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How business ethics is important

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Published Date:05-07-2017
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Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Business ethics Topic Gateway Series No. 46 1 Prepared by Danielle Cohen and Technical Information Service April 2008 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics About Topic Gateways Topic Gateways are intended as a refresher or introduction to topics of interest to CIMA members. They include a basic definition, a brief overview and a fuller explanation of practical application. Finally they signpost some further resources for detailed understanding and research. Topic Gateways are available electronically to CIMA Members only in the CPD Centre on the CIMA website, along with a number of electronic resources. About the Technical Information Service CIMA supports its members and students with its Technical Information Service (TIS) for their work and CPD needs. Our information specialists and accounting specialists work closely together to identify or create authoritative resources to help members resolve their work related information needs. Additionally, our accounting specialists can help CIMA members and students with the interpretation of guidance on financial reporting, financial management and performance management, as defined in the CIMA Official Terminology 2005 edition. CIMA members and students should sign into My CIMA to access these services and resources. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants 26 Chapter Street London SW1P 4NP United Kingdom T. +44 (0)20 7663 5441 F. +44 (0)20 7663 5442 E. 2 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Definition ‘Business ethics’ is defined by the IBE as ‘the application of ethical values to business behaviour’. Does business ethics pay? – revisited, IBE 2007 ‘A distinguishing mark of the accountancy profession is its acceptance of the responsibility to act in the public interest.’ IFAC Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, 2006 Context Ethics runs throughout the CIMA qualification. In the current syllabus it is part of the Certificate level paper, where there is a specific paper on ethics, governance and business law. Ethics is also covered in Paper 3 (Review and Audit of Control Systems), Paper 4 (Managing Human Capital) and Paper 5 (The Basis of Strategic Management). Ethics is also a criterion of TOPCIMA. Related concepts Code of conduct; compliance; corporate governance; corporate responsibility. Overview In recent years, ethics has risen up the agenda of business and accountancy. As professionals, accountants are required to demonstrate the highest ethical standards. These are integral to being a professional and are set out in CIMA’s principles based code of ethics for CIMA members. As well as being required to uphold their institute’s code of ethics, professional accountants working in business are often involved in developing, defining and enforcing ethical values in their employing organisation. As more and more companies adopt codes of ethics to guide employee behaviour, the new challenge is to embed these values. 3 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Application Ethical standards, along with technical competence, are what defines a professional. They help members of a professional body stand apart from others with similar academic qualifications. Few would dispute that one reason why we trust members of the medical profession such as doctors and nurses to heal us when we are sick is because of their strict ethical code. Ethics is about more than simple compliance with the law or about choosing between right and wrong. Where an action is clearly right or wrong, the decision about what to do can be relatively easy, but when there are grey areas a decision can just as easily be between ‘right and right’. Ethical codes are the tools that help guide people’s behaviour when they have to decide between shades of grey. When ethical failings come to light, the result is a loss of public trust. A number of high profile corporate scandals, including the collapses of Enron and WorldCom, contributed to the decrease in public trust in corporations and the accountancy profession in recent years. The immediate effect of these failings was an increase in regulation, such as the introduction of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the US, but they also served to push ethics up the agenda of both business and accountancy. This has resulted in increased pressure on companies to be accountable and trustworthy, leading to the adoption and embedding of codes of ethics at both professional and corporate levels. Codes of ethics are usually either a set of rules that must be complied with (rules based approach) or principles that must be applied (principles based approach). There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these approaches. Principles based codes are usually considered more flexible than rules, and confer a responsibility on the individual to apply them. Principles are also thought to encourage people to act in accordance with the spirit of the guidance. A rules based code, on the other hand, is usually associated with prohibitions which users are required to comply with. Rules can encourage a check box, compliance based approach and there can be a tendency to look for loopholes to circumvent them. A rules based code must cover every eventuality specifically, so they are sometimes considered less flexible than principles, which can be applied across a range of situations. 