The Ethical Harmony Map: understanding stakeholders and principles

7 min read
May 17, 2024 2:10:14 PM

The Ethical Harmony Map outlined here is not just a framework but also a comprehensive process that integrates ethical considerations into the core of corporate decision-making. It is built on the recognition that decisions made by boards have far-reaching consequences that extend beyond immediate financial or operational concerns. The Ethical Harmony Map is structured around two fundamental components: stakeholders and ethical principles.

This is the second of a series of 3 articles exploring corporate governance and ethics. The first article ‘The ethical harmony map: linking corporate governance with ethics’ explores the imperative of having an ethical boardroom, and the third article ‘The Ethical Harmony Map: implementing the framework’ outlines the steps to take to adopt the framework in your organisation, along with a template.


1. Future Generations

Future generations represent those who will live in the world we shape today but have no direct voice in current decisions. Organisations have a duty to consider the long-term impacts of their actions, ensuring that resources, both natural and human-made, are preserved or enhanced for future use. This includes considering sustainable practices, the long-term viability of products and services, and the ethical implications of technological and financial decisions.

The commitment to future generations demands a foresight that challenges the often-short-term focus of business and policy planning, embedding sustainability and intergenerational equity into strategic decisions.

2. Environment

The environment is an all-encompassing stakeholder that includes the natural world and its ecosystems. Organisations have a responsibility to conduct operations in a manner that minimises environmental damage and contributes to ecological sustainability. This involves evaluating and mitigating the environmental impacts of products, services and operations, including carbon footprint, waste management, and resource utilisation. 

3. Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples hold unique rights, cultures and connections to their ancestral lands. Organisations must acknowledge and respect these rights, especially in projects and operations that affect indigenous territories. Engaging with indigenous communities in a respectful, inclusive and equitable manner is essential. This involves seeking consent, ensuring fair compensation, and collaborating in ways that preserve and respect indigenous cultures and autonomy, grounded in the recognition of indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. Organisations must navigate this landscape with humility and a willingness to learn, acknowledging historical injustices and working collaboratively to forge paths towards reconciliation and mutual benefit. This process includes conducting due diligence to ensure that operations do not infringe on indigenous rights or damage sacred sites and developing mechanisms for benefit-sharing that recognise the value of indigenous knowledge and stewardship of the land.

4. Donors and funders

For not-for-profit organisations, donors and funders are crucial stakeholders who provide the financial resources necessary to fulfil organisational missions. Organisations must ensure that donor intentions are honoured, funds are used efficiently, and outcomes are transparently reported. Building and maintaining trust with donors and funders requires clear communication, accountability and demonstration of impact, reinforcing the symbiotic relationship between the organisation’s goals and the philanthropic visions of its supporters.

5. Local communities

Local communities are directly impacted by the decisions and actions of organisations. The ethical duty towards these communities requires organisations to consider the social, economic and environmental implications of their actions. This involves an awareness of the potential consequences of corporate activities on community wellbeing, striving to minimise adverse impacts while enhancing positive outcomes. Ethical considerations demand a sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of local communities, ensuring that business operations contribute constructively to the social and economic fabric of these communities.

6. Partners and collaborators

Partners and collaborators, including joint ventures, alliances and consortia, play a significant role in achieving strategic objectives. Organisations need to manage these relationships with integrity, ensuring mutual benefit, respect for agreements, and alignment of ethical standards. 

7. Employees

Employees are the backbone of any organisation, contributing to its culture, operational effectiveness, and innovation. Organisations have a responsibility to ensure fair treatment, safe working conditions, opportunities for development, and a voice in decision-making processes for all personnel. Ethical considerations regarding employees encompass diversity and inclusion, remuneration and work-life balance. By prioritising employee wellbeing and engagement, organisations can enhance organisational performance and loyalty. This involves creating a culture of respect, diversity and inclusion, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Organisations have a responsibility to ensure that organisational policies and practices support the holistic well-being of employees, addressing not just physical safety but also mental and emotional health.

8. Shareholders and investors

Shareholders and investors provide the capital necessary for growth and operations. Boards have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of shareholders, striving for profitability and sustainability. This involves transparent reporting, strategic risk management, and conscientious investment in long-term value creation. 

