Blog: Trust is the currency of ethics

Emmanuel Lulin, L’ORÉAL

"Trust is the currency of ethics"

Ahead of the launch of IBE’s Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of Employees: France, Katherine Bradshaw caught up with Emmanuel Lulin, Senior Vice-President and Chief Ethics Officer at L’ORÉAL, silver supporters of the Ethics at Work survey.

The results of the survey suggest that French employees have a lower perception of the honesty of their organisations than the average European employee (71% vs. 78%). We asked Emmanuel for his reflections on the survey and ethics at L’ORÉAL.

"The difference between an ethical organisation, and a less ethical one,” says Emmanuel "is the sincerity with which it walks the talk.

"All companies have ethical issues. To have issues is normal; to pretend there is none is a red flag. But what makes an organisation stand out is that it addresses its issues with sincerity.”

The responses from employees showcases the benefits of an ethics programme, but Emmanuel cautions against simply establishing a compliance programme which ticks all the right boxes. "It’s not about the programme,” he says, "it’s what you do with it.”

This chimes with the results of the survey, which identifies three elements of a supportive environment for ethics which go beyond an ethics programme, and have a greater impact on employees – tone at the top; stakeholder engagement; and addressing misconduct.

At L’ORÉAL, tone at the top is highlighted by their annual Ethics Day, an opportunity for employees to speak up and for management to listen actively. The central event is the CEO answering questions from employees around the world in two one-hour and a half live sessions. It is replicated at country level in 70 countries to enable business unit managers to also show ethical leadership. "We encourage people to talk about ethical issues, so we can look directly at the problem and address it,” says Emmanuel.

This survey shows that employees in France who work in organisations with an environment that is perceived as supportive to ethics demonstrate that:
  • Honesty is practiced more frequently (88% vs 45%) 
  • They are less likely to have been aware of misconduct at work (27% vs 66%) 
  • They felt less pressure to compromise ethics. (80% vs 57%) 
  • They are more willing to speak up if they have witnessed misconduct (72% vs 44%) 
This comes as no surprise to Emmanuel. "Trust is the currency of ethics,” he says. "When you have a culture of integrity, you generate trust. The ability of an organisation to generate and maintain trust is an indicator of its sustainability. Although there is no line in the accounts – a culture of integrity is an organisation’s most valuable asset – it adds value to a company. The opinion survey that was recently carried out worldwide at L’Oréal showed that over 92% staff think that overall L’Oréal is an ethical company and that 85% staff have taken ethics into consideration in their work at during the last 30 days.

"Without that culture, an organisation is unable to generate and maintain trust with its consumers, employees, suppliers, clients.  It will fail sooner or later. Employees will leave; consumers will stop buying your products; it becomes difficult to find suppliers – it’s true of every stakeholder.”

While the survey’s findings seem to indicate a positive trend towards a corporate culture that is more supportive of ethical values in business, and more open to employees asking questions and raising concerns about ethical behaviour, French employees appear to have a lower than the European average perception of how their company treats stakeholders – 58%  think their organisation acts responsibly in all its business dealings (compared with 70%); and only 51% believe their organisation lives up to its social responsibility (compared with 63%).

"If we want change to happen, we need to change the rules of the game," says Emmanuel. "At the moment, there is too much on generating money – but financial currency is not enough any longer to measure the performance and sustainability of an organisation. The measure of its ethical culture, its culture of integrity, should complement the statutory accounts, and trust is the currency of ethics. I firmly believe that.”

Posted: 04/12/2018

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