4 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Rules based codes are also often longer than principles based ones, and tend to grow over time as new situations arise that need to be covered. Principles based codes do not attempt to cover every eventuality specifically, but can be applied across a wide variety of situations. The framework approach does, however, demand professional judgement to apply it and it can be less clear cut. CIMA’s code of ethics is principles based, and applies to all members and registered students. It is based on the code of ethics of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the umbrella organisation for accountancy institutes. The code sets out a framework of five fundamental principles: • integrity • objectivity • professional competence and due care • confidentiality • professional behaviour. The code describes common potential threats to these and identifies safeguards that can be put in place to mitigate those threats. The principles approach of CIMA’s code means that it can be applied across a wider range of situations than a rules based code. This makes the code more comprehensive and is therefore in the public interest. Members must identify potential threats to the fundamental principles, evaluate the significance of these and decide on a course of action to remove or reduce any threats to an acceptable level. The code of ethics in practice The code suggests that when resolving an ethical issue, a professional accountant should consider the relevant facts, ethical issues involved, fundamental principles, established internal procedures and potential courses of action. After thinking about these and weighing up the consequences of each possible course of action, the accountant should decide on a way forward that is consistent with the code. If the matter cannot be resolved, the code suggests consulting with other people within the employing organisation. Members should also document the substance of any ethical issue they come across and the actions they take to resolve it, for future reference. 5 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics The code of ethics can be used as a tool by someone facing an ethical dilemma. If an accountant is under pressure to do something that he or she does not feel is right, he or she can use the code of ethics to explain why the action is not acceptable and to back up their reasons for not doing what has been asked. The use of the code of ethics in business It is not only professional bodies who have codes of ethics. Increasingly, employers are putting codes in place. These are sometimes called business principles or codes of conduct, but all are intended to guide employee behaviour and how the organisation does business. Research by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) shows that 85 FTSE100 companies now have a code of ethics Do business ethics pay? – revisited, IBE 2007. According to the IBE, the challenge for companies once they have embraced a code of ethics or a set of values, is to embed those values into their business and reinforce them by training employees. They also need to ensure that the necessary systems and processes are in place to back up the code. The IBE argues that organisations should develop ethical assurance, so they can be confident that they are actually living up to its ethical values and commitments Living up to our values, IBE 2006. There are other signs of the growing importance of codes of ethics. The Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) committee of IFAC has issued guidance on the role of accountants in developing an effective organisational code of conduct International good practice guidance: defining and developing an effective code of conduct, PAIB 2007. According to this, accountants can play a number of roles in driving organisational ethics. Firstly, they can support their employer’s code of conduct through their own behaviour. CIMA’s code of ethics acknowledges this potential to influence, stating that accountants should: ‘… encourage an ethics based culture in an employing organisation that emphasises the importance that senior management places on ethical behaviour.’ CIMA Code of Ethics, section 2005 6 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics As well as leading by example, accountants may be directly involved in developing and approving a code of ethics or establishing a compliance programme. Those in relatively senior positions may also be involved in demonstrating compliance with the code to third parties, such as investors. Accountants working in internal audit may be involved in implementing the code and assessing whether it minimises risk effectively, as well as reporting back to the audit committee. A code of ethics is also a part of the control environment in which a professional accountant may be operating, monitoring, reviewing and reporting on performance. Accountants should be able to: • recognise potential ethical problems within the organisation • apply a framework for resolving conflicts and explain their decision • engage with stakeholders • monitor and report on adherence to the organisation’s code of ethics • assess whether ethics initiatives adequately manage the risks faced by the organisation. References Ugoji, K., Dando, N. and Moir, L. (2007). Does ethics pay? – revisited. London: Institute of Business Ethics Webley, S. (2003). Developing a code of business ethics. London: Institute of Business Ethics CIMA code of ethics for professional accountants. (2006). London: CIMA IFAC code of ethics for professional accountants. (2005). New York: International Federation of Accountants