethical do you think these professions are?  (accountant, banker, police officer, lawyer, nurse, dentist, teacher, taxi driver, car sales executive)
  • Why is corruption more common in some countries than in others?
  • What are the consequences of corruption in your opinion?
  • What examples can you give of businesses behaving badly?
  • What ethical issues does the food industry face?
  • What ethical issues does the financial sector experience?
  • What ethical issues affect pharmaceutical companies?
  • Why do you think companies are becoming more interested in corporate responsibility?
  • What can employees do to try to change the behaviour of businesses that are behaving unethically?
  • Do you think child labour should be banned? What about if it puts them into worse poverty?
  • Would you pay more for a product if you knew the company was more ethical than others?
  • What can be done to stop companies behaving unethically?

Discuss this list of unethical activities. In your opinion, which are the worst?

  • Avoiding paying tax
  • Claiming extra expenses
  • Using work facilities for private purposes (e.g. personal phone calls, social networking)
  • Accepting praise for someone else’s work
  • Selling a defective product
  • Using your influence to get jobs for relatives (nepotism)
  • Ringing in sick when you are not ill
  • Taking extended lunch breaks

Ethical Scenarios

Discuss the following situations:

  • The best qualified person for a job is female. However, your customers would prefer a man. If you appoint the female, you will probably lose some sales.
  • Your company has a new advertising campaign which stresses its honesty, fairness and ethical business behaviour. It has factories in several countries where wages are very low. At present, it is paying workers the local market rate.
  • A colleague working in a hospital has been making mistakes at work recently. This is because she has a serious illness. You are her friend and the only person at work who knows this. She has asked you to keep it a secret.
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