BusinessCompany NewsAn ethical debate

An ethical debate

Recent corporate scandals have left people asking whether it is still possible for organisations to operate ethically and apply ethical values to business or organisational behaviour.

But what do we mean by ethical behaviour? Ethical values are those words by
which we, as individuals,

or as a group of employees representing a company, live our lives and
undertake our business. Whether it’s honesty, transparency, integrity, openness,
trust, respect, fairness, truth or responsibility – each has resonance.

Key words today, though, are ‘respect’ and ‘fairness’. Let’s take one topical
workplace issue – diversity. Any discussion on diversity will be underpinned by
respect and fairness. It is a matter of respect that all individuals are treated
fairly in the workplace.

Organisations try to address the diversity issue in their codes of ethics,
some via non-discrimination language. ‘We recruit and promote employees solely
on merit and suitability for the job without discrimination such as race,
religion, national origin, colour, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital
status or disability.’

Others try to approach it more holistically. ‘We value diversity as employees
from varied backgrounds enrich our company’s culture and support our commercial
success.’

But talk is cheap. What really matters is how organisations behave, what
internal culture they support and what example leaders give in ensuring that
respect and fairness do win at the end of the day. To do so effectively, an
organisation needs to develop a holistic response to all aspects and issues that
present themselves in the workplace and to champion them.

A vital component of any meaningful drive to be ethical is ensuring that the
theory becomes practice through active employee engagement. This requires
training and giving employees a support mechanism through which they can
confidently raise concerns about the organisation or individual’s behaviour.

Philippa Foster Back OBE is director of the Institute of Business Ethics. She
will present a public lecture on ethics to the Public Management and Policy
Association on 31 January 2006

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