Blog: Global Ethics Day – why we still need it
Research Hub Blog: Linn Byberg, Researcher

The 16th of October 2019 marks the sixth anniversary of Carnegie Council’s annual Global Ethics Day. Inspired by Earth Day, Global Ethics Day provides an opportunity for organisations around the world to hold events on or around this day, exploring the meaning of ethics in international affairs.

Different cultures may have differing priorities and interpretations when it comes to ethics, but on Global Ethics Day it is worth keeping in mind that there is more that unites than divides us. One such common denominator, that we can all agree on, is "the Golden Rule”, which teaches us to treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves.

Whether this is a coincidence or not, I am not sure, but Global Ethics Day happens to fall in the same week as Anti-Slavery Day (18th of October). While slavery was abolished in the UK nearly 200 years ago and has been made illegal in every country, there are still more slaves now than there were victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Earlier this year, members of a gang behind the biggest modern-day slavery network ever exposed in the UK were jailed. The organised crime group targeted desperate and vulnerable people with the promise of work and a better life. Police believe more than 400 victims were put to work in the West Midlands, and given as little as £20 a week by their captors. Estimates suggest that more than 100,000 people are currently enslaved in the UK alone.

The UK Modern Slavery Act is an attempt to improve the transparency of supply chains. However, the rise of the gig economy and persistence of zero-hour contracts can make it difficult for organisations to know in reality how their ‘workers’ are feeling and how they are being treated. Writing a Modern Slavery Statement is simply not enough to ensure that your organisation’s supply chain (and wider operations) are ‘clean’. 

The IBE recommends that organisations develop an open culture where employees feel safe and supported to speak up, whether they are worried about ethical practices in general or want to report a modern slavery concern. This open culture can be created by delivering forms of ethics training that resonate this message as well as setting up a Speak Up programme that is transparent and protects reporters from retaliation. 

Research underlying the IBE’s 2018 Ethics at Work reports shows that while employees are more likely to speak up than they were in 2015, there are still major concerns among employees that have deterred some from speaking up when witnessing misconduct. The most common responses given among those who chose not to speak up were "I did not believe that corrective action would be taken” (28%), "I felt it might jeopardise my job” (27%) and "I felt it was none of my business” (23%). 

These worries emphasise the need to create a transparent process around speaking up that reassures employees that their concerns will be listened to. Putting in place a proper investigation process and reassuring reporters that they will not be penalised for raising concerns in good faith are two key measures that can be adopted to lessen these worries among employees. 

Having a clear process in place that lets staff know what will happen when they raise a concern will also further this purpose. The IBE’s Speak Up Toolkit is a helpful tool to further this aim, as it focuses on the emotional journey that a reporter goes through and features a mixture of resources that provide information on how best to deal with any negative feelings relating to raising a concern.

Global Ethics Day gives organisations and professionals across the globe an opportunity to reflect on how ethical standards can be maintained in international business. Similarly, IBE guidance helps organisations take a holistic view of the way they operate, but specifies that this concern has to be kept in mind every day and in every place. This is particularly important when it comes to modern slavery concerns, where there is potential that the lives of others may be at risk. 

Creating an open and supportive culture, which allows employees to speak up about their concerns without fear of retaliation and sufficiently trains them to cope with any ethical dilemmas they may face in their day-to-day roles, is vital to building an ethical culture. This should not just be done to mitigate potential reputational damage, but to lessen the work pressures faced by employees and because it is morally wrong to exploit people. 

Posted: 16/10/2019

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