International good practice guidance: defining and developing an effective code of conduct. (2007). New York: IFAC Professional Accountants in Business Committee 7 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Further information CIMA Articles Cohen, D. Going downhill fast. Financial Management, November 2007, p. 14 Available from: Accessed 21 February 2008 Cohen, D. Rights issues. Financial Management, March 2007, pp 19-22 Available from: Accessed 21 February 2008 Cohen, D. Ethical dilemmas: what would you do? Case Study 1. CIMA Insight, April 2006. Available from: Accessed 22 February 2008 Cohen, D. Ethical dilemmas: what would you do? Case Study 2. CIMA Insight, May 2006. Available from: Accessed 22 February 2008 Cohen, D. Ethical dilemmas: to disclose or not? Case Study 3. CIMA Insight, June 2006. Available from: Accessed 22 February 2008 Cohen, D. Ethical dilemmas: a conflict of interests. CIMA Insight, July 2006. Available from: Accessed 22 February 2008 Other articles Full text available from Business Source Corporate Accessed 27 February 2008 Gaa, J. Introduction: special issue on accounting ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, July 2004, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 349-354 Waddock, S. Hollow men and women at the helm: hollow accounting ethics? Issues in Accounting Education, May 2005, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 145-150 Other articles Abstract only available from Business Source Corporate Accessed 27 February 2008 8 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Metzger, L.M. Accounting ethics… imagine that. Journal of Government Financial Management, Spring 2004, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 22-28 Metzger, L.M. Moral imagination and ethics for the accounting professional. Journal of Applied Business Research, Spring 2003, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 77-84 Readers can also find electronic articles and other publications at: Accessed 25 February 2008 Books Dando, N. and Raven, W. (2006). Living up to our values. London: Institute of Business Ethics Duska, R.F. and Duska, B.S. (2002). Accounting ethics. Oxford: Blackwell. (Fundamentals of Business Ethics) Duska, R.F. and Duska, B.S. (2003). Accounting ethics. Maldon, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell. (Foundations of Business Ethics 2) Edward, Ketz J. (ed.) (2006). Accounting ethics. London: Routledge. (Critical Perspectives on Business and Management) Elliott, A. L. et al. (2002). How companies lie: why Enron is just the tip of the iceberg. Nicholas Brealey: London. (Business Briefings Series) Evans, Richard. (2000). Corporate ethical accounting: (how) can companies tell the truth? Cambridge: Grove Books. (Grove Ethics Series) Foster Back, P. (2005) Setting the tone. London: Institute of Business Ethics Lowthorpe, C. and Blake, J. (eds.) (1998). Ethical issues in accounting. Routledge: London. (Professional Ethics) Maurice, J. (1998). A guide to ethics for accountants in practice. London: Accountancy Books/Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales Mohd N., Syed A. and Noor Y. (eds.) (2007). Business ethics: towards enhancing corporate integrity and business ethics: a practical guide for Malaysian companies. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Institute of Integrity Nev, D. and Green, D. (2006). Truth or profit?: the ethics and business of public accounting. Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing Persaud, A. and Plender, J. (2007). All you need to know about ethics and finance 2007. London: Longtail Publishing 9 Topic Gateway Series Business ethics Pierce, A. (2007). Ethics and the professional accounting firm: a literature review. Edinburgh: ICAS/TJ International Plender, J. (2003). Going off the rails: global capitalism and the crisis of legitimacy. Chichester: John Wiley European Business Ethics Network (IBEN)A cross-national network dedicated to Rapoport, N. and Dharan, B.G. (eds). (2004). Enron: corporate fiascos the promotion of business ethics in and their implications. New York: Foundation Press Corporate reputation: perspectives of measuring and managing a principal risk. London: CIMA Websites Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) The IBE exists to encourage high standards of business behaviour based on ethical values. Accessed 25 February 2008 International Business Ethics Institute (IBEI) The IBEI is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organisation. It was founded in response to the growing need for transnationalism in business ethics. Accessed 25 February 2008 European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) EBEN is a non-profit association dedicated to the promotion of business ethics in academia, business, the public sector and civil society. Accessed 25 February 2008 European Business Ethics Network UK (EBEN-UK) EBEN-UK is the UK association of the European Business Network. Accessed 25 February 2008 Copyright ©CIMA 2008 No responsibility for loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of any material in this publication can be accepted by the First published in 2008 by: authors or the publishers. The Chartered Institute of All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored Management Accountants in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means method 26 Chapter Street or device, electronic (whether now or hereafter known or developed), London SW1P 4NP mechanical, photocopying, recorded or otherwise, without the prior United Kingdom 10 permission of the publishers. Printed in Great Britain Permission requests should be submitted to CIMA at