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Most of us want to be as ethical as possible, in our businesses as well as our personal lives. For some businesses, it’s easy enough to identify areas where that’s possible, even if achieving it isn’t always quite as easy. We can ensure our office stationery is made from recycled paper. We can ensure that both raw materials and any products we buy to sell on are sourced responsibly. If we need to deliver goods, we can look at ways of minimising the carbon footprint this produces.

All well and good, but what about a freelance copywriter? I use little or nothing in the way of materials, transport or even stationery, since almost everything I write is created and delivered electronically. Of course, the small amount of stationery I do need can be from recycled paper; but, worthwhile as that is, it has a minimal effect.

Of course, I can extend good habits from my personal life into the business. I recycle as much as possible, and that applies to any business products too – though, of course, any paper with information about clients or business partners is thoroughly shredded first. I avoid using electricity when I don’t need to. Besides turning off my computer when I’m not using it, I generally play music (I work better with music) on the computer, rather than having another device on.

What else? The only thing I need to transport is myself, to a variety of meetings, and I could certainly reduce my carbon footprint by getting a bike. I may do that: it’s one of those matters where I definitely to get “a round tuit” (remember those?)

Of course, ethical business isn’t all about being eco-friendly, although that’s a crucial aspect. Sourcing your stock can be important, as we’ve heard stories recently about companies accused of relying on near-slave labour abroad, but that isn’t an issue for me.

The main ethical issue, besides the obvious one of treating clients and business partners fairly, is what I will and won’t write. Well, obviously I wouldn’t write anything illegal, but what else? It would be nice to be in a position where I only accept work from companies I consider perfect, but for now I couldn’t live on that.

There are limits, though. I’d refuse to write copy advocating hatred of a race or other group. I’d refuse to write copy trying to convince people that the abundant scientific evidence for global warming is faked. I wouldn’t write for a company cynically propping up an abusive government somewhere for its own profit. I wouldn’t write for the arms industry.

These are my limits, of course, and I’m sure other copywriters have slightly different ones (except, I hope, for the requirement that it’s legal). That’s all right, since we each have to be true to our own values. I think it’s important to have ethical limits, though. If enough businesses don’t, that way lies sending young children down mines.

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