What makes an ethical workplace in business?

Phot of the Manhattan skyline
By Ellen Arnison, Student Blog

16 March 2017

Most people consider that they know the difference between right and wrong and that it’s a matter of instinct. However, as with many things in the real world, ethics is sometimes far from straightforward and can be even downright tricky. 

It’s no accident that ICAS puts ethics at the heart of what it does because CAs are regarded as guardians of doing the right thing wherever they work.

This is an increasingly valuable reputation in a business world beset by scandals in which doing the right thing, rather than the easiest or most profitable, can be difficult to achieve.

Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education said: “You are expected to know about the Code of Ethics from your first day at ICAS through to when you qualify and beyond.

“At the ICAS admission ceremony, you will take what we call an ‘Ethical oath’. This same Code of Ethics applies to all our members. Throughout your professional career, you’ll have the opportunity to apply the principles and detailed guidance in the projects and organisations you work with.”

The principles enshrined in the ICAS Code of Ethics are integrity, objectivity, professional competence, confidentiality and professional behaviour.

But what does it really mean and can you be sure your workplace is up to scratch?

Ethical intentions should be clear

The values or ethics of an organisation need to be clearly indicated so that everyone understands them and that they are a regular point of reference. For example, the ICAS motto 'quaere verum' means seek the truth and sums up our ethical standpoint.

Everyone understands that it is applicable to them

There should be no doubt about what’s expected of everyone in the organisation from an ethical point of view. It’s not just a case of a vague commitment to 'be ethical', but specifics of what this means. For example, that there is an understanding of exactly what constitutes bribery in all its forms and that it is unacceptable from any member of the organisation, whatever level they are at.

Regulators, rules and codes of conduct can only achieve so much. For business to restore its reputation in the eyes of the public, we need leaders at every level, to stand up and be counted.

There is training in ethics

It’s not sufficient to spell out expectations about ethical behaviour. If there is ethics training then no one will be in any doubt about what ethics looks like, how to identify breaches and what to do to tackle unethical activity. Training should also spell out expectations. You will study ethics as part of your qualification, but it's helpful to read up on the ethical code of your own business and get to grips with your responsibilities.  

Ethics is not just lip service

Commitment to ethical behaviour must be present in everyday activity. A code of ethics alone is not enough if it is not applied consistently.

Whistleblowers are welcome

In order for an organisation to be properly ethical, then concerns about ethics should be welcomed without hesitation. Mechanisms need to be put in place to let questionable behaviour be freely reported.

Ethical behaviour is rewarded

Positive examples could be made of people who took the correct course of action when faced with an ethical dilemma. Ethical targets appropriate to the sector should be incorporated alongside more common business targets.

ICAS is well-placed to support both students and members to achieve ethical ideals, during training and throughout their career.

Launching the Power of One initiative, CEO Anton Colella said: “Regulators, rules and codes of conduct can only achieve so much. For business to restore its reputation in the eyes of the public, we need leaders at every level, to stand up and be counted.

“We call on every one of our 21,000 Chartered Accountants around the world to embrace ‘The Power of One’. That means taking personal responsibility and doing the right thing, especially when they encounter dubious or unethical behaviour.”

The Power of One provides new resources and support for members on ethics.


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