Managing ethical standards: when rhetoric meets reality

In the last two decades, the private sector has been placed under intensifying pressure to ensure it operates in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Companies have moved through various phases of response, starting with a `deny and defend' position, moving to `paying penance' through donations and philanthropy, and currently settling on risk management through mitigating the negative impacts of their business operations. Drawing on research undertaken by Oxfam International mainly in the retail sector, as well as in the coffee and pharmaceutical sector, this article argues that the current approach is, as yet, inadequate. Simply mitigating negative impacts through castigating intermediaries or suppliers does not contribute to sustainable solutions. For the private sector to meet corporate social responsibility pledges, companies need to pursue alternative business models that forge connectivity, coherence, and interdependence between their core business operations and their ethical and environmental commitments.