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Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility

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The theme chosen for this task is “Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility.” Every profit making firm has to prove that they have ethics and corporate social responsibility to the public in order to attain trust from various stakeholders. This responsibility is lifted much higher for a Non-profit making organisation such as Oxfam. This research topic will analyze how ethics and CSR play a role in the operations and objectives of Oxfam.


“Ethics can be defined in business terms as the moral principles that govern an organisation’s behavior or code of conduct in their operations (Rosamund, 2015)”.“Corporate social responsibility can be defined as a business approach that contributes to a company’s responsibility on its effects on environmental and social wellbeing (Rosamund, 2015)”.

Relevance to Oxfam

“Charity begins at home” in this case Oxfam’s initiative to provide international aid and relief started with the need to help people. This led others to join in and offer donations e.g. last wills including contributions to charity, government grants, volunteers, investors, partners and donors (organisations & individuals) (IBISWorld, 2018). NGO’s rely heavily on their reputation and this is what generates most of their funding, and maintaining this reputation comes with an ethical and corporate social responsibility to uphold.

Oxfam’s ethical policies

Oxfam launched a “behind the brand campaign” to improve policies on:

Land rights

Emphasis on legal procedures to helping those who are land owners claim their property in remote areas of Kenya e.g. Oxfam’s partnership with Kellogg and Pepsi to try and expose land grab cases in the USA and tries to lawfully return the land rights to the rightful owners (Oxfam International, 2018).

Environmental protection

Oxfam helps farmers or donors safely dispose of harmful chemicals that may harm the environment i.e. nitrate and other harmful gases. Oxfam’s projects and campaigns also support responsible disposal of harmful elements that may harm the ecological environment (Oxfam International, 2018).

Gender equality

Oxfam support the gender quality movement that men and women need equal opportunities and have equal rights (Oxfam International, 2018).

Efficient energy use

Oxfam also supports campaigns behind energy investments and helps bring electricity to remote areas of Kenya. They believe in conservation of energy as a valuable resource that shouldn’t be wasted as it may also harm the ozone and climate of a region (Oxfam International, 2018).

Labour rights

Oxfam try to intervene on cases of employee mistreatment e.g. women cocoa pickers mistreatment led to Oxfam leading a protest to stop this (Oxfam International, 2018).

Code of Conduct

Oxfam have a strict code of conduct within their supply chain. Between employees and volunteers as well as other stakeholders to ethically use donations/supplies from suppliers, donors and partners. Whether it be food, relief money or a contract Oxfam policy is to remain trustworthy to its stakeholders and this upholds their image (Frame, 2005).These policies allow Oxfam to make decisions only after meeting the requirements of their policies, if they would not uphold this their name as a Non-governmental institution would be tarnished beyond repair. It’s harder for an NGO to not have ethics compared to a profit making organisation hence the reason for strict ethical and corporate social responsibility within the Non- governmental sector.

Oxfam’s response to ethical principles and corporate social responsibility

NGOs have undergone a lot of pressure in 2015 for alleged aggressive fundraising practices in the UK, this led to a public outcry and a questioning of how trustworthy are NGOs (BBC News, 2015). This begins to show how important it is for NGOs to maintain their public image of “trustworthiness”. Oxfam have put forth a set of principles to reflect their company guidelines and policies which govern their work together with partners and beneficiaries (Oxfam International, 2018). Some of their ethical principles include:

Working hand in hand with partner organisations

Working hand in hand with partner organisations Oxfam aim to have a positive impact on global poverty and injustice. This goal can only be achieved through a combined efforts of many actors e.g. community based-organisations, non-governmental organisations and national & international governmental organisations. This is key as it helps Oxfam build a good name and build trust amongst many actors involved in their cause.

Humanitarian principles

Oxfam are compliant to the Red Cross and Red Crescent code of conduct as well as the Sphere standards of humanitarian response. This means they have to uphold humanitarian principles of humanity such as aiding civilian communities and responding to need.

Accountability and Learning

Oxfam have control systems in place and professionally qualified staff that ensure that funds are effectively used. Oxfam are a learning organisation with real time evaluations, program reviews, accountability reports and complaints & whistle blowing policies. These procedures aim to hold Oxfam accountable to their supporters, partners, beneficiaries and the general public. Oxfam is part of a world wide effort of nearly 70 NGOs to assess their performance according to views of the local partners that help fund these NGOs and whom they work with (Oxfam International, 2018). The accountability of charities and transparency to try and improve on their mistakes is likely to build trust among their donors (Charity Navigator, 2016).

Using data responsibly

Oxfam is committed to using data responsibly in order to uphold the rights of individuals, groups and organisations with whom they work. Responsible data use is not just an issue of technical security but also safeguards the rights of people ensuring respect, dignity, privacy and enables them to make informed decisions (Baur and Schmitz, 2012).

Employee’s code of conduct

As mentioned before one of Oxfam’s principals is to ensure employees are aware of their values and the code of conduct forms part of the employment contract. Briefly, this code entails behavioral expectations of staff that may affect Oxfam’s reputation. Breach of the code of conduct may lead to disciplinary action by Oxfam (Burger and Seabe 2014).

Sharing platforms

Oxfam offers platforms to groups or individuals that engage in activities that are contrary to Oxfam’s beliefs and values. They do this in order to accept a challenge and form organized debates on who could be right or wrong. This generates a good public image for Oxfam.

