Business offered advice on art of ethical snoopingApril 2009
Guidance has been published on how companies can responsibly gather ‘competitive intelligence’ on rivals.
The best practice advice, compiled by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), is based on interviews with intelligence professionals and outlines standards for businesses that provide, contract or access information on competitors and other organizations.
The IBE says competitive intelligence is ‘a key strategic activity in today’s highly competitive knowledge economy’. It can cover both intentional spying on or the unintentional discovering of commercially confidential matters such as the technologies competitors are using, what products they are developing, and what costs they are incurring.
It suggests that companies develop clear guidelines on such information gathering that should be incorporated into their general corporate codes of conduct.
These guidelines should extend to business partners, and be backed up with training of relevant employees. Businesses should also regularly review competitive intelligence practices in all departments.
The paper covers hypothetical questions such as whether employees should pose as customers to obtain information from competitors, whether companies should use inside information from new recruits, and what businesses should do when they receive information on competitors by chance.
Philippa Foster Back, director of the IBE, said: ‘As there is currently little guidance in the UK on competitive intelligence gathering, we felt it was important to offer advice to companies on the ethical issues which can arise. An ethical company is one which thinks about all the ways it does business, including its relations with competitors.’
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