Trust deficit means business must prove its ethicsMay 2012
There was once a time when business leaders could just tell society ‘trust me to do the right thing’ and the general public would do so. Then, with increased regulation and pressures from investors, companies were asked to show they were working to ethical standards through their own reporting. But since the financial markets’ collapse, which many attributed to poor ethical behaviour, something more is required for society’s trust in business to be restored.
Business’s ethics is entering a new era, the ‘Prove to Me’ era. ‘Trust Me’ and ‘Show Me’ are no longer considered good enough. There is a growing demand for businesses not only to say they are ethical, but to prove they have ethical values embedded throughout their organisation. Companies which aim high know the benefits of working ethically, but how can they ensure that an ethical culture pervades everything they do?
Too often I visit companies, and they may have a great ethics programme and train their employees on ethical issues, but the messages are not always cascaded down. Somehow, the importance of doing business ethically is lost, whether that’s because of poor leadership, pressures on management, or a ‘say-do gap’, where managers say one thing, but do another. The Institute of Business Ethics has long been asked if there was a way to ‘prove’ a company’s integrity. Now a new charter mark for businesses and organisations has been developed by the IBE and the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment. The aim of the Investing in Integrity charter mark is to help companies demonstrate they act with integrity by helping them identify if their ethics programme is embedded throughout the organisation. This, in turn, will give assurance to clients, customers, investors and other stakeholders doing business with the organisation.
To qualify, organisations go through a two-stage accreditation process. The first is a management self assessment survey responding to questions about policies, processes and procedures based on the organisation’s own code of ethics, conducted online. The second stage consists of an external assessment undertaken by GoodCorporation. This verifies the first stage documentary evidence and includes an employee survey to test the management’s view to see if ethical messages are indeed embedded. What is unique about this is that it tests an organisation’s ethical standards against its own statements of ethical values, rather than that of an external framework. It can help them identify whether or not they are truly living up to their values, from the boardroom down to the staff canteen.
With businesses accused of moral bankruptcy, and trust in business leaders at an all-time low, it is hoped that the Investing in Integrity initiative will be taken up by organisations so that society at large can revise its opinion of the business community as a whole. Perhaps it will be the proof society needs.
Philippa Foster Back OBE is Director of the Institute of Business Ethics
www.investinginintegrity.org.uk email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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