What Ethical Responsibilities Does a Web Developer Have?

The question of web developer ethics used to be cloudy and hard to pin down to a particular set of values. However, these days there are a number of specific published guides which set out ethical codes for website developers. In a nutshell, website makers should be delivering quality work while respecting human workers and the environment.

In this quick guide we'll summarise the ethical concerns a decent web developer should keep in mind, as well as looking at a couple of sources for these guidelines. Then we'll explore how to go about finding a suitably ethical web design professional for your own web project.

Clearly any professional organisation or individual will be obliged to follow the law of the legal jurisdiction they operate within.

Beyond that, there may have ethical responsibilities in areas such as:

  • Delivering a quality solution to you, that is in line with the original specification and quotation
  • To ensure that you are satisfied with the solution delivered
  • Not to take any steps that would unnecessarily force you to award business to them again in future as a result of the building of your initial solution
  • To make sure that they use standard approaches and fully document their solution, so as to make it easily maintainable by others
  • Providing you with accurate and truthful progress reports, as the build progresses
  • Not to take any steps that might put your business interests at risk, even if it was an action that would benefit their own organisation

Ethical practices within the web developer's workplace

As well as building ethical connections with the world outside of the web agency, a group of web development professionals should also ensure they are:

  • Providing their staff with an equitable benefits package and appropriately safe and healthy working conditions
  • Respecting the rights and entitlements of other organisations they may be working in partnership with including, for example, avoiding plagiarism or the unethical or even illegal use of software components built by others
  • Perhaps having a stated green policy in the workplace
  • Refusing to work for companies involved in activities that might be interpreted as being harmful to society, etc

Today, many organisations have some form of ethical business mission statement that they may incorporate within their publicity. Of course, from a practical viewpoint, making such commitments in the public domain and complying with them privately are two very different things.

Some web developers may belong to various professional associations who might, to some extent, be in a position to periodically verify that they are conducting their business in line with the best ethical standards.

If you are dealing with a public company with published and audited accounts, it might be worth reading the auditor’s comments relating to the way they are conducting their affairs.

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How do you get started?

Many engagements with web developers traditionally commence with discussions that allow your potential provider to put some dimensions on your proposed developments. That will usually be followed up by a quotation, with all of the above often being done on a free of charge basis.

During your evaluation of proposals, you may wish to inspect what is said about ethical business conduct. You could ask them to make appropriate statements, as part of your request for a proposal.

ethical web development guidance infographic with generic blue and white drawings of computer related imagery

The European Digital Rights (EDRi) association published guidance for ethical website development and maintenance in 2020.


Hiring an ethical web developer

How should you go about searching for a responsible web developer? Firstly, you should be aware, there is no official UK regulatory body overseeing web developers but a decent place to start is searching for a web developer through The Web Guild which vets new members and holds them to a code of conduct.

All Web Guild members agree to:

  • Provide their clients with a high level of service
  • Act fairly and honestly at all times
  • Act transparently with their clients

If you're specifically looking for an ecommerce website, one of our top five recommendations is Burst Digital, an agency which hosts websites using renewable energy and plants trees for every new web project. An extra bonus if you're running an eco-friendly company yourself, Burst Digital will offer you a discounted rate on their services.

Here's a few more examples of ethical web developers:

  • Wholegrain Digital, London is a digital agency offering front-end development, WordPress CMS and web performance services whose co-founder wrote the book on sustainable web design.
  • Codeface, Brighton is a web development company with a published statement of business ethics.
  • Anna Celeste Watson, Dorchester is a freelance web site designer with a stated ethical design framework.
  • Fat Beehive, London and Manchester is a B Corp and Good Business Charter accredited website designer and digital strategy firm.

Costs of hiring an ethical web developer

The only extra cost to hiring an ethical web developer versus a slightly more shady character is the additional time you're going to have to spend doing your due diligence on providers. Truth be told, it's easier to check your particular web developer's ethics if they are operating in the UK because you can make phone calls and search government databases such as Companies House without too much trouble.

Entry level prices for simple website might typically start somewhere in the low hundreds of pounds. More complicated websites involving transaction support and related facilities might cost several thousand pounds.

If you're interested in a more granular breakdown of costs, check out our cost guide on freelance web designers.

sustainable web design slogan

The Sustainable Web Design group publishes guidance on environmentally sound web development projects.


Next steps

You're now in a great place to look into hiring your own web developer with ethical credentials. But if you're still not sure whether you need a UI developer or a web developer then check out our handy guide.

Or if you'd like us to suggest which trusted supplier you should work with based on your particular business needs, simply fill in a few details and we'll put you in touch with web design agencies.

Alternatively, take a peek at out guide to the top web design companies for small businesses in the UK.

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Sabrina Dougall

Sabrina writes about tech for business as well as consumer software. She covers topics ranging from digital marketing to ecommerce fulfilment, security systems, franking machines, and more. Having run her own successful small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how much there is to keep on top of. Writing with your company’s needs in mind, she distils truly useful product information (without the sales pitch).