Political activities and campaigning

Oxfam work to determine the root of poverty and persuade governments, inter-governmental agencies, private sector bodies and citizens to change policies that may harm their beneficiaries, in order to improve their standards of living (Keating and Thrandardottir, 2016) e.g. communities and villages in Kenya experiencing famine and drought may lead to Oxfam’s intervention.

Sexual diversity and gender identity

Oxfam ensures that their program works protect and promote the human rights of people with a different sexual orientation. Oxfam also works to protect people excluded due to sexual or gender differences from oppression and violence.

Ethical theories

“Economists have traditionally assumed that firms want to maximize profits, but do firms really want to maximize profit?” (Sloman and Jones, 2011). This quote can be interpreted in many ways because in the global environment firms may have other objectives such as growth, mergers and future investments. In the case of an NGO such as Oxfam maximizing profit is not the underlying goal, because the main business objective of an NGO is to provide national and international aid where it is needed most. How Oxfam provide this aid through their business practices and partnership is what needs to be considered ethical. Ethical codes and principles help decide what is the right thing to do is. Oxfam have to looks within their codes and principles when faced with such decisions as ethical issues can affect any employee or worker in the business. Every individual needs to question his morals when faced with a situation that requires ethical morality and social responsibility as the actions of individuals also affect the organisation (Johansen, 2005).

Ethical principles

Deontological – the means is more important than the end

Teleological – the end justifies the means

Virtues – decisions are based on previous actions of virtuous people e.g. religions and their forefathers.

Justice – decisions are based on what is legal and what is not

Fairness – would you treat others how you want to be treated?

Individual principles – a person’s ethical, religious and professional principles and standards influence their actions.

Oxfam needs to analyze their principles based on the above factors, it also proves that Oxfam are trying to hold themselves accountable with their new control systems which leaves their stakeholders in charge of determining whether the company is ethical or not. Stakeholders may include; government, donors, supporters and beneficiaries. This is a positive measure taken by Oxfam to upload ethical principles within their organisation (Chenhall 2013).

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

What are the Oxfam’s responsibilities to the environment and society? Oxfam have a duty and responsibility of fairness to the society and the environment e.g. treat everyone with fairness and emit any harmful substances that may harm the environment.

Debates about CSR

Scholars argue that there are two approaches to CSR:

Stakeholder approach- The Company’s purpose is to meet stakeholder demands i.e. Government, suppliers, customers and local community

Shareholder’s approach- The purpose of the company is to maximize shareholder value. In a free enterprise and private property system it is the job of the employees to make money for the business owners.

Cases against CSR

  1. CSR is undemocratic, social ends are better by democratic means
  2. Managers are not social experts
  3. CSR is theft, reduces profits at the expense of shareholders
  4. Corporations are not moral beings

The moral cases for CSR

  1. Corporations are creations of society
  2. Corporations have a set of values
  3. Some corporations are powerful economic and social institutions
  4. Decisions have social and economic implications
  5. Corporations need to payback previous social costs

Corporations have an obligation to society I will not indulge into the business cases for/against CSR as Oxfam is an NGO. However as the cases presented above Oxfam have the right to look into CSR and where they stand in terms of stakeholder/ shareholder approach or is CSR a government obligation or a moral obligation of the organisation. Oxfam as an NGO are socially responsible to society and the environment in Kenya. Oxfam can only adhere to government environmental regulations and try to launch programs that actually benefit the environment and communities of people. So it is my belief that depending on the region that NGOs have to be socially responsible for their environment and communities around them and try to improve the society (Jepson 2005). Oxfam also has more of a stakeholder approach as they are non-profit making and this would mean CSR has to be at the forefront of their goals and objectives.


NGO’s try to build their image and reputation as much as they can and this solely depends on associations with the right stakeholders (Burgos, 2012), some recommendations to Oxfam that may help them build a better reputation maybe:

    1. Build relationships with activists as NGOs supporting individuals who can speak favourably to consumers, regulators, media, the public and politicians may help build a positive reputation for the company e.g. activists protesting against deforestation in Kenya
    2. Partnerships with companies who have ethical initiatives e.g. standard chartered and their heart run program, where individuals are encouraged to participate in a marathon with all proceeding going into health care for heart patients.
    3. Alliances with local authorities or governments in initiatives to benefit society e.g. relief for famine, floods, displacement of houses, earthquakes, land grabbing etc.

Join corporations or individual initiatives to boycott unfair treatment within society e.g. racism, inequality, human rights movements etc.

  • Offer aid and relief where there is war between two parties.
  • Identify areas or regions within a country that may be more vulnerable than others in terms of needing aid and assistance e.g. areas more prone to drought or earthquakes.
  • Diplomacy in dealing with stakeholders i.e. government, sponsors, supporters etc. Diplomacy is key for NGOs to adhere to ethical and social standards within a country.
  • Look into CSR expectations and issues affecting CSR within the region you are operating in (Michael Stohl and Cynthia Stohl, 2010) e.g. CSR issues in Kenya such as community clashes and land grabbing which may provide opportunities for Oxfam to step in.


This report has looked at Oxfam from the industry of social work activities (Section Q). The report has tackled external influences that may influence Oxfam as an NGO looking at the threats and opportunities affecting the organisation and the type of environment they are operating in. The second task in this report looks at the sector of the firm affecting public relations (Ethics and corporate social responsibility). It looks at the different factors, cases, implications and benefits available to the firm for upholding ethics and CSR standards. All in all Oxfam stand to benefit from the contemporary development that they may implement within their organisation. As firms are entities that improve with learning, global trends, mistakes and opportunities.

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