Choosing an ethical career

Guest post by Paul Carsten, London-based intern at chinadialogue

Having graduated from university in the UK recently, I’ve had to question how my morals affect what jobs I apply for. Too often I’ve found my finger hovering over the mouse, waiting to click “Apply now”, frozen and unable to start the process. This is partly due to my ethical worries. With many of the top graduate employers having poor environmental track records, I feel it should be worth foregoing a few months’ pay in order to not aid the companies contributing to the problem.

But how realistic is this outlook? Can I really afford to be selective? “More graduates taking low-skill jobs”, “Panic on the campus as graduate jobs disappear”, “Graduate unemployment at highest for over a decade”. These recent headlines reflect a bleak truth. A report last month found that 28% of graduates from 2007 were still not in full-time employment by 2011, while earlier this year graduate unemployment was at a 15-year high.

With such high unemployment in the United States and United Kingdom – at 9.1% and 7.9% respectively — is there even a moral argument for taking any job that becomes available? By contributing taxes, after all, you help out at a time when the state needs all the money it can get. The government can help to work towards recovery and support sustainable development and green technologies. Should I swallow my ideals, start contributing to the economy and build a career?
The decision was made for me in a recent conversation with a regional manager at an oil company. I heard something quite unexpected. He told me that his firm looks for employees that can “reconcile their minds and their souls”. In other words, that his employees should be clear that they work for a company does cause environmental damage. His workers’ performance should not be compromised by their ethical unease.

In a sense, I think he’s right: if you would be uneasy working for a company, you probably shouldn’t apply for the job. I do have qualms about the environmental impact of certain companies – oil companies like BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips, or mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton — so I’ve decided for now that I can afford to wait for a job that sits well with me morally, as well as financially. I doubt banking will be my next choice either…