What is the ethical issue?

Operating in a free and open market means that organisational success will be driven by efficiency, innovation and customer service. Relationships with competitors, though regulated by law (such as competition or anti-trust laws) still have elements of ethical controversy.

Competition law is designed to uphold fair play in business. For instance, it stops companies with a strong position in a market, such as those with a monopoly, from abusing their position or making anti-competitive agreements, like cartels.

However, there are some regulatory grey areas, such as the gathering of competitive intelligence. The boundary as to what is considered an ethical approach can differ depending on sector or regional regulations.


IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice

An ethical organisation will commit to behaving openly and fairly when competing for customers' business and when placing business with suppliers or offset partners. They will not make false claims or remarks that unfairly disparage competitors, or improperly interfere with a competitor's business relationships.

However, there may be ethical challenges when it comes to competitive intelligence gathering, for example, accidental exposure to intelligence through employees, or other stakeholders, or from research or surveillance.

Good practice would suggest:

  • Clear guidelines for relationships with competitors is included in the code of ethics
  • Establishment of a competitive intelligence policy 
  • Extend these guidelines to business partners
  • Ensure training and assistance with decision-making to support all workers on this issue, and what to do
  • Facilitate regular cross-functional reviews of Competitive Intelligence (CI) practice across management


Further resources

Publication type: Other

A Year In Review: Ethical Concerns and Lapses 2018

Read the IBE's annual analysis of business ethics news stories from the last year - which were the sectors and issues most in the news in 2018?

30 January 2019

Publication type: Report

Stakeholder Engagement: values, business culture and society

In order to foster trust, external engagement should always be driven by ethical values. A considered approach to engagement, with a range of external stakeholders is a core task for boards and management. 

20 July 2016

Publication type: Good practice guide

Performance Management for an Ethical Culture

Performance management has a major influence on how employees perceive the company they work for and on how they behave. This Good Practice Guide considers how organisations develop performance management processes which measure how business is done as well as what is achieved. Drawing on interviews and surveys with IBE Supporters companies and other organisations, the Guide suggests how to address the challenges that may be faced when integrating company values and ethical behaviour into performance management.

04 November 2014