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What are ethical and sustainable work practices

Businesses that don’t meet their legal obligations to employees or that don’t understand and apply ethical and sustainable work practices are risking their future financial viability.

This guidance on ethical and sustainable work practices focusses on labour and human rights. In this context it means the following.


Ethical means engaging in work practices that are legal, fair and ensure decent treatment of your workforce, by providing conditions that do not cause physical or mental harm to workers.

Meeting minimum employment standards is an essential foundation for being considered an ethical employer.

Many would consider that ethical treatment requires organisations to go beyond the legal minimum. This might include paying the living wage or a commitment to train and develop your workforce.

This UN document, based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, provides guidance on how organisations can respect human rights. 

Corporate responsibility to respect human rights – United Nations (external link)


Sustainable means engaging in work practices that meet current needs in a durable and lasting way that does not compromise the future of your business and/or industry. 

There is increasing demand for ethical and sustainable work practices in response to incidents of worker exploitation, both locally and globally. That includes wage underpayments, harmful working conditions, child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, and modern slavery.

Demand for ethical and sustainable work practices

Key terms explained: 

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Page last revised: 17 November 2021

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