Ethical Businesses

"A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business."

Henry Ford (1863 – 1947), American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company
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This Business English ESL lesson plan on ethical businesses has been designed for business professionals or other adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

There are all kinds of ethical issues involved in businesses around the world, many of which we are happy to turn a blind eye to as long as it means our products are cheaper. Our clothes are made under conditions that would be illegal under the employment and antislavery laws of developed countries. Our food is produced using methods which contribute to the destruction of the environment. But we are also seeing a rise in the conscious consumer, and as this trend increases, businesses will have no option but to take a long hard look at the practices under which its products are produced. In this Business English lesson plan on ethical businesses, students will have the opportunity discuss and express their opinions on issues such as unethical business practices and how these impact businesses’ reputations.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Achilles | What you need to know about supply chain ethics

The article gives an introduction to ethical issues that companies may find in their supply chain, including workers rights and conditions, discriminatory practices, and criminal activities such as bribery and corruption. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was written? Can they think of any ways they can add to the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below at home. In the class, the students will answer a number of conversation questions directly or indirectly related to the content of the video.

The video for this class is a TEDx Talk by Patrick Woodyard called “Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, & You” which looks at how the clothing industry can move away from the culture of fast fashion towards a more ethical way of producing clothes.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means, if they agree with it and how it could relate to business. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including what an ethical business is, how some companies mistreat their staff, and the grey area between legal but unethical practices.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with ethical businesses such as sweatshop, living wage and boycott. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the conversation questions. Before the conversation, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about ethical businesses. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as doing business in countries with bad human rights records, the ethics of lowering a company’s tax burden, and how to prevent companies from behaving unethically.


After the class, students will write a case study about ethical issues in the supply chain. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise business-style writing as well as improving their grammar with the feedback from their teacher.


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