UK companies forgetting their ethics

2011

With public trust in business hitting an all-time low following the financial melt-down, it comes as something of a surprise that the proportion of companies in the UK providing training in business ethics for their staff is actually lower now than it was in 2007.

According to the London-based Institute of Business Ethics, which surveys UK companies every three years on the use of their codes of ethics, six out of ten UK companies provided training in business ethics for all their staff in 2010, a 10 per cent drop on 2007.

"Although we are living in a time of austerity, cutting back on ethics training is a short-sighted thing for companies to do," said Simon Webley, Research Director of the IBE and author of the report.

"Many say that this financial turmoil is the result of lack of integrity – we need to learn from that. In these straitened times, it is even more important that maintaining corporate values and ethics remains top of the agenda."

As the Institute found in research published in 2010, the crisis of trust is particularly acute among young people, with the proportion of 16- to 34-year-olds who believe that companies behave ethically dropping from almost two-thirds in 2008 to just half a year later.

But as the survey suggests, many UK companies do not appear to be taking ethical issues as seriously as they might. For example, while references to the corporate code of ethics in the recruitment process are made in six out of 10 Spanish, Italian and French companies and by half of those in Germany, fewer than four out of 10 (38 per cent) of UK companies do the same.

And while almost all the UK and continental European companies surveyed said they provided a mechanism for raising ethical concerns, continental European companies are more likely to have a stand-alone ethics/compliance function with responsibility for their code and ethics programme.

According to Simon Webley, "these results are indicative of the way corporate leadership in continental Europe is embedding ethical values in their organisations.

"Talking about ethics right at the start of an employee's time with the organisation sends the message that 'doing the right thing' is taken seriously."

Bribery, corruption and facilitation payments along with discrimination issues and speak up policies lead the list of 'significant issues' for UK companies. In 2007 it was safety and security and environmental impact.

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