9. Customers

Customers are central to the success of any business, driving demand for products and services. Organisations must ensure that they deliver value, quality and safety to customers, respecting their rights and feedback. Ethical considerations include data protection, transparency in pricing and contracts, and responsiveness to consumer needs and concerns. 

10. Suppliers 

Suppliers, including lenders, are critical to the supply chain and operational capabilities. Organisations should foster ethical, transparent, and mutually beneficial relationships with these stakeholders. It means conducting due diligence to ensure that partners adhere to ethical labour practices, environmental standards, and fair business practices.

11. General public
The general public, which encompasses a broad spectrum of society beyond the organisation’s direct customer base or local community, represents a wider stakeholder group impacted by the organisation’s actions in numerous indirect ways. Organisations must recognise their role within the larger societal and economic ecosystem and consider the broader implications of their decisions on societal wellbeing. The general public’s trust and confidence in an organisation can significantly influence its social licence to operate. 

The six ethical principles

1. Fairness

Fairness lies at the heart of ethical governance, dictating that decisions should be made with an unbiased view towards the distribution of benefits and burdens among stakeholders. This principle argues for the inherent value of all individuals and the moral imperative to treat them as equals. In practice, this involves conducting impact assessments to understand how different stakeholders will be affected by corporate actions and making conscious efforts to mitigate adverse effects on vulnerable groups. This might mean adjusting operational practices to ensure worker safety, re-evaluating supplier contracts to address fair labour practices, or engaging in community development projects to offset environmental impacts. By embedding fairness into their operations, organisations can build stronger, trust-based relationships with their stakeholders, enhancing their social licence to operate. In addition, this commitment can drive systemic change, promoting a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities in society.

2. Autonomy

Respect for individuals’ autonomy requires acknowledging the intrinsic value of each person and their freedom to make choices about their own lives. This principle posits that individuals should never be treated merely as a means to an end but always as ends in themselves. This involves ensuring informed consent in research and development, protecting customer data privacy, and engaging in meaningful consultation with communities about projects that impact their lands and lives.

3. Honesty

Honesty is foundational to building and maintaining trust between organisations and their stakeholders. This principle is informed by the ethical imperative to be open and truthful in all communications, allowing stakeholders to make informed decisions and hold organisations accountable. Operationalising honesty means disclosing not only financial information but also information about organisational practices, challenges and decision-making processes. It requires clear, honest communication about both successes and failures. A commitment to honesty can significantly enhance an organisation’s credibility, fostering a culture of trust that bolsters stakeholder relations and supports the development of a more informed and engaged public.

4. Welfare

The principle of promoting welfare focuses on the positive impact of organisational decisions on the physical, psychological and economic health of stakeholders. This principle advocates for actions that maximise overall happiness and wellbeing. This involves integrating wellbeing considerations into product design, ensuring workplace safety and health, and contributing to economic development within communities in which organisations operate. Prioritising the welfare of stakeholders not only fulfils a moral obligation but also positions the organisation as a leader in social responsibility, potentially influencing broader industry practices and contributing to societal welfare.

5. Efficiency

Efficiency encompasses the prudent use of resources to achieve desired outcomes in a manner that maximises value and minimises waste. This principle advocates for responsible management that aligns with both organisational and societal goals. It manifests in strategic planning that aligns resource use with organisational goals, rigorous performance monitoring to ensure actions lead to the intended outcomes, and continuous improvement processes to enhance efficiency and effectiveness over time.

6. Motivation

This principle emphasises the importance of moral character and the intentions behind actions rather than just the actions themselves. Cultivating an organisational culture that values ethical motivations involves promoting values-driven leadership, integrating ethical considerations into decision-making processes, and fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to act according to ethical principles. Prioritising ethical motivations can significantly strengthen the moral fabric of the organisation, building a solid foundation of trust and respect with its stakeholders.

Together, these six principles form the backbone of the Ethical Harmony Map, providing a robust and comprehensive framework for ethical decision-making across all sectors. They represent a collective moral compass, guiding organisations in navigating the complex ethical dilemmas of the modern world with a harmonised and principled approach.

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