Business ethics - a topic that has edged its way onto the front page of every news website over the last few years, culminating in “Striketober” 2021, which led to a wave of union establishment around the globe. Covid-19 has made evident the stark contrast between employees and employers and how each group fared differently under the strenuous circumstances of the pandemic.
“You will have heard of the Leicester factories which Boohoo supplied from and where workers were being paid below the minimum wage of £8.72, being paid as little as £3.50 an hour and were working without any social distancing/protection in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
– Elena Lopez
However, although the pandemic has highlighted issues within companies, the violation of human rights by businesses is nothing new. Labor exploitation knows no borders, it takes place across all continents, everywhere from the banking sector to the food industry. Nevertheless, society recognizes that this is not the way companies should operate. To mitigate corporate negligence businesses hire business ethics consultants - people who dedicate their professional life to ensuring ethical conduct within the workplace.
Elena Lopez, one of the speakers at the TEDxWarwick Alumni Salon 2022 “Mind the Gap '', is one such person: “I was always set on going into anti-bribery and corruption just for that impact on society and wanting to make sure there is less of it [bribery and corruption].”
Elena graduated from Warwick in 2019 with a Bachelors of Science in PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) and has since then completed a Masters in Philosophy with a focus on anti-bribery and corruption at Cambridge University, where she received the Jesus College Prize for her academic achievements. She is currently employed at the bespoke consultancy GoodCorporation, and her work as a business ethics consultant involves dealing with anti-bribery and corruption as well as human and labor rights.
TEDxWarwick has had the unique opportunity to conduct an interview with Elena Lopez and find out what inspired her to become a business ethics consultant, why she decided to give a TEDx Talk, and what difficulties she faced when transitioning from academia to the world of work.
Elena was set on her path very early on: “I always wanted to work in anti-bribery and corruption (...) Potentially because I’m Spanish and there are lots of private corruption cases I heard about growing up and sort of the impact they had on society, and I always thought I wanted to do something about it.” However, given that she has grown up internationally - she moved from Spain to Germany at the age of 14, from Germany to England at the age of 18, and is now frequently traveling for work, there is not a single country that she could pin down to have had the most influence on her and her career path. “I definitely feel like I’m European and all the different places I’ve lived in contribute to who I am.”
Nevertheless, despite an early passion for her current field of work, she faced challenges: “[private side business ethics consultation] was not something that I knew existed until, basically, I saw the job opening for my current job.” This was one of the reasons she decided to give her talk at the TEDxWarwick event: “I just think reaching other people who might be interested in that field, so that they know from an earlier point that that exists in case they want to go into it, motivated me.”
The lack of information was not the only obstacle on her way to her dream job: “I found a big difference between sort of the things that I was learning about in a very theoretical sense vs. how things are done.” The gap between university and work that Elena identified was the lack of “deep understanding of what’s going on in the world” – theory versus practice. However, she chose to see it as a learning opportunity rather than be discouraged: “the beauty of being in the workplace is realizing how to apply things.” Moreover, she mentioned that with this “bigger understanding of what the challenges are on the ground,” re-entry into the world of academia is a possibility for her as she would be getting the best of both worlds – an opportunity to further understand the theoretical aspects of her field enriched by real-world insights.
In the end, Elena Lopez succeeded in making the perfect career match: “I really, really love the work that I do, the field that I’m in,” and even if not every one of our readers will want to be a business ethics consultant, the truth is that we all have an influence on our work environment. This is why, regardless of the career path each of us choose, business ethics should be a part of it. A good place to start is speaking up: “[Business ethics consultants] need feedback, and you really are the center of that feedback.”
Written by Alexandra Keller
All quotes by Elena Lopez