Ethics and Partnerships – Ethics Issues and Potential Partners Part 1

When getting involved in a partnership, one of a number of issues you will have to face relates to ethics and the choice of your partner.

Making sure any partner you choose to work with does not prompt ethics queries or issues is a very important part of choosing the right business or community group to work with.

A mistake in choosing your partner that does raise ethics issues can be a very serious drawback for a community group or business, and can do more harm than good when it comes to the reputation and standing of your organisation.

Not only that, but it would also mean any partnership you have entered into will only be a short-lived (and not very successful) one.

In reality, these sorts of ethical dilemmas are ones faced more often by a community group looking to partner with a business than vice versa. It is also often community groups we think of as having to contend with "selling out" or compromising their ethics and beliefs in the pursuit of support or exposure.

However, business partners can still have to grapple with ethics issues in some circumstances, which means both community organisations and businesses need to be aware of making the right decision on whom to partner with.

This two-part Help Sheet is not designed to be a "cure-all" that addresses every single ethics issue. It is meant as a guide to identifying potential and present issues that could cause ethics problems and looking at some ways to avoid or reduce the heartache they bring about.

Your Ethics And Choosing A Partner

The first thing you need to do is know your group's – or business' - own ethics. That should be relatively easy – as it is most likely heavily linked to what you stand for.

For example, if your group has an environmental focus, then it is likely the group's set of ethics would centre on support for the conservation, protection and enhancement of the natural environment and, generally, a "greener" outlook. That therefore would also lead to an opposition to things which are in conflict to these values.

It would also be reasonable to say most of those in the group would share a large amount of "common ethical beliefs" through their membership of the group.

Likewise a business can easily reflect the ethics of either its owner/manager (especially if it is a small or medium-sized enterprise) or staff. That may include opposition to certain types of businesses or groups, or even to certain things in society (for example, the prevalence of poker machines in society).

Once you know (or have clarified) your ethics, it is time to make sure you choose the right types of potential partners to pursue. If you don't, that's when ethical dilemmas can arise by:
  • Partnering someone whose core beliefs do not match with yours.
  • Forming a partnership with someone whose priorities and values are in direct opposition to yours, or.
  • Working with someone that is not representative of the social norms or positive messages you are trying to promote.

Ethics and Community Groups Looking for a Partner

Most of us would be able to think of a number of contentious ethics issues off the top of our heads. However other ethics issues can arise that don't have to be as contentious.

Some can be as simple as a potential business partner having questionable attitudes, practices or philosophies in a field your group feels strongly about, having associations that are in conflict with your group's beliefs, or are behind products that contradict values your group promotes.

Ethics and Businesses Looking for a Partner

It is important to remember that businesses can also have certain ethics-related issues when they are looking for potential partners.

Like some challenges that face community groups when looking for a partner, not all ethics issues for businesses have to involve highly controversial topics. Some can relate back to an organisation's social attitudes or associations with other businesses or individuals your business does not agree with.

For more information on dealing with and addressing some of these ethical dilemmas, refer to the second part of this Help Sheet - Ethics and Partnerships – Ethics Issues and Potential Partners Part 2 - available at the Community Business Partnership Brokerage service at the Our Community website.