Nice guys, according to the idiom, finish last.

Yet, brands taking a stand, ethical decisions and sustainable provenance seem to be flavour of the day.

Focusing on ESG reporting (environmental, social and governance) and triple bottom lines is more important than ever.

Consumers, stakeholders and Governments, among others, are increasingly asking ethical questions:

  • What materials is this made from?
  • Do your workers get a decent living wage?
  • Are you reducing your carbon footprint?
  • Who are your investors?
  • Where are your profits going?
  • What do you do with your data?

However, there is also the case (the business case) to be made for not being as transparent as you can be. Is morality all it is cracked up to be in the FTSE world?

Nice is a subjective term. As is being effective in business. 

Naughty, not nice?

Caveat – every company has skeletons in the closet, and every organisation that is trying to change will come up against friction. The below examples illustrate specific instances on a business journey. Think about them in relation to your own business or brand and how it may be perceived.

Here are some poignant recent examples. It could be said companies should have (ahem) considered their actions more carefully, but maybe that doesn’t matter to their business model…


Not the first fast-fashion brand to be accused of poor business practice (remember the horrendous 2013 Bangladesh disaster?), Boohoo has been in the press recently, and not in the best way.

Potentially ironically named, the online clothing brand has been allegedly connected to a money laundering supplier, UK supply chain working conditions and potential ‘slave labour’ in Pakistan.

That said, the share price of Boohoo Group on the LSE is rising, almost back to that of before any allegations…


Headed by divisive, straight-talking CEO Michael O’Leary, the Irish airline has seen its fair share of controversy. 

Pilot strikes, being taken to court by the Civil Aviation Authority for refusal to pay customer refunds, accused of racist customer profiling, and

And with the latest insensitive ‘Jab and Go’ campaign, is there anything the airline won’t do to get bums on seats?


Always in the top three (!), the company that started life as Cadabra (as in ‘abracadabra’), has controversially been in the news for two decade. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re the biggest in the world.

Whether for tax avoidance, the treatment of workers at their fulfilment centres, or for being a monopoly.

Yet, as Bezos’ strategy has always been, Amazon is selling more of everything than ever before

(NB I recommend you check out Brad Stone’s book on Amazon: The Everything Store. Fascinating read.)


Another of the world’s largest corporations is subject to a long-running boycott over the irresponsible marketing of baby milk to mothers in developing countries in the 1970s. Other criticism has come from using apparently unsustainable palm oil.

Nestlé is also ‘the world’s largest food and beverage company… present in 187 countries’.


From the death of a deportee in its care ten years ago (for which the escorts were cleared), through a £44m fine for overcharging the Government on electronic tags, to failing to provide adequate security at the London 2012 Olympics, G4S has a legacy of infamy.

Now handling multiple Government contracts around the coronavirus pandemic, G4S was recently taken over in a ‘sweetened’ deal by its US counterpart for a cool £3.8bn.

Ethical investment

‘Where do you invest your profits?’ is a question that has gained considerable traction. Consumers, stakeholders and colleagues want to know. Few examples here:


The UK’s biggest pension fund is listening, however, and recently divested all funds from fossil fuels.

Some food for thought there. Be nice – of course. But not all companies are…

Maybe it’s about growing to a certain size, maybe it’s about the senior leadership teams and management, or maybe it’s about greed. 

Trajectory MD Tom Johnson’s also considers the range of decision-making factors for consumers:

“In our constrained and uncertain times, consumers are even more likely to be driven by value. Trajectory data finds that in multiple purchase categories, value, quality and convenience are much more important drivers of choice than how ethical the business is…However, the data also shows that a notable minority – around one in ten – do say that being nice is key.”

Source: Trajectory Optimism Index, 1500 UK Adults, Dec 2020

One thing stands out – businesses do not need to act nice to be profitable. Yet.

For more on ethics and values in business, check out these links:

Adam Driver is founder and MD at strategic communications consultancy Authentic Comms.