The need for courage to act morally

Picture of mentors with mentees
By Ann Buttery, Head of Ethics, ICAS Policy Leadership

30 January 2017

In conjunction with the launch of its ‘The Power of One’ business ethics initiative, ICAS published a discussion paper “The Five Fundamental Ethics Principles: Time for Evaluation?”  

All CAs must adhere to the five fundamental ethics principles contained within the ICAS Code of Ethics (“the Code”).  The Code is largely based on the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (“IESBA”) Code of Ethics which provides the foundation for most professional accounting bodies worldwide.  

The ICAS discussion paper sought to encourage debate about the fundamental ethics principles, and their fitness for purpose in today’s world.

Should ‘moral courage’ be a fundamental ethics principle?

The main discussion within the document focused on the concept of ‘moral courage’.  

In recent years, unethical behaviour has often been at the root of the scandals involving both individuals and corporations.  Michael Woodford, former CEO at Olympus, hit the headlines when he demonstrated ‘moral courage’ to whistle-blow on the unethical practices that were occurring in the organisation for which he worked.  

However, many CAs face pressures and difficult professional decisions on a daily basis – the consequences of an inappropriate decision being potentially ruinous, not only for the particular individual, but also their organisation.  

In many situations, “doing the right thing” may not be easy – CAs need to have courage to act morally.  A proposal for a new fundamental ethics principle of ‘moral courage’ was therefore included in the discussion paper to give specific recognition to this.

Responses and conclusions

The discussion paper prompted responses from several large UK accountancy firms, professional bodies, a regulator, and some individuals.  

The majority of respondents to the discussion paper believed that the current five fundamental ethics principles are still fit for purpose – there was, however, support for the concept of moral courage, although not as an additional fundamental ethics principle.  

ICAS has taken on board the views expressed during the consultation process, and has therefore opted not to unilaterally include a new fundamental ethics principle of ‘moral courage’ into the ICAS Code of Ethics.  

It is, however, envisaged that the concept of moral courage will be introduced into the ICAS Code of Ethics in order to reflect the ICAS belief that moral courage is an underpinning qualitative characteristic required of a CA. Consideration is currently being given as to where this content should most appropriately be included.  

Further information is contained in “The Five Fundamental Ethics Principles: Time for Evaluation? Feedback Statement and Analysis of Responses”.

Topics

  • Ethics and integrity research
  • The Power of One

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