Ethical Business Practice in the Food Retail Industry
The increasing concern over the environmental and social impacts of businesses has been a significant influence for many of UK’s largest businesses to adopt specific business practices in order to meet the demands of its stakeholders.
(Haddock, 2005; Leigh & Waddock, 2006; Jones, Comfort, Hillier, & Eastwood, 2005; Piacentini, MacFadyen, & Eadie, 2000; Burchell & Cook, 2004) Current interest on mitigating the adverse impacts of business and industrial activities on humans and the global climate, for instance, has pressured many corporations to work towards a well-defined definition of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and to prioritize the development of frameworks by which CSR should be implemented.
(Leigh & Waddock 411) Over the years, these development concerns have grown to include an increasing range of diverse social issues wherein public scrutiny has focused not only on the provision of better choices of products for consumers by businesses but “to greater consideration of environmental good practice within their operations and supply chains.
” (Haddock 793) While the concepts themselves of corporate social responsibility and ethical business practice are continually evolving along with the concerns of consumers, employees, shareholders, government, and communities in which they operate, businesses are also persistently challenged to innovate and change to adapt
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(Piacentini, MacFadyen, & Eadie 458) Unlike in the past when sizeable amounts of charitable contributions and donations to public interest group were deemed enough to relieve businesses from the guilt of environmental and social trade-offs, today’s notion of CSR requires businesses to behave in an ethical manner and to address a range of issues on employment policies, gender sensitiveness, environmental concerns, and poverty-alleviation (or at least making business beneficial for all sectors).
(Leigh & Waddock, 409; Haddock 793; Hughes 421) The recent discourse on sustainable development has further intensified the pressure for businesses to contribute to its realization, which means being accountable for the damage done to ecological biodiversity and ecology itself, and actively seeking out ways by which the damage could be minimized or reversed. (Burchell & Cook 7) In the United Kingdom, one of the companies most admired for ethical business practice and demonstrated capacity in socially-responsible business behavior is giant food retail conglomerate J. Sainbury’s. (Kerr 7).
Considered as one of the leading supermarkets and food retail companies in the country, J. Sainsbury is touted as a retailer “that has taken its environmental responsibilities seriously,” whose business ethics and conduct sets a good precedent for other companies in the same field. (Kerr 7). The company is at the same time one of the best performing companies in the field of food retailing, patronized by over 16 million shoppers, and having 727 stores nationwide, (Leigh & Waddock, 413; J.
Sainsbury plc, 2005; 2006) excluding its world wide web storefront which has a global reach. J. Sainsbury’s concept of corporate social responsibility is designed based on its company goal of delivering “an ever improving quality shopping experience” for consumers through “great products at fair prices. ” (J. Sainsbury 2005) This goal demands for the company to be sensitive about their consumer’s choices and interests, especially since J.
Sainsbury aspires to “exceed customer expectations for healthy, safe, fresh, and tasty food making their lives easier everyday. ” (J. Sainsbury 2005) This, of course, is not entirely for the customers’ sake but also for the company, as Sainsbury Chief Executive Justin King admits that the company operates in a “challenging commercial environment” where a continuous improvement on the company’s capacity and ability to “address the needs and anticipate the concerns” of consumers is imperative to stay at par or better, ahead of the competition.
(J. Sainsbury 2004) This reveals how gauging the social responsibility motivations of corporations may also be problematic, as pointed out by Piacentini, MacFadyen, & Eadie (2000) who sought to establish the extent to which improved business performance may be attributed to good CSR practice.